TIME 2016 Election

White Supremacist Group Donated to GOP Candidates

Charleston Shooting
AP Dylann Roof poses for a photo while holding a Confederate flag

Ted Cruz of Texas, will return the $8,500 he received from Earl Holt

(WASHINGTON) — The leader of a white supremacist group cited by Charleston church murder suspect Dylann Roof made $65,000 in donations to Republicans, including several to Republican presidential candidates, The Guardian newspaper reported Sunday night.

The paper reported that one of the candidates, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, will return the $8,500 he received from Earl Holt, leader of the Council of Conservative Citizens. An online manifesto purportedly written by Roof, the suspect in last week’s murder of nine blacks at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, said he learned about “brutal black on white murders” from the Council of Conservative Citizens website.

The Guardian also reported that Holt donated to presidential candidates Rand Paul and Rick Santorum. A spokesman for Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, told the paper that Santorum doesn’t condone racist or hateful comments; Paul’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment from the newspaper.

In a statement posted online Sunday, Holt said that it “was not surprising” that Roof credited his group with his knowledge of black-on-white crime. But he added that the Council of Conservative Citizens is “hardly responsible for the actions of this deranged individual merely because he gleaned accurate information from our website,” and said that the group doesn’t condone illegal activities.

Holt also donated to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, and to several current and former GOP members of Congress, including Iowa Rep. Steve King, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and former Minnesota Rep. and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, according to the Guardian.

TIME 2016 Election

Romney, McCain Criticize GOP Debate Rules

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and former presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hold a campaign town hall meeting at the Peterborough Town House January 4, 2012 in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and former presidential nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hold a campaign town hall meeting at the Peterborough Town House January 4, 2012 in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

The last two Republican presidential nominees aren’t happy about how the next one will be selected.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain are criticizing the Republican National Committee and the TV networks hosting the first two GOP primary debates this summer for setting limits on participation. Under rules adopted by Fox News and CNN in consultation with the party, only the top 10 in national polls will make the main stage, with the balance of the at least 15 candidates in the race relegated to second-tier forums.

“I think if you had these rules in 2007, I may never have been able to be the nominee of the party in 2008,” McCain told TIME.

“I think that it basically shuts out, obviously people who aren’t well known, but it also diminishes the importance of a state like New Hampshire, where people can come out of no where through their performance in the state and be successful,” McCain added.

Romney criticized the debate criteria Friday evening in an interview with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly at his E2 Summit for Republican donors according to attendees, saying they artificially narrow down the field.

The RNC took control of the debates process as part of its response to its 2012 defeat, believing that the 23 debates held that cycle weakened Romney in the general election and that they served less as a venue for debating policy solutions than attempting the character assassination of rivals. But it left the final determination of the selection criteria up to the networks.

Several Republican candidates, including Sen. Rick Santorum, Sen. Lindsey Graham, former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Gov. Bobby Jindal have been critical of the debate reforms, and have called on the party to take steps to allow all the candidates to participate. McCain, who is backing Graham, and Romney suggested holding back-to-back debates with candidates randomly divided between the two.

“It’s time to revisit this situation and make sure we are not fostering a process that eliminates a candidate before they’ve had a chance,” McCain said.

Republican National Committee Chief Strategist Sean Spicer defended the debate rules.

“The largest number of presidential candidates that has ever been on a stage in either party is 10. We are pleased that both Fox and CNN have recognized the quantity of highly qualified candidates in our party and have sought to create the most inclusive scenario by giving any candidate polling above 1% time on the stage to have their voice heard,” he said.

TIME 2016 Election

Iowa Straw Poll Dead at 36, Killed by Irrelevance

Fairgoers over the age of 18 are invited to drop one piece of corn into one of 14 jars with photos of their favorite Republican presidential candidate during the second day of the Iowa State Fair ahead of the Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 12, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Fairgoers over the age of 18 are invited to drop one piece of corn into one of 14 jars with photos of their favorite Republican presidential candidate during the second day of the Iowa State Fair ahead of the Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 12, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa.

With so few credible candidates committed, Iowa Republicans pulled the plug on a longtime tradition.

The Iowa Straw Poll that measured the intensity of the state’s most conservative activists and their love of free ice cream—and little else—was declared dead Friday at the age of 36. The cause of death was irrelevance.

Long criticized as a political circus that awards candidates who were willing to pander to the GOP’s extremist corner, the Straw Poll had been at risk for months. The Republican Party of Iowa tried to resuscitate an institution that, in the words of Iowa’s Republican Governor, “had outlived its usefulness.”

Members of Iowa’s central committee offered the Straw Poll life support: they ended the pay-to-play nature of the event, offered candidates free tent space and utilities if they would just show up for the Aug. 8 event in Boone and allowed food trucks to come onto the property so guests were not drawn to a candidate’s camp just to get a meal. Yes, they acknowledged, the Straw Poll had only once picked the Republican who would go on to win the party’s nominee, but it’s been a tradition since 1979. Now, it joins other traditions that have expired, such as voting at midnight at New Hampshire’s Balsam’s Resort or South Carolina’s primary being a must-win for Republicans.

