The big winner in Tuesday night’s Florida Republican primary wasn’t Mitt Romney. It was Florida itself.

As if the Sunshine State didn’t already have enough influence over presidential politics, it defied the Republican National Committee’s nominating calendar to move its primary into January, scheduling its vote right after the three earliest states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. After Florida similarly leapfrogged ahead in 2008, the state gave John McCain a crucial win, handing him the position of inevitable nominee. Now, in 2012, the state appears to be playing the same role: Sorting out mixed results in the early states and coronating a near-prohibitive frontrunner. Once again, Florida’s voters matter a lot more than nearly every other state’s.

According to RNC rules, Florida will lose half its delegates at the Republican National Convention this summer for violating the official calendar. But who cares? Unless the GOP race changes dramatically over the coming weeks, it will have played kingmaker twice in two nominating cycles. A cheating Florida might not always produce such dramatic results; the state’s early support did not swing the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2008. Yet that was an unusually close race, and Florida’s calculation that it is usually more important to be early than delegate-rich is only loooking smarter.

Which makes one wonder: Why would any other state play by the rules? The presidential campaign season is already unjustifiably long and irrational in how it distributes power. But if I were on a state Democratic or Republican committee, I’d be eager to move my primary date forward in 2016, no matter what the national organization has to say about it. The rest of us — and particularly the Democratic and Republican national committees — should be thinking desperately of ways to more severly punish states that cheat. Not to mention all the other problems with the system, such as a nominating calendar that stretches from January to June.