WASHINGTON – Republican leaders, forced to regroup after losing another race for the White House, voted to significantly shorten the lengthy, bruising state-by-state process that will select the party’s presidential nominee for the 2016 election.
Party chiefs complain that the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, was forced to suffer through a long, expensive primary process that left him battered and ultimately hurt his ability to compete against President Barack Obama in the general election.
The Republican National Committee approved a plan Friday that aims to create an easier path to the White House for its next nominee, roughly a year before campaigning begins in earnest for the next presidential contest. Although Obama’s second term began just one year ago, prospective Republican candidates already have begun visiting early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire that hold outsize influence because of their prized positions on the primary calendar.
Republicans have now lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Party leaders emerged from Obama’s re-election last November vowing that Republicans must rethink their strategies as the United States becomes a more diverse country, and the voting power of the party’s base — traditionally white, older conservatives — begins to wane. But the party is divided between the more pragmatic-leaning leadership and tea party-backed conservatives who have championed hard-core tactics against Obama’s policies, especially the health care overhaul.
The latest U.S. census data and polling from The Associated Press predict a monumental change on the horizon for the U.S.: Non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority in the next generation, somewhere around the year 2043.
Nonwhite Americans voted overwhelmingly last November for Obama, the first black president.
The Republican Party’s efforts to project a changed image came amid a furor over comments made by two of its ranks.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called Friday for the resignation of a Michigan party official who made anti-gay and anti-Muslim remarks.
A day earlier, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Democrats were trying to win over female voters by promising them birth control and telling them they cannot manage “their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government.” The comments, made during a luncheon at the party gathering in Washington, became immediate fodder for Democrats and a headache for Republicans trying to market themselves as a better choice for female voters.
Republican strategist Dennis Lennox said Priebus’ demand that the Michigan official resign “sends the message that Republicans have learned their lesson on tone and messaging. The official, Dave Aegma had posted an article on Facebook last year with an unsubstantiated claim that gays account for half the murders in large cities. He also came under fire from the Council on American-Islamic Relations for a Facebook posting this month questioning Muslims’ commitment to charity.
The party’s shift in the primary process comes during the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee, a collection of party leaders and activists from every state that controls the party’s national infrastructure. The group expects to finalize additional changes, including setting a new date for its 2016 national convention, later in the year. Among other changes, the RNC intends to dramatically reduce the number of presidential debates and have more control over the moderators.
“This is a historic day for our party,” Priebus declared.
Conservative grass-roots Republicans who dominate the primary process never embraced Romney with much enthusiasm, making him a vulnerable target to other more conservative primary candidates like Newt Gingrich, the former House of Representatives speaker. Obama used many of the same attack lines on Romney — that he was an out-of-touch wealthy tycoon — that had been used by other Republicans in the primaries.
New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada are expected to host the first four contests in February 2016 under the new schedule, while the remainder of the nation’s 46 states and territories would vote between early March and mid-May. The party’s national convention is expected in late June or early July, roughly two months sooner than has become the norm.
One potential Republican candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, has seen his prospects of a 2016 presidential run complicated by allegations that his aides created traffic jams, apparently to exact political payback against a Democratic mayor. U.S. federal prosecutors escalated their criminal investigation into the matter this week, subpoenaing his re-election campaign and the state Republican leadership.
The scandal has tainted the image Christie has cultivated as a bipartisan political player with broad appeal.