“I’ve said since December that we would only hold a Straw Poll if the candidates wanted one, and this year that is just not the case,” Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement, announcing there would be no long lines for candidate-supplied Dairy Queen soft serve or Famous Dave’s pulled pork sandwiches that were a go-to in previous confabs. “This step, while extremely distasteful for those of us who love the Straw Poll, is necessary to strengthen our first-in-the-nation status and ensure our future nominee has the best chance possible to take back the White House in 2016.”

Iowa still holds the leadoff caucuses, scheduled this time for Feb. 1, 2016. But many candidates are also keeping the state at arm’s length. Iowans demand candidates spend an inordinate amount of time answering their questions, eating their farm’s corn and shuffling through dusty fairgrounds. Conservatives are also quick to criticize candidates, as was the case last week when a gun rights activist confronted Sen. Lindsey Graham at a town hall-style meeting. On the American Conservative Union’s 1-to-100 scorecard, Graham has a lifetime score of 87. Yet he drew a heckler for a procedural vote. A day later, Graham again dismissed the Straw Poll. “It’s not a good return on investment for me. I’ll think I’m going to spend my money elsewhere,” Graham said. “I’m going to show up, go to birthday parties, go to weddings, bar mitzvahs—wherever they will have me.”

The daylong carnival-like atmosphere in 2012, held in its traditional spot in Ames, left many in the party publicly groaning and privately plotting its demise. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota enjoyed her triumph in an air-conditioned tent, cheered as confetti cannons blasted shredded paper over her crowd and country singer Randy Travis performed. She became an instant contender, thanks to the 4,823 participants who cast their ballot for Bachmann. Five months later, 6,064 Iowans caucused for her—a distant sixth place. Establishment-minded Republicans sighed that Bachmann drew the focus from Mitt Romney, 2012’s eventual nominee who chose to skip the Straw Poll and its vote-buying-by-another-name altogether.

Sen. Joni Ernst last week half-heartedly defending her home state’s $30-per-person Straw Poll at her own rally in Boone. “We really want the grassroots activists to come and out vote on who they want to see as their candidate,” Ernst said, standing at the site where the Straw Poll was to be held. Asked what would happen if candidates skipped, she shrugged. “It’s not disqualifying.”

Even as she was defending the institution, it was clear that many members of the top-tier contenders were planning to skip. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is atop the polls in Iowa, refused to pledge to participate in the melee. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who used a second-place finish during the 2008 campaign to give his spendthrift bid a boost, said he would skip the Boone afternoon, too. For many there was only a downside: Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty ended his bid the day after a third-place finish during the 2012 race; Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback placed third in the Straw Poll during his 2008 bid and never recovered. This year’s candidates such as Walker, Huckabee and even former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum can only lose if they come short of expectations.

In its ideal format, the Straw Poll gave lesser-known candidates like Huckabee a shot on the national stage. But in practice, the event rewarded heavy spending; Romney won the 2007 edition after spending millions, only to have Huckabee’s insurgence win the headlines. Four years later, he followed the model set by John McCain’s 2008 bid for the nomination and kept away. Iowans didn’t punish him and gave him essentially a tie for the top spot when it came time to caucus.

Indeed, only once had the clear winner of the Straw Poll gone on to win the GOP nomination. Sens. Bob Dole and Phil Gramm tied at the Straw Poll on the road to the 1996 nomination; Dole won the nomination. And, really, only a member of the Bush clan has ever been both the clear winner of the Straw Poll and the Iowa Caucuses. George W. Bush, of course, in 2000. His father, George H.W. Bush won the inaugural Straw Poll in 1979 and the 1980 Iowa Caucuses. He lost out on the nominee to Ronald Reagan and, when Bush successfully tried again in 1988, he ran a distant third—behind fiery televangelist Pat Robertson who in his platform proposed banning pornography.

In the end, it was that irrelevance that doomed the straw poll. May it rest in peace.

TIME politics

Rick Santorum’s Role in the Republican Renewal

rick santorum pennsylvania iowa republican
Charlie Neibergall—AP Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during the Iowa Republican Party's Lincoln Dinner, on May 16, 2015, in Des Moines.

The 2016 contender came into the public eye during one of his party's most pivotal moments

Rick Santorum, in announcing on Wednesday that he would try for the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential race, joins a crowded field of political contenders.

But it won’t be the first time that the former Pennsylvania Senator and 2012 also-ran has made a splash as part of a large group.

