Return to Winner-Take-All GOP Primaries

I believe when the dust settles on the 2012 campaign, one resounding lesson will be to ditch proportional delegate primaries.

While Republicans spent tons of money beating each other up in campaign ads month after month after month, just to wind up with the same nominee we would’ve had anyway, Obama spent the summer blasting negative ads against Romney, too.

September conventions tied up Romney’s general election spending until after the summer, when the race was probably already lost.

I know the complaints about winner-take-all primaries. States that don’t go first basically have show primaries that occur after all but one candidate has dropped out.


The point is to nominate a candidate and put him in the best position to win. That means spending money trying to defeat Democrats, rather than trying to bash other Republicans or defend against other Republican attacks.

Mitt Romney won 9 of the first 13 primaries before Super Tuesday. He won 6 Super Tuesday states in March. He won 7 of 11 states later that month.

Was it over? Heck no. Romney still won every April primary and still didn’t have enough delegates to be considered the nominee. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul held out until May.


By the end, Romney had amassed over 1400 delegates, and the closet person to him was Santorum with under 240.

Really? We dragged out our circular firing squad until May to nominate the guy who won New Hampshire and Super Tuesday.

Stop! Although it’s great drama and fodder for politicos, it’s horrible to spend literally half of the Presidential campaign year fighting ourselves.

Proportional delegate awarding was a disaster. Romney spent the entire year fending off negative attacks: Half by our own candidates, and the other half by Obama when Romney was low on funds due to our long, protracted primaries that wound up with the same nominee we would’ve had anyway.

Go back to winner take all.

  • I know we want to put out the best candidates and the best arguments, but why the field insisted on perpetual negative campaigning against the front-runner in the primaries remains confusing. I think we, in a sense, wrote, distributed, and began defending the opposition narrative well before the Democrats even began articulating it.

    Barack Obama and his team got to sit back, laugh, and simply take notes as our candidates consistently called each other unfit to lead.

  • I have to disagree with everything you said. We need to get rid of primaries altogether and turn to conventions. Then we won’t have a horrible candidate like Romney and McCain.

    • Conventions don’t fix horrible candidates. We need better candidates to run, period.

      • MD Russ

        Strongly agree, Brian. Republicans need to be very critical of the candidates that will come slithering out from under the rocks in 2016 when they don’t have to face an incumbent President. The first question for Daniels, Christie, Jindal, et al, should be, “where the Hell were you in 2012?” At least Pawlenty made a run for the nomination.

        James, conventions produce even worse candidates than primaries. Under a convention system, the Republican nominee might very well have been Santorium, Gingrich, or even Ron Paul. Notice that the vast majority of delegates that Paul got in 2012 were in non-primary states with conventions or caucuses, even with proportional delegate selection in the primaries. Any mainstream Democrat would have clobbered those guys worse than Nixon clobbered McGovern in 1972.

        BK, great post and you are absolutely right. Get rid of proportional delegates selection and turn the national convention back into what it is supposed to be: a three-day celebration of party unity that gives the nominee a bump in the polls. The floor fights in Tampa were an unproductive and embarrassing distraction that accomplished nothing except to increase the odds of Obama’s reelection.

  • Guest

    The problem was not the proportional delegate system. The Dems have always used such a system, and as I recall, 2008 turned out quite well for them. Our problem was a lousy field of candidates. Our eventual winner had nothing going for him but a fist full of dollars and the willingness to destroy anyone who challenged him in the polls. The Romney campaign NEVER gave Republican primary voters a reason to support him or fight for him. They merely played “king of the Hill” for six months. Romney spent next to nothing defining himself positively, leavining the Obama campaign free to do it for him. In the case of GOP 2012, it was definitely “Hate the players, but don’t hate the game.”

    • If we had a “lousy field of candidates,” doesn’t it then follow that we should get most of them off the stage as quickly as possible?

  • Mike Jordan

    i think Romney was attacked so much because the base was looking for somebody, anybody, to nominate instead. The only reason Romney got it was because the rest of the field was just such a bunch of boobs.

  • Tim J

    The Dems cherry picked their issues from the Republican primaries which were then used to develop the multi-pronged social assault on whatever constituencies the Republicans had deluded themselves into thinking they might win. But with insult heaped on injury, and the incredible get out the vote ground game of the Democrats, Republicans never had a chance.

  • The point of allowing the primaries to run their full course is to allow opportunities for mistakes like Mitt Romney and John McCain to be corrected. The most important thing is to end up with a candidate we’d actually want to elect.

  • Everyone seems to agree that there was general dissatisfaction with the field of candidates in the Republican presidential primary this year. Retreating to a system in which the candidate with the biggest warchest has a leg up on the competition during primary season doesn’t seem like it would do anything at all to fix that problem.

    If the one with the most money can wrap up the primary by Super Tuesday with big ad buys in a few big states, how is a grassroots candidate on a more modest budget supposed to compete? All the ground organization and energized volunteers in the world aren’t going to outweigh a blitz of radio and television ads.

    • MD Russ


      It is not so that the biggest spender can wrap up the nomination early. 1980 is a case in point. On the Democratic side, Ted Kennedy far out-spent Jimmy Carter but failed to win the nomination. On the Republican side, Ronald Reagan faced a host of challengers in the primaries ranging from John Anderson (who went on to run in the general election as an Independent) to George H. W. Bush, who collectively out-spent him by an order-of-magnitude. Reagan won not because of spending in early primaries but because of the grass-roots organization that he had from his challenge to Gerald Ford in 1976.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.