Hoping to avoid a repeat of the messy fight for the Republican nomination in 2012, the party drew up a calendar and delegate-selection rules intended to allow a front-runner to wrap things up quickly. Now, with Republicans voting in 11 states on Tuesday, the worst fears of the party's establishment are coming true: Donald J. Trump could all but seal his path to the nomination in a case of unintended consequences for the party leadership, which vehemently opposes him.
MSNBC's Kasie Hunt noted last week that the Republican National Committee unwittingly helped Donald Trump's presidential campaign years before anyone knew Trump even intended to run. The problem, Hunt noted, is that the RNC focused on fixing what it didn't like about the 2012 process -- and "fighting the last war is usually ill advised."
Ordinarily, we tend to think of a presidential nominating process as a relatively straightforward exercise: candidates vie for a party's nomination; they compete for delegates though primaries and caucuses; and the candidate who wins the most support becomes the nominee. But just below this surface-level understanding is a specific process that can be tweaked in order to reach specific goals.
March 1, 201619:50
And all of a sudden, those same officials are no longer pleased with their handiwork. The New York Times reports today, "Memo to Republican leaders: Be careful what you wish for."
The Times article quoted University of Georgia political scientist Joshua Putnam saying, "Trump has significant advantages, and that's the way the system is designed. It's right in line with what the folks designing these rules wanted. It's just not the candidate they preferred."
For the right, it's an unfortunate irony: the Republican Party inadvertently shaped the rules to favor the early frontrunner, which the Republican Party now regrets. GOP leaders, elites, and power players would love nothing more than to slow Trump down, but the party's own rules make that very difficult to do.
And how, exactly, did the Republicans change their process? Hoping to make things easier for a Romney-like frontrunner, the party front-loaded the process with delegate-rich Southern states, where the party's base dominates.
What's more, those same rules dictate that, in many states, candidates who fall short receive no delegates at all.
All of this was quite intentional. Instead of dragging out the nominating process over months, the RNC's calendar now ensures that more than half of the available delegates will be awarded by the middle of March. The point was to help a dominant frontrunner wrap things up quickly and start shifting attention to the general election.
Except, this year, much to the party establishment's dismay, it's Trump who has an advantage in nearly all of those states, creating a dynamic in which his lead may be insurmountable.
That's not a foregone conclusion, of course. Maybe a controversy or two will chip away at Trump's support. Maybe some of his non-traditional backers will fail to show up and cast votes. Maybe the winnowing of the GOP field will somehow start to work.
But as things stand, thanks to the rules the Republican Party implemented but now regrets, Trump is positioned to take full advantage of the systemic opportunity, and those anti-Trump hypotheticals sound more like wishful thinking than a plausible scenario for success.
The Romney campaign's chief counsel, Ben Ginsburg, told the Times, "This whole thing is a really messy mixture of unintended consequences."