When Santorum first made national news, it was in 1994, as an upstart Congressman going to bat for Senator Harris Wofford’s seat. In covering the race, TIME cast Santorum as a barometer of the nation’s stance toward issues that stretched far beyond the state’s borders:

A party that opposes the President unyieldingly, he reasons, gets a nice, sharp profile. It could work, for instance, on health-care reform, one battle most Americans tell pollsters they are are no longer sure they want the President to win. That the issue, once a sure plus for Democrats, is now a more complicated blessing is evident in Pennsylania, where Democratic Senator Harris Wofford is in a tricky race against Rick Santorum, a Republican Congressman who promises to protect voters from government interference in their health-care decisions. It was Wofford’s surprise victory three years ago over Dick Thornburgh, after a campaign that made health-care reform an issue, that first alerted politicians to its potential. But while Wofford is far ahead of Santorum in fund raising this year, their contest is a toss-up. ”Health care is a significant factor that has energized a lot of people who are nonpolitical,” says Santorum, with the clear implication that this time the newcomers are his.

As we now know, of course, Santorum was right.

That was the year of Newt Gingrich’s ascension, and when election time rolled around, the Republican Party’s midterm gains were immense. As TIME put it, “voters angrily revoked the Democrats’ 40-year lease on the Congress,” as the G.O.P. picked up seats in both houses of Congress and in gubernatorial seats across the country. Representative Toby Roth of Wisconsin put it even more strongly: “[This] was more than an election. It was a revolution.”

Santorum’s conservative appeal to voters carried the day in Pennsylvania, just as his colleagues found success in other states. The political sea change of 1994 continues to reverberate throughout the political world—and Santorum’s latest try for the presidency is only one way of many.

Read the full cover story, here in the TIME Vault: G.O.P. Stampede

TIME rick santorum

Rick Santorum Starts Presidential Run Looking Back

Leaning on Republicans' traditions, he makes the case that 2016 is his turn

Correction appended, May 27

Rick Santorum was closing out his speech to the GOP’s governing class at a posh desert resort near Phoenix. His time to address the Republican National Committee coming to a close, he took a moment to remind the party’s elders of their history. “We stick with tradition,” the former Senator from Pennsylvania said in early May.

With restless party chairmen and activists shifting in their seats, the failed 2012 candidate made a not-so-subtle pitch for the Santorum for President, 2016 Edition, which started on Wednesday, with a rally in Cabot, Pa.

“Since primaries and caucuses went into effect, every Republican nominee has met one of three tests,” Santorum said in Arizona. “One, they were Vice President. Two, they were the son of a former President. And three, they came in second place the last time and ran again and won.”

If history were predictive of how Republicans pick their nominee, then 2016’s nomination should be Santorum’s for the taking. He came in second to Romney in 2012 and, in his telling, won as many nominating contests as Reagan did during his 1976 bid. (In truth, Reagan won 11 primaries in 23 states, whereas Santorum won a combined 11 contests in states that held primaries and caucuses.)

But history alone is not going to overcome Santorum’s significant obstacles as he seeks the White House for a second time. With a penchant for incendiary language, a stronger crop of likely competitors, an expected nine-figure deficit against his rivals for the nod, few of his competitors now count him in the top tier of candidates, and there are serious questions about him even making the cut for the first debate on Aug. 6.

“I know what it’s like to be an underdog,” Santorum said in Pennsylvania’s Butler County on Wednesday, beginning an uphill climb for the nomination. “Four years ago, well, no one gave us much of a chance. But we won 11 states. We got 4 million votes. And it’s not just because I stood for something. It’s because I stood for someone: the American worker.”

But this time, Santorum faces a tougher field of competitors. Fresh-faced newcomers, such as Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have the GOP optimistic it can appeal beyond its shrinking footprint. Conservative rock stars such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas can electrify crowds. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee can tap into his past as a Baptist pastor and whip the Christian conservative base of the party into a frenzy. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has the pedigree and roster of campaign donors that might overshadow missing other traits voters say they are seeking.

Santorum, out of office since early 2007 after losing reelection by 18 percentage points, can do none of those. He is 57—a decade older than some of his rivals and roughly in the middle of the pack when it comes to birthdays. He fails to energize conservative audiences with speeches that are closer to college lectures than political rallying cries. He speaks about his faith in deeply personal ways but cannot match Huckabee in the pulpit. And Santorum is an admittedly terrible fundraiser, often turning off would-be donors with his contrarian style.

“The last race, we changed the debate,” Santorum told his kick-off rally. “This race, with your help and God’s grace, we can change this nation. Join us.”

His crowds so far this year have been thin. But Santorum is used to that. He toiled in relative obscurity in 2011, visiting all 99 Iowa counties in the passenger seat of an activist’s pickup. He staged a surprise win in the leadoff caucuses but had insufficient infrastructure to capitalize on Iowa’s enthusiasm.

