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In its 2022-03-18 GOP lawmaker slams Trump's Ukraine remark: 'He was awful' "CNN's Jim Sciutto talks to Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) about Donald Trump's comments about Putin's invasion of Ukraine". At the end, Sciutto asks the US Representative:

Final question if I can. You are among the names mentioned who might challenge (Trump) for the nomination in 2024 should he decide to run (and) it looks like he will, along with Liz Cheney perhaps Mike Pence. Do you believe there will be a competitive GOP primary, that you will get the opportunity to do so? We saw steps in 2020 where the GOP closed the path to challenges. Do you believe that will happen again? Or will you get a shot?

That Kinzinger did not challenge the premise of the question in any way lead me to suspect that there might be some demonstrable truth to it, and to wonder if there are still ways that the GOP could "closed the path to challenges" to former president Trump should he run in 2024.

Question: What steps could the US GOP take to block primary challenges to Trump in 2024 should he run again, and which of these were also taken in 2020?


note 1: It is possible that some steps in 2019 have been discussed in previous questions tagged and it will be helpful and informative to include links to those where possible.

note 2: fwiw Sciutto uses "closed the path to challenges" rather than challengers.

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  • Can you clarify your question? I know there are a lot of quotes here, but they are adding further to the confusion. Are you asking what the GOP can do to make sure that no one runs against Trump in the party?
    – uberhaxed
    Mar 19, 2022 at 8:04
  • @uberhaxed Yes, that is certainly most of my question. Your wording seems to be very similar to "What steps could the US GOP take to block primary challenges to Trump in 2024..." it's just that there are some additional bits as well, and though I've asked about "challenges" rather than "challengers" to match the reporter's language, it seems to be effectively the same thing.
    – uhoh
    Mar 19, 2022 at 8:09

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It's really up to the individual state conferences on how they run their own primaries/caucuses - where state laws don't exist regulating them, at least. Some approaches taken in the run-up to the 2020 election included switching delegate allocation to a 'winner-takes-all' system rather than a proportional system, or even cancelling primary contests or caucuses altogether.

Switching to a 'winner-takes-all' system - where a candidate with over 50% of the popular vote would be assigned all the states' delegates - would obviously benefit the front-runner, especially if applied in states with early primaries, as it would help prevent challengers from attaining sufficient momentum to become a serious challenger. This approach was taken in 2019 by Rhode Island Republicans, and while it wouldn't have had much of an effect in that contest, it could be attempted in more states for 2024. The RNC rules were altered for the 2020 cycle to remove a provision which stipulated a proportional allocation system for delegate assignment if the primary contest was held prior to March 15.

Additionally, in the run-up to the 2020 election, many state Republican parties voted to cancel their presidential primaries and assign all their delegates to President Trump. This is fairly common among both major parties when an incumbent president is running for re-election - Republicans cancelled primaries in 1992 and 2004, while Democrats cancelled primaries in 1996 and 2012. As far as I know, cancelling a presidential primary for a non-incumbent would be unprecedented in the modern primary system, but technically there's nothing stopping state parties from doing so - depending on individual state laws.

In Michigan, for example, state law prevents primaries from being cancelled altogether. However, in 2019, the state Republican party voted to increase the delegate threshold - the percentage of votes needed to be assigned delegates - to 20%, clearly disadvantaging challengers to front-runners.

Finally, another change made in 2019 was to abolish the Republican party's "Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debate". From the party's 2016 rules:

The Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall have the authority to sanction debates on behalf of the Republican National Committee based on input from presidential campaigns and criteria which may include but are not limited to considerations of timing, frequency, format, media outlet, and the best interests of the Republican Party. Each debate sanctioned by the Standing Committee on Presidential Primary Debates shall be known as a "Sanctioned Debate." Any presidential candidate who participates in any debate that is not a Sanctioned Debate shall not be eligible to participate in any further Sanctioned Debates.

Buzzfeed reported that RNC committeeman Randy Evans said at the time that the change was "intended to dissuade a primary challenge to the president". Given the public awareness of Trump over any challenger, debates could be a vital chance for a challenger to raise their public profile. If this committee isn't reinstated, candidates will only have the opportunity to participate in unofficial debates organised by third-party organisations.

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