Articles

Could the GOP Have a Brokered Convention?

February 22, 2012

The volatile Republican presidential contest has provoked feverish talk in the media and the blogosphere about a brokered or contested convention in late August, when 2,286 Republican delegates gather in Tampa, Fla. Here's how those scenarios would unfold.

A brokered convention would see a new candidate—someone other than Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum—enter the remaining primaries or parachute in during the convention (if no existing candidate has secured a majority of delegates). In backroom deals, either based partly on the strength of his late primary performances or only on the discretion of party leaders, he would become the nominee.

A contested convention, on the other hand, would see no dark horse enter but none of the existing candidates arrive in Tampa with a 1,144 majority of delegates. Lots of wheeling and dealing would ensue, and after several ballots a nominee would emerge from the four current candidates.

Is either scenario likely? Let's put it this way: The odds are greater that there's life on Pluto than that the GOP has a brokered convention. And while there's a better chance of a contested convention, it's still highly unlikely.

Consider the calendar and the math. After Super Tuesday on March 6, a new candidate could still file for the Nebraska beauty contest, the Minnesota caucuses, and the primaries in New Mexico, California, Utah, South Dakota, New Jersey and Texas. Those eight contests have 519 delegates at stake: 238 awarded winner-takes-all, 241 split proportionally and 40 unpledged.

If a new candidate gets all the winner-takes-all delegates (unlikely since 222 in California and New Jersey are awarded by congressional district, not statewide), plus half those awarded proportionally, he still would have just 378 delegates of the 1,144 needed for nomination. At least two current candidates are likely to have far more. Why would they step aside for a newcomer?

Meanwhile, a brokered convention needs party bosses, and today there aren't any. In the old days, party chiefs often led delegations of regulars who took orders and depended on patronage. No longer. In some states, winning candidates don't even pick their delegates—party conventions do. This means that while the delegation is committed to support a candidate for a certain number of ballots, many individual delegates remain loyal to other candidates. That makes it more difficult for anyone in a smoke-filled bargaining session to deliver a large number of delegates.

Besides, who is available for the role of savior? All of last year's heartthrobs—including Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie—have again disavowed any interest in running. Why enter the race at the end, facing long odds, rather than at the beginning, with much better ones?

Sarah Palin has said she "would do whatever I could to help" in a brokered convention. But is it realistic to think that millions of Republicans who voted in primaries and caucuses would be happy to have a standard-bearer who had skipped most or all of the primary contests? A brokered convention would split the party and send it into the general election angry and divided. It would be a recipe for disaster.

As for a contested convention: This last happened for the GOP in 1976. Neither President Gerald Ford nor Ronald Reagan had a majority when delegates arrived in Kansas City. The nomination was decided by the unpledged Mississippi delegation swinging in behind Ford. But there are far fewer delegations in 2012 that will arrive in Tampa unpledged.

It's also important to remember that, according to the Republican National Committee, delegates have been officially awarded in just four contests. Missouri's primary was just a beauty contest, and the caucus states have county, congressional-district and state conventions to go through later this spring before their delegations are set, all of which will be affected by what happens in the race between now and then.

There are 48 still to go (including D.C., American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands and Guam). And once a candidate starts winning, they tend to keep winning, especially beginning in April when more states award delegates on a winner-take-all basis.

In a smart analysis, Davidson College Prof. Josh Putnam predicts that it could take until late May for anyone to get a majority, assuming the leading candidate receives only 49% in any contest. But after Super Tuesday, the race is likely to narrow to just two significant candidates, and one of them will probably get more than 50% in most of the remaining contests.

The Republican nominee will almost certainly come from the existing field. Though media questions and debates have dinged them all up, whoever emerges is likely to be stronger for having gone through this grueling process. And deserving of respect for having thrown his hat in the ring when others didn't.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, February 22, 2012.

Related Article

A476b40d267cfc263ad453234f86b0c4
October 11, 2018 |
Article
Many Republicans celebrated Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s swearing-in Monday as the end of a bitter confirmation battle. But the game isn’t over.  ...
Cf217cbc355dc10f4f3e9dfb577b39ab
October 04, 2018 |
Article
Following last week’s extraordinary testimony by Prof. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, public attitudes are split and malleable.   ...
1d050a8f3afb58449cbeb2570b2e4943
September 27, 2018 |
Article
Thursday will be an immensely consequential day for America. As of this writing, Christine Blasey Ford is scheduled to appear in the morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, followed by Judge Brett Kavanaugh.  ...
1dfb83046819c706e17327948a180a28
September 20, 2018 |
Article
The Democrats’ most potent national policy issue in the 2018 midterms is health care, and it’s showing up on TV. One Arizona ad says Martha McSally, the Republican congresswoman running for Senate, “voted to gut protections for people with pre-existing co...
Button karlsbooks
Button readinglist
Button nextapperance