Instead, he turned to often divisive and cantankerous rhetoric. For instance, Santorum could seldom open his mouth with unleashing an invective about others and cast himself as a victim. He called Romney “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” He said John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech, in which the future president said “the separation of church and state is absolute,” made the Pennsylvania Senator “want to throw up.” Santorum promised that, as President, he would talk about “the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea.”

Earlier this year, Santorum told NBC News that his 2012 campaign was defined by “dumb things” he said and “crazy stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with anything.” He acknowledges things went off the rails the further into the nominating process he hobbled, even as his campaign was running out of cash and the White House nod grew increasingly impossible to snag.

Even so, Santorum crowed to a tea party crowd in South Carolina earlier this year: “I was the last person standing.” He earned 234 pledged delegates to the party’s nominating convention in Tampa. Romney had amassed more than 1,400.

Even so, Santorum tells voters and reporters his political endurance qualifies him to become the nominee this time. He insists he is battle-tested under pressure, unlike his rivals.

“As you’ve seen, Commander in Chief is not an entry-level position, and the White House is the last place for on-the-job training,” Santorum said Wednesday.

Santorum has his history right. Mitt Romney was rewarded the nomination in 2012 after failing to win it in 2008. John McCain’s 2000 failed run was rewarded with the nomination in 2008. Bob Dole won the nomination in 1992 after an unsuccessful turn as the GOP’s 1976 Vice Presidential nominee. George H.W. Bush was the nominee in 1988 after losing to Ronald Reagan in the 1980 primaries and then serving eight years as his Vice President. Reagan himself won the 1980 nomination after failing to win the nod in 1976. Richard Nixon won the White House in 1968; he served eight years as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Vice President before losing the Presidency as the GOP nominee in 1960.

Only four times in the last 60 years has the Republican electorate nominated a Presidential neophyte—and the most recent examples are suspect at best. George W. Bush, the son of a President, won the White House in 2000 as a first-time national candidate. Gerald Ford rose to the Presidency after Nixon’s resignation and lost the White House in 1976 to Democrat Jimmy Carter as a first-time coast-to-coast candidate. Barry Goldwater came up short as the GOP nominee in 1964, and Eisenhower won the 1952 nomination and Presidency as a first-time political candidate.

But those figures—new and veteran—ran sophisticated campaigns and had not alienated great swaths of the GOP. Santorum’s situation looks different, with several of his former top advisers having defected for other campaigns: 2012 campaign manager Mike Biundo is a Paul senior adviser. Spokespeople Hogan Gidley and Alice Stewart have signed with Huckabee. Even Santorum’s erstwhile driver from 2012, Chuck Laudner, has abandoned him—for Donald Trump.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the date of the first Republican presidential debate. It is Aug. 6.

TIME 2016 Election

Why Josh Duggar’s Past Will Hurt Social Conservatives

Many movement leaders have been close to the reality star now accused of child molestation

As a reality-TV star famous for being part of a large conservative family, Josh Duggar had a public visibility that made him attractive to advocacy groups hoping he could spotlight their shared opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Now, as he responds to accusations of child molestation as a teenager, that same visibility could hurt the cause.

A police report detailed grim accusations against Duggar, one of the stars of TLC’s series 19 Kids and Counting. According to the newly released report, Duggar, the oldest child, allegedly sexually molested five minors, when he was 15. Jim Bob Duggar, his father, did not report the incidents to police for more than a year.

The political reaction was swift. Duggar, now 27, resigned from his role at the Family Research Council on Thursday, the same day the report was released owing to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, hired Duggar to lead Family Research Council Action, the group’s lobbying arm, in 2013. Duggar was 25, a young, popular TV star who poised to help advance the conservative evangelical political platform. “Josh and his wife Anna have been an inspiration to millions of Americans who regularly tune in to see the Duggar family’s show, and all of us at Family Research Council and FRC Action have long appreciated their commitment to the profamily movement,” Perkins said at the time.

But Duggar worked to be more than a pop-culture icon, he was a favored son in social-conservative politics. He served on two presidential campaigns, Mike Huckabee’s in 2008 and Rick Santorum’s in 2012, and during the recent midterms he campaigned for Senate candidates in Kansas, Mississippi and Virginia. Politics were also part of his upbringing. His father Jim Bob served two terms in the Arkansas house of representatives (1998–2002) and ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2002, around the time of the allegations against his son.

Josh Duggar focused his work at FRC Action on grassroots outreach, frequently fighting to keep the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. He was at the Supreme Court for arguments on same-sex marriage in April and helped to lead the March for Marriage rally in Washington that week. In December he campaigned, successfully, against an LGBT nondiscrimination measure in Arkansas that he said put children at risk. He tweeted that Islam attacked women. He said his family was the “epitome of conservative values.”

