RNC moves toward 2016 changes despite conservative outrage

A Republican National Committee meeting to compress the 2016 primary schedule grew heated Thursday, as supporters of rule changes beat back repeated attempts by a handful of conservative activists to torpedo them.

The push to shorten the presidential nominating process and have an early summer convention is an effort to give the eventual nominee time to raise money, unite the GOP, and hopefully avoid excessive infighting in the party. Many Republicans believe the lengthy nominating process in 2012 hurt Mitt Romney's chances.

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Virginia Committeeman Morton Blackwell and a half-dozen RNC members from state parties where the party's libertarian wing has wrested control fought hard against a series of changes to stretch the primary process out. Their fear is that a shorter primary season stymies the possibility a lightly funded movement conservative could win the nomination and unfairly benefits cash-flush, establishment candidates.  

Dozens of other RNC members on the committee, including former senior advisers to Romney and Newt Gingrich, back the efforts to abbreviate the primary calendar though, which they see as necessary for the health of the party.  

The changes passed the rules committee on Thursday — the first step before its likely passage during Friday's session of the RNC's winter meeting. But the meeting to move it out of committee certainly had plenty of fireworks.  

“This proposal is essentially a sham because it makes no great difference,” Blackwell fired off about one proposed compromise. The meeting grew more heated as he raised repeated objections, growing visibly agitated. 

"We do what practical people do in a legislative process, we compromised, and the deal that we struck was two weeks," said Republican National Committee general counsel John Ryder of Tennessee after repeated objections from Blackwell, before taking a shot at the Virginian.

"I don't know where they buy their bread in Virginia, but in Tennessee we figure half a loaf is better than none."

A few minutes later, Blackwell took a seeming shot at Massachusetts committeeman Ron Kaufman, charging the former Romney adviser would prefer a one-day national primary so the richest candidates could lock up the nomination.

Arizona committeeman Bruce Ash, chairing the hearing, grew irritated and warned Blackwell about making "snide comments."

"Mr. Blackwell, we are not going to allow any personal attacks," Ash shot back. 

Blackwell warned as the committee hearing concluded that there would be a fight on Friday, when all 168 members of the RNC will have a chance to vote on it. Many members predicted easy passage despite it needing three quarters of members’ support, but Blackwell is looking to rally backers of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and some social conservatives to try to keep the change from passing.

“The grassroots are unhappy with that process and they are unhappy with good reason and we should address their concerns,” Blackwell said before promising to continue fighting on Friday.

Kaufman said earlier in the day that the fact that both he and Gingrich's general counsel, Randy Evans, were both backing the plan showed that it wouldn't advantage a well-funded candidate over a poorly funded one in the future.

"I'm pretty sure it'll pass overwhelmingly," he said. "The fact that Mitt Romney's guy here, me, and Newt Gingrich's general counsel, Randy ... both view these as good changes, shows they are."

Kaufman’s views were echoed by conservative attorney Jim Bopp, who helped negotiate the compromises on the rules changes and often acts as a broker between the party’s conservative activists and its more establishment members.

Bopp, a former Indiana committeeman, said despite Blackwell’s objections, the plan would pass easily.