In defense of these changes, the GOP is limiting the number of debates to six. I do applaud this as the Democrats first in 2004 created the twelve man field with too many debates, that the Democrats repeated in 2008 and the GOP took to heart in 2012. In reality, why not limit debates to candidates polling above 8%, which would destroy Bachmanns and Kucinichs from siphoning votes off of a frontrunner like them in an attempt to help the other frontrunner in exchange for a cabinet position (Michele Bachmann did this for Romney). The point about selecting the moderators is a good one as anyone who recalls George Stephanopolous asking about birth control repeatedly in a debate about domestic + economic issues. The media had to prepare the "War on Women" somehow. Those are two smart moves if debates are spaced right and moderators selected to discuss non-rainbow pride, non-contraceptives, non-gimmedats issues.
There is something weird to this, and here is where the blunting the Tea Party, populist bit comes into play.
After the first four states vote and the campaigns move into March, candidates would be awarded delegates on a proportional, rather than winner-take-all, basis. The scenario is designed to allow insurgent candidates the chance to stay competitive and prove their campaign mettle in larger states that might otherwise favor better-funded candidates.The early March window would, in theory, prevent a candidate from catching fire in the early states and then riding a wave of momentum to delegate-rich victories in expensive states such as Florida or Texas.This could be the "No More John Kerrys" move. In 2004, John Kerry effectively won the nomination because he won Iowa. He kept winning because he wont he primary or caucus before, despite no one really expecting it or wanting it. In reality, this change to proportional keeps front runners who stumble early in the game because they can win proportional allocations, which states can mess with, and weather rough patches. The change allows states to be winner take all or proportional into March, and some states may find it beneficial to stay winner take all. The proportional allocation killed Hilary Clinton as Barack Obama stumbled. Despite her wins in huge states like Ohio and Texas, Obama magically always kept it close in delegate allocations despite clear Clinton wins. Anyone can easily see this benefiting a crappy campaigner who just happens to have Sheldon Adelson backing him up financially.
This also kills the idea of any populist guy connecting with the voters and knocking out Captain Establishment by "catching fire" early. A grassroots guy out of nowhere cannot now win a big state on a Super Tuesday and collect all delegates. If a big state goes proportional, that momentum is not rewarded, giving the frontrunner time to outspend in another state but also delegates. In 2012, Ted Cruz caught fire. Cruz is a good speaker and an opportunistic politician, but was the insurgent, Hispanic who defeated the hand picked establishment white guy in Texas. Cruz surged in the first round to force a run-off, and then fundraised like mad and trounced Dewhurst. Could a Cruz type candidacy win a presidential primary? Possibly, but given the new schedule, they will run into road blocks. Given the reduction in debates, they may not get free advertising and exposure, which the debates are, giving the advantage back to Adelson's favored boy. He was mismanaged, had back surgery that messed with his ability to campaign and had one gaffe, but this late entry and catch fire routine was the path Rick Perry could have aimed for in 2012.
The real depressing message these changes send is that the last gasp of any populism from the remaining Americans with any money to spend on elections is leashed and chained to a fence. I also would not be shocked to see this backfire if enough states switch to proportional allocation and no one collects enough delegates for the nomination. Roughly two years ago, I wrote on the Tea Party's success versus Occupy Wall Street's failure. It came down to the voters represented within each party, and the fact that the GOP, by having many middle class white voters, had the last chunk of voters outside traditional corporate and union interests who could fundraise and help a non-establishment candidate. If they are being attacked by the GOP Establishment rather than embraced, it is over. The left cannot create OWS associated candidates because they are a top down party with few voting blocs that have the resources to fund Huey Long type populists that used to exist in the old Democrat party. Sorry, folks, both parties are bought lock, stock and barrel, but you already knew that. Let us hope the Chinese, the Russians and the oil exporters get sick of our shenanigans before to long and put us out of our USG induced misery.