RNC eyes major calendar changes

A person stands in balloons at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Aug. 30, 2012.
The Republican National Committee took a step in that direction at their winter meeting. Aaron Blake reported:

While the old calendar stretched six months from early January to late June -- and was competitive for about half that span -- the new one is intended to be as much as three months shorter -- from early February to April or May.

In advance of every cycle, there's some chatter about the early-nominating states losing their exalted role, but as has always been the case, the discussions didn't amount to much. The Iowa caucuses will still go first, followed by the New Hampshire primary. The Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary will follow soon after. Those four contests will be held in February 2016.
What about states that intend to test the status quo by moving their nominating race earlier? According to the new RNC plan, if you're not one of the first four, you can't vote earlier than March 1. States that try will face stiff penalties, including the forfeiture of most of their delegates to the convention.
But perhaps the biggest news is the convention schedule.
A shorter nominating process means a longer general-election process, which necessarily means an earlier convention. The late-August/early-September convention is out; the late-June/early-July convention is in. That means an early choice of running mates, but also earlier legal access to funds raised specifically for the post-primary, general election phase.
As for who'll benefit or suffer as a result of these changes, Rachel will have more on this on tonight's show -- a rare break from the "no talking about 2016" rule! -- but in the meantime, I'd just note that RNC officials have the right idea, but may not be thrilled with the results.
The idea of a truncated nominating process is, to be sure, sensible -- the less time the public watches conservative candidates pandering to out-of-the-mainstream far-right voters, all while beating each other to a pulp, the better it will be for the party overall. To that end, having a process that starts in Iowa in early February and ends with an early-summer convention makes sense.
But let's not forget that the process won't really start in February 2016. On the contrary, candidates will probably kick off their campaigns in a formal sense about a year from now, in February 2015. The RNC reforms will shrink the voting phase of the process, but the race itself will still be painful and lengthy -- the field will spent pretty much all of 2015 doing what presidential candidates do. That means debates, fundraisers, town-hall meetings, county-fair appearances, attack ads, endorsements, and all of the other fun stuff that makes a nominating race a nominating race.
That said, today's reforms create all kinds of interesting questions about the opportunities for dark-horse candidates, the role of the establishment to weed out (or not) the unelectable candidates, how Democrats might respond to these changes, etc. Watch this space.