Conservative GOP candidates valued Duggar as a way to advance their agenda and leverage his constituents. He has tweeted photos of him with nearly all the 2016 GOP White House hopefuls — Huckabee, Santorum, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, to name just some in his timeline — and countless representatives, Senators, governors and operatives, from Senator James Lankford to Sarah Palin to GOP head Reince Priebus. He retweeted politicians who promoted FRC Action’s agenda, and challenged others who stood against it. Just last week he pushed hard on social media to promote the U.S. House’s Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and tweeted at Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards, “Sorry, but you’re the one lacking compassion.”

But what was Duggar’s political value for Family Research Council, his moral example, has now become a cost. The group has looked to the 2016 elections as an opportunity to advance their cause, especially since there are so many candidates with similar values on family and marriage. Perkins also currently leads the Council for National Policy, a group that quietly seeks to vet candidates. Plus, everyone is bracing for the Supreme Court to decide a landmark gay-marriage case in late June, and the Family Research Council has been at the forefront of working to stop the spread of gay marriage.

That entire agenda is now compromised, and the Family Research Council has to pick up the pieces. Perkins issued a statement Thursday night, saying that the group was previously unaware of Duggar’s past, and that Duggar himself made the decision to resign because he realized “that the situation will make it difficult for him to be effective in his current work.” In the statement, Perkins agreed: “We believe this is the best decision for Josh and his family at this time.”

The Family Research Council will have to find a new executive director for its lobbying arm, and attempt to recover the ground lost from this setback. FRC Action has also removed Duggar’s information from its website. (His bio on FRC Action’s website stated: “Drawing from his unique experiences in family, entertainment, politics and business, Josh seeks to use his God-given platform to encourage others to be engaged in the political process.”)

Reactions from the conservative side still remain to be seen. Huckabee became one of the first politicians to back Duggar on Friday morning. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are, as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable,’” he wrote on Facebook. “He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.”

Read next:

TLC Should Cancel 19 Kids and Counting

Here’s What Happened to Other TV Shows Embroiled in Controversy Like 19 Kids and Counting

TIME Republican Party

Republicans Prepare for Painstaking Nomination Fight

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club in Washington, in 2013.
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club in Washington, in 2013. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club in Washington, in 2013.

It could be like the Obama-Clinton fight of 2008, only with more candidates

After Mitt Romney’s bruising nomination fight in 2012, Republican Party officials changed the rules in an effort to streamline the 2016 primaries. But the increased influence of super PACs and an unusually deep bench of candidates mean the changes could have the opposite effect intended.

Several Republican presidential hopefuls are already preparing for a long, blistering and potentially inconclusive nominating fight that could go all the way to the national convention.

“The rules were designed to make it more of a contest so that more states and activists are engaged in the process—and that’s definitely going to happen,” says Steve Duprey, the New Hampshire National Committeeman who helped to shepherd the rules changes through in 2012 and 2013. “The bad news is, this campaign is likely to go on longer than we’ve seen in a long time.”

Republican Party officials blamed a broken primary process in 2012 for contributing to Romney’s defeat and set about changing the party rules to keep it from happening again.

The committee shortened the calendar between the first caucus and the last primary, required the binding of delegates in primaries and caucuses and raised the bar for nominating candidates on the convention floor, requiring a nominee to win the majority of eight state or territory delegations. The idea was that a compressed timetable would favor better-funded candidates, while keeping lesser candidates from making a scene in Cleveland.

But three years later, the primary will be playing out in a very different stage, one where a massive crop of candidates with huge sums of unlimited cash have little incentive to exit early. Party operatives and campaign aides are predicting a longer, more intense contest next year than in 2012. They believe it will be more akin to the Obama-Clinton fight in 2008—a slow state-by-state contest to rack up delegates—only with a lot more candidates remaining competitive.

On paper, the RNC’s efforts will shorten the time from the Iowa Caucuses to when the nominee clinches a majority of delegates—primarily accomplished by a successful effort to keep the first contests from advancing into February. But Romney’s victory was all-but-assured months before he secured 50% of convention delegates in late May 2012.

Josh Putnam, an assistant professor at Appalachian State University who runs the exhaustive Frontloading HQ blog tracking the primary calendar, explains that about 50% of delegates to the GOP convention will be awarded by March 8, 2016, with 75% awarded by April 26—both weeks earlier than in 2012. “That is important because the last two Republican nominees established a lead by that 50% point and had clinched the nomination around the time that 75% of the delegates had been allocated,” he says.

But changes in campaign finance and an unusually strong field threaten to throw that precedent out the window. Now many party strategists expect four to six candidates to emerge as a top tier from the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. With roughly the same delegate support and momentum, they expect that the proportional contests in early March—when a front-runner usually emerges—may not be decisive. On March 1, for instance, more than 600 delegates are set to be awarded. “Lots of people will be able to claim victory that day,” said one top advisor to a Republican candidate.

Meanwhile, the rest of field may be in no hurry to go anywhere. The explosion of mega-donors writing significant checks to candidates and their super PACs has mitigated the historical impetus for dropping out, while the lessons of the up-and-down 2012 primary have incentivized staying in the race even when the odds turns slim.

