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VERIFY: Does the president have any control over the primary schedule?

A tweet by President Trump inspired questions about the president's ability to set the schedule for America's first states in the nominating process.
Credit: AP
Iowa Democratic Party chairman Troy Price walks off stage after speaking about the delay in Iowa caucus results, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Following a chaotic week of delays and issues with a voting app, two Democratic candidates both claimed victory in the Iowa Democratic Caucus. 

The confusion and drama surrounding the event have added fuel to conversations about the purpose of the Iowa caucus and the upcoming New Hampshire primary. 

In response, President Donald Trump tweeted that Iowa and New Hampshire will not have their place on the primary schedule moved as long as he is president.

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But commenters started repeating the same question: Is that something the President can actually do?


Does the President have any control over primaries or caucuses? Can they change whether they’re held, what their order is or how they’re run?


No. The President isn’t given any expressed powers over the nomination process, including the primaries and caucuses. 

While the President’s political role as the leader of their party could give them a certain degree of power over their own party, they have absolutely no power over the other party’s process.


Our first stop in finding out the answer, as usual, is the United States Constitution. There is no mention of primaries, caucuses or even the presidential nomination process. So the president has no power derived from the Constitution in this process.

At the time the Constitution was written, there weren’t any formal political parties nor were there any primaries or caucuses.

In fact, primaries and caucuses are run by the states and the political parties. The website for the Iowa Democratic Party is currently being used exclusively for the Iowa Democratic caucus. The Iowa Republican Party keeps their website more broad, but still contains information about the Iowa Republican caucus, which also took place this past weekend.

The Democrats put their rules for the 2020 nomination process online, and those rules further outline the parties’ role in determining the primary and caucus schedule. They say that state parties shall adopt explicit rules including “Timing of primary/caucuses/conventions,” and then further state that no primary or caucus shall be held before the first Tuesday in March except for the first four states of Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and South Carolina. Their rules state Iowa goes first, New Hampshire goes second, Nevada goes third and South Carolina goes fourth. All other states can go no earlier than Super Tuesday.

And while both parties typically keep those four states first, there are in no way obligated to follow the same schedule. For example, Republicans held the South Carolina primary third and Nevada caucuses fourth while the Democrats held the Nevada caucuses third and the South Carolina primary fourth in 2016.

Given the control of the parties in the primary calendar, it’s reasonable to believe President Trump has some influence over the Republican calendar as the leader of the Republican Party. However, that influence doesn’t extend past the Republican Party.

One reason this is currently up for debate is that there is a movement to eliminate the Iowa caucuses and replace them with a primary. This kind of move would cause problems for Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status in the presidential selection process because of the states’ control in the process.

Chapter 653 of New Hampshire’s election laws has a provision to preserve the state’s place as the first primary in the nation. The law says, “The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous.”

The New Hampshire law essentially says New Hampshire must be the first primary in the nation. Currently, Iowa comes before New Hampshire because they hold caucuses as opposed to a primary, and thus New Hampshire can come after Iowa and still be the country’s first primary.

If Iowa were to hold a primary rather than caucuses, their place as first in the nation would be put into serious jeopardy.

At that point, it’s hard to imagine the President would have any say in whether or not Iowa would get to stay as the first state to vote on presidential nominees.

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