As all eyes turn to Florida, you’d think GOP party leaders would be bending over backwards to win this critical swing state back this year after it went to Obama in 2008. Surprisingly, party leaders are doing the exact opposite. The GOP leadership voted unanimously to snub Florida Republicans again, this time adding insult to injury in their own backyard with the convention in Tampa—all because Florida had the audacity to move its primary up to January 31st. In addition to cutting the Florida delegates in half, GOP delegates from Florida are getting lousy seats in the convention hall, they’re banished from hotels near the convention center, and they’re getting fewer guest passes.

Florida_GOP_Graphic_260x220Republicans in Florida are still scratching their heads, wondering why moving the primary date up drew such a harsh reaction from party leaders—especially in such a critical state in the 2012 election. It seems it’s all about party leaders asserting their power. The “Powers That Be” in the Republican Party don’t like anyone challenging them. Apparently they didn’t get the memo from the Tea Party.·

The real question is why it’s so important to party leaders to let Iowa and New Hampshire go first? Why let two historically blue states—both of which voted for Obama in 2008—play such a key role in shaping the GOP primary race? Who put them in charge? Believe it or not, George McGovern. That’s right—McGovern, the ultra-liberal Democrat who lost in a landslide to Richard Nixon in 1972—was the one who decided Iowa should kick off the presidential primary race.·

Forty years ago, a series of articles in The New York Times, one of the most liberal newspapers in the country, highlighted the election process in non-primary states. The Iowa co-chair for George McGovern’s campaign capitalized on this publicity and helped engineer the first early January caucus for the Democratic Party in 1972. In 1976, the Iowa Republican party moved their caucus up to the same date as the Democrats. Iowa has kept the pole position ever since.·

Why does a decision made by liberal Democrats in 1972 still determine the Republican party’s nominating process 40 years later? Nobody really seems to know. Like so many other things in government, perhaps it’s easier to just give in to inertia and go with the status quo than to change a rule that no longer makes sense.·

Both Iowa and New Hampshire are historically blue states that swing to the left. Iowa voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 & 1996, Al Gore in 2000, and Obama in 2008. New Hampshire voted for Bill Clinton in 1992 & 1996, John Kerry in 2004, and Obama in 2008. Put another way, both Iowa and New Hampshire voted for Democrats in 4 of the last 5 Presidential elections. Please tell me again why GOP leaders are letting these two states determine the course of the Republican primary? And why are they intent on minimizing the impact of key states like Florida that are critical in the general election?·

Punishing Florida voters because they want a greater role in the outcome of the primary campaign is just plain stupid. Florida party leaders didn’t even try to upstage Iowa or New Hampshire—they just wanted to be relevant in the process. Once again, GOP leaders seem more interested in asserting their power than listening to the concerns of voters in their party.·

As we saw in 2000, Florida can determine the outcome of the Presidential election. Publicly snubbing the very people you’re relying on to energize the party and get out the vote is not a very smart strategy.  Letting Iowa and New Hampshire go first is not locked in stone. At the very least, stop the punitive retribution against Florida voters for trying to get a stake in the outcome.  Is it any surprise to hear more and more voters identify themselves as conservatives and not Republicans? Perhaps it’s time Republican Party leaders stop defending the status quo and start thinking about the future.·

Mike_MerrillMike Merrill is an entrepreneur, Army veteran, Ranger and West Point grad. He has been a CEO in technology companies for 24 years, and is the author of “Leadership Lessons of a Campaigner-in-Chief”