“This could actually be a convention that matters for the first time since 1964,” says Saul Anuzis, the Michigan state chairman for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid and a former RNC member who backed the rules changes. “I still don’t think most of the campaigns have an infrastructure in place to deal with it.”

Not all strategists blame the predictions of a messy nomination process on the new rules. Michael Shields, the former RNC chief of staff, told TIME he believes the deciding factor in stretching out the primary in 2016 is likely to be the number of candidates who can raise money. “It would have been longer without the reform,” he said.

To be sure, all the prognosticating could also be wrong—a single candidate could build enough momentum in the early states to run away with the nomination in weeks. But with a field of more than a dozen candidates that appears at the moment to be unlikely.

Some campaigns are only just coming to the realization that this contest will be far different from the last, having spent the past months focused on the early states. “Those who have started to think it through recognize it’s going to be a long chase for delegates,” said a veteran GOP strategist.

Anuzis said Cruz is planning for the long haul and is already eyeing favorable congressional districts in California—which will go to the polls on June 7, 2016, and awards its delegates to the winners in each congressional district. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign has hired Jon Waclawski, a veteran of the RNC counsel’s office who was involved in drafting the rules after the 2012 campaign, as its counsel and chief delegate counter. People close to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign said his team is drawing up plans to deal with what they expect to be a painstaking fight for delegates.

“This changes the way you have to run your entire campaign,” says one candidate aide. “You really do have to target, racking up local endorsements, for instance. Those people are going to be important when you’re competing on a congressional district by congressional district basis.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s advisers see the proportional contests in early March, and the potential for a drawn out delegate fight, working to their advantage. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told reporters Thursday that he is broadly supportive of the rules changes, but is worried about the compressed calendar, “and it becomes just a money issue, and not an issue of momentum.”

What remains to be seen is whether this intensified primary process will be a benefit or liability to the eventual nominee in the general election. The knockdown, drag-out 2008 Democratic contest is viewed as having ultimately helped Obama, who emerged tested with a network of support outside of the early primary states. For months after winning the nomination, Republican presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain could hardly gain notice from the media­. “Will there be some broken glass, will there be some negative attacks, sure,” Shields acknowledged. “But I do believe this process, like the Obama-Hillary one, will leave our nominee stronger.”

Others are less sanguine, fearing the compressed timeframe could result in a more weakened nominee, battered by months of attacks from candidates and super PACs

“It’s pretty different when it’s a two person extended race opposed to a multi-person race—and in 2008 you didn’t have super PACs playing the role that they did and they generally tend to go negative,” said another longtime GOP operative.

With reporting by Philip Elliott/Little Rock, Ark.

TIME Debates

The GOP’s First Big 2016 Test: Fitting Candidates on the Debate Stage

Republican presidential candidates are introduced during the ABC News, Yahoo! News, and WMUR Republican Presidential Debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. on Jan. 7, 2012.
Win McNamee—Getty Images Republican presidential candidates are introduced during the ABC News, Yahoo! News, and WMUR Republican Presidential Debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H. on Jan. 7, 2012.

From 23 debates in 2012 to as many as 17 candidates in 2016.

The Republican Party has a whole new debate problem in 2016.

After suffering through a seemingly endless and unwieldy stream of 23 debates in the 2012 cycle, the Republican National Committee took control of the process, marshaling networks and candidates to agree to a framework where they only participate in fewer than a dozen sanctioned debates. But now the national party and networks face the new challenge of arranging as many as 17 candidates on a single televised stage.

Largely out of view, executives and journalists from Fox and CNN, with input from the national party, are weighing the entrance criteria for the first two debates. Among the options being considered is using polling as a rough inclusionary test, followed by a fundraising metric—dollars raised or the number of individual donors activated. All of these things are in flux as the networks and the national party struggle with the largest plausible debate field in history.

“This is truly historic in that normally you are trying to get people into the debates and now you are trying to whittle people out of the debates,” said one Republican operative familiar with the debate process. “You’ve never had more than 10 candidates in either party on a debate stage. You could get to at least 16 to 17 candidates and make a legitimate case for them being there—easy.”

The first debate, in Cleveland in August, will be the most pivotal, according to GOP operatives and campaign aides. Failure to earn a place on the stage will likely be the death knell to a campaign, depriving a candidate of an opportunity to shine, and a visible mark of failure in a crowded field. Republicans who have traveled the country boosting their name recognition but who haven’t made any steps toward actually running, like Rep. Pete King and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, are, by all accounts, out.

“There are only so many people you can hear from in a 90- or 120-minute debate, so you’ve got to be fair and transparent,” said the operative of the necessary winnowing.

