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Tuesday showed GOP has major regret

Presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a plane-side rally

Presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a plane-side rally in a hangar at Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna, Ohio, on March 14, 2016. Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar

After watching Sen. Marco Rubio drop out of the presidential race Tuesday night and Gov. John Kasich catch fire too late, Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus should be composing notes to state GOP leaders in between gulps from a pitcher of tequila-laced eggnog.

His first letter should be to Iowa and New Hampshire Republican leaders, explaining how they no longer have a monopoly on the nation's early GOP nominating contests. That should be followed with missives to South Carolina, Georgia and the other SEC Super Tuesday states, spelling out why they’d mostly be moving to the back of the primary parade in the next cycle.

The point of the nominating process is the selection of a candidate that represents the party’s beliefs and can win the presidency. That’s hard to do when party members in weird little states or bigger but even more politically extreme states set the tone for the nomination process. The party has to start its primary schedule with swing states.

The 2016 general election may change the calculus, but at the moment the first round of primaries should be held on one day in Colorado, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio. Those states had the smallest margin of victory in the 2012 general election, so they should go first. And there should be five of them because, why should one state like Iowa or New Hampshire get almost a year of nearly unshared spotlight?

The next week, the primaries would be held in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those were the five next closest states in 2012.

And the progression would continue, five states a week for 10 weeks, ending up with the ones that have the most lopsided general election tallies. In 2012, that was Hawaii, Vermont, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Utah.

Would doing that have changed the tone and tenor and the outcome of this year’s GOP process? Definitely, but it’s hard to say exactly how much.

It seems clear that Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, among the most extreme candidates, got a lot of early delegates and momentum from states like South Carolina, Georgia and Texas, where Republicans generally win the general election by a huge margin. The GOP primary schedule made it difficult for more moderate candidates like Kasich of Ohio, Rubio of Florida, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to get traction early and pushed them further to the right on immigration and other issues, alienating their natural constituencies.

And this was all done to please surefire Republican voters, folks who mostly wouldn’t opt Democrat if their chest hair was on fire and Hillary Clinton had all the extinguishers.

Rejiggering the schedule would help the Democrats, too, but likely not as much. The ideological differences in the Democratic Party just aren’t as big. Even between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the disagreement is more over what can be done than what should be done. So the schedule has less effect.

Tuesday night, Rubio staggered to a horrifying loss in his home state that came after savage debates. Kasich, who won Ohio, is the last Republican standing that most moderate, independent voters would consider. And he’s only won his home state. Cruz continued to tread water, neither advancing much or receiving a knockout blow.

Kasich might have beaten Clinton. Bush might have, too, and Christie and even perhaps Rubio.

Trump or Cruz don’t seem able to beat Clinton. And if the GOP loses in November, the party will have its primary schedule to thank for it.

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