WASHINGTON, March 7, 2016 – The GOP is in a quandary. Multiple candidates are likely to remain in the race through March 15 and even beyond, each gathering delegates. The more delegates are split, the greater the likelihood that there will not be a candidate with the 1237 votes needed for nomination on the first ballot.
Generally speaking, as state caucuses and primaries are held, each candidate is awarded a certain number of delegates, based upon the rules of the state and what percent of the votes they received. Those delegates actually are people who are required to vote for the candidate that they have been assigned to when the initial vote is taken during the national convention.
If one of the candidates has already gathered more than the 1237 committed delegates needed to win the nomination, they will be elected the GOP nominee when the vote is taken. This is what almost always occurs. As a result, many will be disappointed that their candidate did not win and this year some could be horrified by the person who does win (particularly if it is Trump or Cruz). Yet they will acknowledge the nominee as legitimate.
Their only decision then will be whether they will personally vote for that person or not in the general election.
If no candidate receives 1237 votes when the delegates cast their ballot, there will be no nomination on the first ballot. Instead, there will be a second vote. This time, all delegates will be released from the requirement to vote for the person they were committed to. Each delegate can vote his/her own conscience and may be persuaded by the dynamic factors throughout the process.
If no candidate wins the 1237 votes in the second vote, a third vote will be required, and so on until a candidate finally is elected by receiving the required number of votes. Before each vote, speeches would be made encouraging delegates to vote one way or another.
Some people are calling such a convention, one that requires multiple votes, a “brokered” convention. Such a term suggests that strong party bosses go behind closed doors and work out some sort of agreement on who the nominee will be. In current times and especially in this election cycle, with the “political establishment” held in such low regard, any move that is perceived as party bosses manipulating the system to thwart the will of the people will result in protests not seen since 1968.
The more accurate term for a convention that does not elect someone on the first ballot is a “contested” or “open” convention. In an open convention, after the first vote, candidates would try to negotiate with one another to build a coalition that they think could garner the votes needed for the nomination. For example, if Trump were not elected in early balloting, he could approach one of the other candidates and offer them the VP slot if they will publicly support him for President. Or, Cruz and Rubio could get together.
Party bosses would certainly be involved to influence things to the degree that they could get away with it.
If such a coalition could not be organized or could not garner the votes, then other tactics might be attempted to find a consensus candidate. Could Ben Carson, with his high favorability and low negativity ratings be promoted to the delegates? Possibly but the political establishment may not be happy with him either.
Could someone who had not been a candidate be promoted, such as Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney? That could be an option as well.
However, this year there is something special going on that will likely guarantee a split GOP after the convention. This year, there is already a split in the Party. On one hand voters are showing that they do not trust the political elites. On the other hand, those in the career political class will do almost anything to ensure that neither Donald Trump nor Ted Cruz is elected because either one could threaten their position of power.
Should Trump go into the convention with the most delegates and not be the nominee, his supporters will feel that he was robbed of the nomination, even if the rules are followed. They would refuse to vote for the nominee in the general election, either writing in Trumps name or just staying home.
Likewise, if Trump or Cruz is the nominee, many of the political elites and their supporters have already said they will not vote for them. In either case, enough votes will be peeled away to seriously hurt the GOP candidate in the general election.
One apparent way to avoid this GOP crisis would be for one side or the other to comfortably win the nomination on the first ballot and the opposing group abandon their threatened boycott. With the rancor of this year’s primary season, it is not likely that such an amiable conclusion will occur.
A second solution would be for a non-establishment candidate and an establishment candidate to join forces during the primary process to form an early coalition.
Perhaps Trump and Rubio or Cruz and Rubio could come together and gain significant support and thereby win enough delegates to go into the convention with the nomination wrapped up.
Another wild card in this cycle is the passion with which many supporters, some new to active political involvement, promote their candidate. The normal rough and tumble of the political process is resented by these voters.
It will take very little for them to perceive that their candidate is being treated unfairly thus causing a revolt from that group.
The GOP may already be so divided that it will not come together for years. What will be the result of such turmoil?
Can you say “Madam President?”