New RNC Rules Changes: One Big Misstep

Rule changes to RNC nominating calendar could be a misstep.

ByOpinion By Matthew Dowd
January 24, 2014, 1:54 PM

Jan. 24, 2014— -- The Republican National Committee has made at least one serious miscalculation in the rules changes to its nominating calendar for the upcoming 2016 presidential election.

Moving the national convention from the end of August to June or July shows a deep misunderstanding of how the dynamics of a campaign work in the general election.

I've always maintained that the biggest impact on the election is first in the political environment and mood of the country, and second in the quality of the candidate and her or his message. Way down the list is the process or tactics employed in the midst of the campaign.

But when you look at the reduced effects of tactics, it's important to understand those moments and events that have the biggest movement on voter opinions and perceptions. It isn't advertising, it isn't speeches around the country, it isn't campaign offices, and it isn't innovative data programs. The two moments that have traditionally moved voters in any significant way are the nominating conventions and debates. And even these are commonly temporary bumps.

And the only one of these two moments where one can control the timing and the message in a disciplined way are the conventions. Party strategists should want to place the convention as close as possible to Election Day to have the greatest likelihood the bump will have an impact and to reduce the effect of the opposing party's convention.

This is exactly what the strategy was in the 2004 re-election campaign where I served as chief strategist for President Bush. I counseled the leadership that moving the convention as late as possible would give us the highest likelihood of impacting the election. And this is exactly what happened, though President Bush's lackluster performance in the debate in Miami against John Kerry was definitely not part of the plan.

If I was the Democrats, I would let the Republicans hold their convention in June or July, let them get their bounce early, and then hold their own convention at the end of August or beginning of September. What is likely to happen with a well-coordinated and successful convention is that any bounce Republicans get in June for instance will wear off, and the Democrats would get a bounce on their own two months from Election Day.

Again, the conventions will only have small, but important tactical effect on the race, and success will primarily be determined by the overall environment and the candidate. But in one step in the process of setting up an effective path to winning, Republicans have just made a serious misstep.

There you have it.

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent.

Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.