Carson, according to a number of party insiders, is all-but-guaranteed a spot given his relatively strong polling in the GOP field. The bigger issue is former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina—the only woman seeking the Republican nomination and also one of the party’s most ferocious Clinton critics—who barely registers in polling. Both announced their presidential candidacies on Monday.

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who will join in questioning the candidates at the second debate sponsored by CNN in partnership with Salem Radio Network at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. in September, told TIME Monday he hopes that all credible candidates are included. “It should be a credible path to either the nomination or the vice presidency or a senior position in the next administration,” Hewitt said, before adding the final decision isn’t his.

There’s also the matter of Donald Trump. The reality television star has formed a presidential exploratory committee but has yet to officially declare himself a candidate for the White House. Should he do so, many Republican insiders say it would be hard for the party to exclude him—voters find him entertaining and he has a large megaphone with which he could embarrass the GOP. “This sounds crazy, but it’s safer to just include him,” said one 2016 presidential aide.

Beyond the first debate, the RNC is hoping to progressively tighten the debate criteria as the primaries approach, effectively winnowing the massive GOP field and signaling to voters which candidates have the wherewithal to go the distance.

But even if all the declared candidates make the stage, there is still the not insignificant problem of running a debate with a football squad on stage. “Here’s my radical suggestion: four hours—and I am dead serious—four hours with five minute breaks at the top of every hour, let people go out to the bathroom, let them talk to their aides,” Hewitt said on his radio show. “They will get huge ratings. No one’s going to rush, no one’s going to feel like they’ve got to get their time in, as opposed to the classic 90 minutes.”

Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s chief strategist, criticized the media’s hyping of third-tier candidates to boost ratings last cycle in a much-circulated 2013 essay. He told TIME recently that he supports the RNC’s efforts, but said news outlets must take steps to ensure only those candidates who can actually win make it on stage. “The news business is a business and very competitive, of course, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to see leadership from media working together to avoid the obvious problems of 2012,” he said.

For some candidates, the problem may be even more fundamental than the debate stage. They need to make sure they are included in polling, first. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released Monday, the roster of candidates did not include Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

“I am reasonably confident that I will make sufficient progress to be on that debate stage in August,” Fiorina told reporters Monday morning, just hours after she declared her candidacy in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America. “They ought to be looking at support, they ought to be looking at endorsements,” she said, adding, “I think the polls will come along in due time.”

Last cycle’s debates were notable for their ability to drastically reshape the race, creating and destroying candidates like Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Perry. After the party’s 2012 defeat, Republican chairman Reince Priebus defied beltway expectations and seized control of the primary debates process. “I think having control over the debates so that we don’t turn this into a 23 debate circus in front of people who don’t care at all about the party but only care about making news for themselves, that’s number one,” Priebus said earlier this year when asked which of the party reforms he implemented is most significant.

A spokesperson for CNN did not comment on the record. A spokesperson for Fox News did not respond to a request for comment.

TIME LGBT

Rick Santorum on Bruce Jenner: ‘If He Says He’s a Woman, Then He’s a Woman’

The former Senator has sparked past controversies over opposition to gay rights

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, whose past opposition to gay rights has sparked backlash from LGBT rights groups, spoke Saturday in support of Bruce Jenner after the Olympian and TV personality came out publicly as transgender.

Santorum told reporters at a Republican convention in South Carolina that “if [Jenner] says he’s a woman, then he’s a woman,” CBS News reports. “My responsibility as a human being is to love and accept everybody. Not to criticize people for who they are.” The former lawmaker is said to be eyeing a 2016 presidential bid after losing the 2012 Republican nomination to Mitt Romney.

“I can criticize, and I do, for what people do, for their behavior. But as far as for who they are, you have to respect everybody, and these are obviously complex issues for businesses, for society,” Santorum said. “And I think we have to look at it in a way that is compassionate and respectful of everybody.”

The politician’s support of Jenner’s transition arrives two weeks after Santorum made headlines for stating he would not attend a same-sex marriage of a friend or family member, as it would be a “a violation of [his] faith.”

[CBS News]

TIME Supreme Court

New Strategy Against Gay Marriage Divides GOP 2016 Field

US Supreme Court Declines To Hear Appeals On Same-Sex Marriage Cases
Alex Wong—Getty Images People come out from the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Activists want to take on the Supreme Court

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa—The U.S. Supreme Court’s expected decision this spring that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry will, for most, mark the end of a decades-long culture war.

But a small circle of Christian activists aren’t giving up yet — and they are already winning over some Republican presidential candidates to their last-ditch effort. Resting their hopes on an effort to redefine the role of the federal judiciary, the activists’ argument takes on a central tenet of modern American politics: that the Supreme Court has the final say on what is the law of the land.

“There are three branches of government,” Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer and conservative activist, told TIME in an interview. “If the Supreme Court overreaches on an issue, the other two branches are there to check and balance it. The Supreme Court can make that decision, but it can’t enforce its own orders in a state. That’s up to the Legislative and Executive branches.”

