Question 1): Jonathan Oosting wrote an April 11 article in BRIDGE MICHIGAN describing how the Michigan Republican Party may replace its 2024 presidential primary with a closed caucus or convention that would allow only precinct delegates or vetted Republicans to participate.
Oosting reported that state GOP Chair Kristina Karamo has said that no decisions have been made yet, although there were ongoing “active discussions.”
The maneuvering comes two months after Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a law that anticipates moving up the state’s primary election to Feb. 27.
That timetable clashes with Republican National Committee rules, which prohibit additional states from hosting contests before March 1. Potential violators such as Michigan could lose the majority of their delegates to the Republican National Convention where the presidential nominee is determined.
Michigan is one of 21 states with so-called “open primaries,” contests in which any registered voter can choose to cast a ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary.
Oosting reports that grassroots activists who control the Michigan GOP are pitching a plan for a series of county-level caucus meetings, where roughly 5,000 elected precinct delegates from around the state would convene in person on a single day to debate and help decide the party’s presidential nominee.
Critics warn that moving to a closed caucus — or an even smaller nominating convention — could disenfranchise most of the 1.3 million Michigan voters who cast ballots in the state’s 2016 GOP presidential nomination fracas. As it turned out, businessman Donald Trump, already the frontrunner, won that primary easily and went on to win the general election.
So, would ignoring a primary process in favor of a nominating convention be a big deal? Have Democrats handled this differently than Republicans over time? Has the choice between primaries and conventions made a difference to either party as to whether Michigan gets extra attention from a national audience? Most importantly, is there evidence that a presidential primary helps a political party’s eventual nominee carry Michigan in November? Or would a convention held early in the year be just as likely to yield a favorable result later on in the general election?
Answer 1): Each method — primary or caucus — has its advantages and disadvantages.
What is the conclusion of all this? Fact is, any candidate running for president of the United States should seriously question whether being on the ballot in the state of Michigan is worth his or her time.
A little more historical perspective might be in order. Michigan has been a convention system most of its history, until relatively recently. The state has held only 14 presidential primary elections in its 185-year history. The first primary election law in the state was passed by the Legislature in 1912 stating such an election was to be held in the month of April. So in April 1916, in the midst of a major war in Europe, the first primary election was held in Michigan. Guess who won on the Republican side since it was a foregone conclusion that President Wilson would get the Democratic nod. Go ahead, guess!
HENRY FORD! (yes that Henry Ford) was the winner with 83,057 votes, defeating two Republicans none of us remember. In fact, Ford got only about 900 votes less than Wilson.
The other significant note in that election was that former president Theodore Roosevelt got only 383 votes in the entire state running with the Progressive Party, which had its Michigan origins in Bay City.
In 1920, none other than Herbert Hoover (later a Republican president whom the Democratic have spent nearly a century vilifying) won the DEMOCRATIC primary. So, Michigan realized its primary system was a flop, and broomed it for four decades.
The history of the primaries in Michigan, and the election laws that created them, is a patchwork of intrigues and outright, well, politics. There have been four times when laws were passed creating primaries and three laws banning them. The primary first was to be in April, then March, then February and, in 2008, January.
There were primary elections in each presidential year from 1916 through 1928. After that, it would be 44 years before another one was held. In 1972, the primary was reinstated through the 1980 elections. Then it was suspended until 1992. There were primaries in the 1996 and 2000 elections but not in 2004.
Bottom line: If all Michigan Republicans want to do is make sure they can control who their party’s nominee is going to be, and if most of the delegates are aligned with former President Donald Trump, they should choose a convention system to nominate him instead of a primary.
But they should just be sure they can pay for it, and also realize that it will be unlikely their chosen nominee will carry the state in November.