During the 2016 election cycle, North Dakota made national news. That year there was no presidential primary or caucuses for North Dakota’s Republicans. Instead, party faithful — who attended the NDGOP State Convention — sent 28 “unbound” delegates to the Republican National Convention. This meant they were free to vote their conscience.
With these political free agents, North Dakota became a battleground of sorts. The magic number of delegates needed to obtain the GOP nomination for the presidency was 1,237.
By the time the April 2016 State Convention rolled around, the race was essentially down to Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz— with Ohio Governor John Kasich holding on in the final weeks of his campaign.
With much needed delegates hanging in the balance, North Dakota suddenly mattered.
While Trump couldn’t make the NDGOP’s State Convention, he sent the highly respected Dr. Ben Carson to stump for him. Carson, once a presidential candidate himself, had ended his own campaign the month before and endorsed Donald Trump.
Senator Cruz made time for a personal appearance at the convention. He also brought former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina with to assist in the effort of convincing delegates to support him. Fiorina had ended her campaign for the GOP nomination two months before.
The month after the NDGOP State Convention, North Dakota again made headlines. National delegate John Trandem — who is currently Vice Chair of the NDGOP — became “Mr. 1,237” by announcing his support for Donald Trump to a reporter from the Associated Press. This unofficially gave Trump enough delegates to secure the Republican nomination.
With all the attention on North Dakota, you’d think things were hunky dory. Yet, many people across the state voiced their displeasure with the absence of a primary or caucuses to cast ballots in. To this, the NDGOP ultimately responded by adding Rule 21 to its State Endorsing Convention Rules.
In a nutshell, Rule 21 says that, “Presidential Caucuses will be held prior to March 15th the year of the Presidential Election.” It goes on to explain that, “Delegates will be awarded proportionally to candidates who receive at least 20% of the votes cast.” The exception being, “If a candidate garners at least 60% of the votes cast they will receive all of the delegates.” In other words delegates will be “assigned” or bound going forward.
However, there is a means whereby delegates can be “unbound”. That is described in Section 4 of Rule 21:
“Should a candidate who received delegates withdraw from the race prior to the Republican National Convention, those delegates assigned to the candidate shall proceed to the convention unbound.”
Last month the State Committee for the NDGOP met and debated whether there should be a $10,000 buy-in for GOP presidential candidates to get on the caucus ballot. Apparently there was some disagreement among the committee, but in the end the proposal was approved.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise for you to know that the Trump campaign was the only one to pony up the $10,000 to gain ballot access. I’m guessing Joe Walsh, Bill Weld, and Rocky De La Fuente didn’t see much opportunity in North Dakota anyhow— a state that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in 2016. And yes, those three are actual candidates— though their chances of inhabiting the White House probably aren’t much better than mine.
So, what’s the point of it all? Why bother organizing and holding caucuses across the state when attendees have but one option on the ballot anyhow? If the party’s decision-makers can write in a provision to award all delegates to a candidate getting 60% of the vote, why not write one in to award all delegates to a lone candidate and forego the costs associated with organizing caucuses altogether?
As things stand now, the 2020 NDGOP Presidential Caucuses will be little more than “an evening of getting together with Republicans across the state”, as NDGOP Chairman Rick Berg says. I certainly don’t begrudge them that at all. But couldn’t it have been done under something other than the banner of a caucus?
It just seems kind of pointless to me. And I’m guessing that the turnout on March 10th will prove that most Republicans in our state feel the same.
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