CHICAGO (AP) – Republicans are enthusiastic about wrapping up their year of sweeping party rule changes aimed at making the work of picking a candidate for president more efficient and less prone to infighting.
Not a moment too soon. As members of the Republican National Committee meet this week in Chicago, several White House hopefuls are spending a few days in the Iowa — a full year and a half ahead of the state's leadoff caucuses.
Yet for all their success in making the administrative changes called for in the RNC's post-2012 election autopsy, including imposing strict new penalties on states that violate the party's nominating schedule, the party's members of Congress have not yet moved on its only policy recommendation.
"In order for our party to grow, we need to have a comprehensive response on immigration," New Hampshire Republican National Committee member Steve Duprey said. "Even though this session's been disappointing, I think there's still room for progress."
The rule changes, adopted last spring in Memphis, include stripping states — except for the traditional first four of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada — of almost all their delegates to the party's nominating convention if they hold a presidential primary or caucus before March 1.
"It would render them irrelevant," rules committee chairman Bruce Ash of Arizona said.
The RNC Friday will name a committee charged with shrinking the number of presidential primary debates, to likely about half of the nearly two dozen of the 2012 campaign. Last spring, committee members easily passed a measure that would penalize candidates who participate in debates that aren't sanctioned by the RNC, and a debate committee selected Friday will be given a say in who moderates the debates.
The primary goal is to limit the opportunities for candidates with little chance of winning to linger in the process, as did, for example, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 2012.
"The idea is to put an end to this traveling circus," said Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak.
And Cleveland, Ohio, is expected to be formally selected as the site of the 2016 Republican National Convention. While RNC members expect to hold the event earlier than the traditional late August or early September, some key members said Thursday that earlier suggestions it could come as early as June — to consolidate the party around the presumptive nominee — are premature.
There was little to no talk Thursday at the RNC meeting about the recommendation on immigration made in the 2012 post-mortem presented to the party last year by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. It concluded that addressing the fate of the millions of people living in the United States illegally is essential to making the GOP more appealing to the younger and racially diverse voters who sided with President Barack Obama in 2012.
Asked about progress on the rules, but not immigration, RNC co-chairwoman Sharon Day said Democrats in the Senate bear the responsibility for Congress' inaction.
"We have made tremendous attempts, but they can't get an up-or-down vote, but they don't see the light of day under Harry Reid," the Democratic Senate majority leader, she said.
Republicans in Congress have been unable to come together themselves on the issue. Last week, a small number of unyielding conservatives delayed by a day an effort by House Republicans to pass a immigration bill — one far short of the recommended comprehensive overhaul — before the start of the annual August recess.
But for every RNC member such as Duprey who is frustrated by the failure of Republicans to agree on how to move ahead on immigration, there's another who call such failure is "irrelevant."
"Our party is trying to share insight and send it to policy makers," said former Michigan Republican National Committeeman Saul Anuzis. "There are a lot of RNC resolutions that never become law."