The new rules are meant to shave off months of 2016 infighting by tightening the primary schedule and moving up the national convention. The party would impose strict penalties for states that move their selection dates out of order, such as Florida and Michigan did in recent years.
It would essentially compress the schedule from nine months to five months, from Jan. 1 to about May 15. It also requires a 45-day window between any delegate-selection process and the convention.
But California, New Jersey and New Mexico could keep their later primaries without penalty, and still be seated at the national convention a few weeks later.
RNC Chairman Reince Preibus described the changes as "a historic day for our party."
Shawn Steel, a Republican National Committeeman from California, said the waiver for California was a necessity. "That's been locked in," Steel, who fought for the automatic waiver, said by phone from the winter meetings in Washington. "There was just no way that California could ever be excluded from the national convention. We are the largest party in the country, we got 5 million registered Republicans, that's more people than most states have in their entire population."
Given the late date of California's primary - it's now scheduled for June 7 - it's unlikely the Golden State would have an impact on the GOP nomination, Steel said. "It's entirely possible, if not likely, that the nominee will have all of the votes that he needs by May 15 without California," he said. "If it's a robust primary with robust candidates, we could still make the difference. Either way, the so-called 45-day (convention) cutoff rule doesn't impact us."
Another set of guidelines to be voted on this spring is designed to reduce the marathon schedule of debates as well as establish the sponsoring television networks.
"The bottom line is you'll never see George Stephanopoulos asking Republican candidates questions again," Steel said.
PHOTO: Shawn Steel, then-chairman of the California Republican Party, urges the recall of Gov. Gray Davis as he appears at a rally on the north steps of the State Capitol Building Feb. 22, 2003.