Dole's lack of focus and the omissions of Congress were not inevitable, but the imbalance of campaign resources was largely unavoidable (except to the extent that Republicans could have shortened the interregnum by scheduling their national convention at the regular time in July). Other challengers engaged in tough primary campaigns have also been stretched to the limit, but they were so vulnerably exposed for much shorter periods of time. Dole's problems in this regard introduce important questions, though ones which are not answerable on the basis of one case: Does the frontloaded primary system with its intense spending requirements and early conclusion provide an inherent advantage for unopposed incumbents? Will all challengers find themselves with a pyhrric victory at the end of the primary season, with no money and facing four or five months of largely unanswered pummelling? If it was possible to win by losing, as first congressional Republicans and then President Clinton showed, it was also possible to lose by winning, as Bob Dole discovered in the summer of 1996. For future prospective nominees, Dole's predicament during the interregnum will be carefully studied.
An interregnum period such as we had in 1996 may not be repeated. Before the primary season was over, calls were heard within and outside the parties for a reexamination of the frontloaded system. Republicans tackled the problem more seriously, as they were most affected by it. Yet the traditional decentralization of Republican rules and the philosophical tendencies of the party mitigated against any top-down, centralized solution. An added complication was the need for coordination with the Democrats in many states. A subcommittee of the RNC was formed to make a recommendation to the convention. After considering a variety of options, the subcommittee decided on a voluntary system of bonuses that would add 5 to 10 percent more delegates to the allocation of states that choose to hold their primaries later in the schedule. It remains to be seen whether the incentive will work; even 10 percent more delegates will bring little additional influence if the race is already decided by primary day. If this incentive fails to bring major changes, the interregnum may become a lasting feature of presidential election politics and a constant challenge to candidates and their advisers.