Writing a few days before the Wisconsin primary on the last
days of March, there is no certainty that the Republican
nomination for president in 2016 will be decided before the
national convention in Cleveland in July, or at it.
But it is clear, if there is to be a battle at the convention, it
won’t be “brokered” as the commonplace adjective has it.
As political scientist Steven Schier puts it, “There are no
brokered conventions possible because there are no longer
any political brokers.” Professor Schier knows his political
history which decades ago did include powerful brokers who
met in proverbial smoke-filled rooms while dealing in and
delivering delegates as if they were wads of paper currency
in their wallets.
First of all, gone is the cinematic background; no smoking
allowed in virtually all public rooms. Second, the device of
“favorite sons” --- a mainstay of most conventions is no
longer. These “favorite sons” were usually governors who
were not serious about running for president, but who sought
political favors at convention time as a quid pro quo for
delivering their state’s entire delegation to a potential
winning nominee. Third, in place of favorite sons, some
state delegations were controlled by state or big-city political
bosses who likewise “wheeled and dealed” for favors and
influence --- always behind closed doors.
In those days, there were no social media, no television
cameras, no radio talks show hosts, and believe it or not,
the mainstream media (mostly print) was biased toward the
Republicans. Most significantly, most delegates got to attend a
national convention with the understanding that they would
do as they would be told to do by whomever were the party’s
or the convention’s “brokers.”
In fact, if the Republicans in Cleveland do not produce a
nominee before or on the first ballot, the nation will get to
observe the first transparently contested major party
convention in history. It will be uncharted political territory,
and we can only speculate how it might proceed.
First, and very importantly, there will be the rules of the
convention. The key factor is the rules committee which is
usually controlled by the party organization or establishment,
and not any of the candidates. Any rules from past conventions
can, by a majority vote in this committee, be changed. The
national party usually totally controls the national convention;
there are no legal appeals to their decisions (other than by
Second, while there are no “brokers,” “favorite sons,” or “party
bosses, there will be at least three active candidates for the
nomination, and a few “suspended campaign” candidates who
have committed delegates on the first and, in some cases, the
second ballots. Senator Rubio, for example, is no longer an active
candidate, but is aggressively trying to hold on to his 170-or-so
If the convention goes to multiple ballots, most delegates will
be, in effect, “free agents” who can vote for whomever they want,
even for someone who has not been previously an active
candidate. The latter is not likely, but a stalemated convention
could go this route. (This possibility is the source of the
speculation that House Speaker Paul Ryan or 2012 nominee
Mitt Romney could be nominated.) Again, the rules of the
convention will be key.
As it stands now, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will finish the
primary/caucus season with similar (Trump likely ahead)
numbers of first-ballot committed delegates, with John Kasich
a distant but respectable third. There will be about 200 delegates
previously committed to candidates no longer active, and under
200 non-elected “super-delegates.”
In the emotion-packed convention atmosphere, a dramatic
withdrawal by one of the three surviving candidates, coupled
with that candidate’s endorsement of one of other other two
could have major, even decisive, impact.
In that circumstance, it might be observed that the bitter and
personal fight between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz might rule out
either of them supporting the other. There is a third candidate,
Mr. Kasich, who has fastidiously avoided personal attacks on
either of them. Might he be a likely winner in such a
circumstance, especially if national polls at convention time
show him to be the only Republican who defeats Mrs. Clinton?
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. There are major primaries
ahead, and significant numbers of delegates to be chosen, many
of them in winner-take-all states. Nevertheless, mathematics
cannot be denied. Mr. Trump is the only likely first ballot winner,
and that likelihood could be slipping away especially if Mr. Cruz
and Mr. Kasich continue to surge.
All we know is that the “no smoking” light is now lit; as is a new
light that proclaims “no closed doors.”
If there is a open contest in Cleveland, it will be all new history.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.