It’s an argument with a long history in American politics, Schlafly says. He cites the Supreme Court’s 1857 decision in the infamous Dred Scott case, which found that freed slaves were not American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in court. “The Republican Party said no, we’re not going to go along with that,” Schlafly said. “And the next President was Abraham Lincoln and he did not enforce it.”

Most mainstream constitutional scholars find that argument confounding at best, with criticism from both liberal groups and the conservative Federalist Society.

“It was established a long, long time ago that the federal judiciary has the power to interpret our Constitution and to determine what government actions are constitutional and what are unconstitutional,” said Jeremy Leaming of the progressive American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. “This is pretty basic law-school type of stuff.”

If the Supreme Court decides that same-sex-marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, then that’s the end of the story, he added. “States can’t choose and pick which parts of the Constitution to uphold and which not to.”

But regardless of how the argument is received in legal circles, it’s already having a significant effect on the Republican presidential primary, where a number of candidates are working overtime to earn the support of social conservatives who are opposed to same-sex marriage.

Last week in Iowa, where evangelical voters hold particular sway, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee emphatically argued that the high court’s ruling would not be the end of the debate.

“There is no such thing as judicial supremacy,” he said at an event organized by the conservative Family Leader group. He added that “unelected black-robed judges” can overturn laws, but even when they do, “then it goes to the legislature and the Executive Branch.”

After a speech at the same summit, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum told TIME that he agrees with Huckabee. “The idea that the courts can just wave their magic wands and not only invalidate laws but pass new ones is a novel concept in the concept of judicial review,” he said. “The courts in my opinion have far exceeded their Article III authority and they need to be pushed back upon by both the Executive and the Congress.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has argued nine times before the Supreme Court, stopped short of saying that as President he would refuse to enforce a high court decision that found same-sex-marriage bans unconstitutional, but he wrote in a paper provided to the Conservative Republicans of Texas that he would denounce such a ruling “for what it is. Lawless activism, subverting the Constitution.” He also called on conservatives to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as “limited to one man and one woman” and to consider removing any Supreme Court justice that had “disrespected marriage.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has walked a similar tightrope. “Of course, court rulings must be respected, but it is the duty of the President to defend the Constitution, even when the courts won’t,” he wrote in a statement to Iowa conservative radio host Steve Deace.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul did not say that he would ignore a Supreme Court decision but called for term limits on “out of control, unelected federal judges.”

Other Republican presidential candidates have chosen to take a different route, noting their disagreement with state and federal courts’ pro-gay-marriage decisions without actively trying to undermine them.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said gay marriage was a “settled issue” in his state, while Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said court rulings must be respected. Both dropped appeals in their home states after losing same-sex-marriage cases. “For us, it’s over in Wisconsin,” Walker told reporters last fall. “The federal courts have ruled that this decision by this court of appeals decision is the law of the land, and we will be upholding it.”

After a Florida court declared same-sex marriage legal, former governor Jeb Bush said, “We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law.” All three governors have faced tough questions from some evangelical voters after conceding the fight.

Schlafly predicted that those candidates would lose support from the conservative Christian base in a Republican primary.

“I think voters are going to be extremely interested in whether a candidate is willing to stand up against overreach by the federal courts on marriage,” he said. “I think it will be a big issue — I think it will be the biggest issue.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage promises to have particular salience in the first caucus state of Iowa, where a powerful evangelical bloc has long pushed back against the idea of judges defining marriage laws. After the state supreme court ruled in favor of gay marriage in 2009, conservative activists led a successful campaign to deny three justices another term on the bench.

Some conservatives in Iowa are now hoping for a similar backlash against a federal decision. “It’s the Congress that makes the law, it’s the President that executes the law, it’s the people that can amend the Constitution,” said Iowa conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats, who hosted Huckabee, Jindal, Santorum and Texas Governor Rick Perry. “The courts don’t get to do any of those.”

Last month, Deace, the Iowa radio host, asked a slice of the broad field of potential Republican candidates — Cruz, Huckabee, Walker, Perry, Paul, Rubio, Santorum, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump — to respond to an essay by John C. Eastman, a conservative professor of law, in which he made the case for ignoring a Supreme Court decision that found same-sex-marriage bans unconstitutional.

Perry, Trump and Jindal did not respond to Deace’s query. Jindal told TIME that he would wait for the court’s decision before weighing in on potential next steps.

Constitutional lawyers on both sides of the ideological divide have pushed back against these arguments. “It’s just fantastical to point to Dred Scott and the Civil War in reference to these cases,” said Leaming of the American Constitution Society. “It’s fantastical and it’s also quite frankly irresponsible.” But for some, at least, it may be good politics.

Read next: Transcript: Read Full Text of Sen. Marco Rubio’s Campaign Launch

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