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Will the GOP Allow a Convention Fight?

Contrary to wishful thinking, the results of Iowa and New Hampshire only confirm the same stark reality that has haunted the Republican nomination process from the beginning: Party rules are a tragic accident waiting to happen.

The most obvious result of the opening contests is that selecting a nominee will be a drawn out affair. Donald Trump gets bragging rights for a big victory in New Hampshire but so does Ted Cruz for Iowa. Yet Trump underperformed by winning only a third of the vote when the polls predicted he would win more. He gained no new votes over the course of the campaign and the polls in South Carolina show him around the same one-third total. He will not run away with the nomination.

Cruz cannot dominate either, even after relatively strong showings in the first two contests. His 4 percentage point margin in Iowa was impressive since he was opposed by the entire state establishment for his opposition to ethanol subsidies, the supposed third-rail issue in Iowa. The popular sitting governor and the whole state agricultural industrial sector proclaimed that Cruz must lose to save the state. The fact he won against this headwind, to say nothing of Trump and a talented field of others, does show remarkable strength. But he did come in third in New Hampshire behind John Kasich.

What stops Cruz from opening a commanding lead as he heads into nine southern states that should be his natural base? The first obstacle is that the Washington Republican establishment simply loathes him. They recognize Cruz as someone who actually represents change that will threaten their privileged position of power in the nation’s capital. They will fight him with all it takes as long as it takes. The fact they prefer even Trump as one with whom they can cut deals demonstrates the strength of their convictions against a Cruz candidacy of principle.

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Even that barrier to Cruz’s nomination is superseded by the threat from the new Republican Convention rules. The Southern Super Tuesday primaries and the other Southern contests before March 15 are required for the first time to award their primary delegates by proportional representation where each candidate wins only the percentage of delegates he receives from the popular vote, rather than the first-place candidate winning all delegates. That method guarantees no candidate will be able to build a commanding lead until after March 15 when winner-take-all nomination contests become possible.

Southern states have held Super Tuesday nomination contests since 1988 as a means to give the region more importance in deciding who will become the presidential nominee and to some extent it has worked. But until now they were not required to split their delegate votes. This year the southern state parties recognized that setting the dates before March 15 would dilute their importance but went ahead anyway in favor of winning mere media attention at the cost of real power, which is in delegate votes. As a result, not only will there be no bandwagon effect for a southern favorite like Cruz but the decision basically turns regional power to the Midwest, Northeast, Florida, and California, a moderate establishment’s dream for a Kasich or Jeb Bush.

Even if Cruz wins every southern state by 5 percent or more, he will only win a few more delegates than the second, third, or even fourth-place candidate. Even if he does well later, he and the rest of the candidates will most probably only be able to limp into a contested convention.

Republican party chairman Reince Priebus is confident that there will be no contested convention. He recently told Time magazine: “I know the rules pretty well, I’m pretty confident in how delegates are allocated, I helped write a lot of the rules and I believe that clarity will come very soon” as to who will win the nomination. The current plethora of candidates “doesn’t mean that, by the end of March or mid-April, the end of April, that it isn’t going to be very clear. There’s only so much money to go around, there’s only so long everyone can keep fighting.” He claimed he was prepared for a contested convention but based on his expertise did not expect one, “so it’s not like I need some sort of expert help to understand our own governing rules or how our convention might run.”

Priebus did help write the rules, but he vastly underestimates the dangers they represent. Trump has spent almost nothing thus far, so why can’t he go on forever? Certainly, the establishment candidate will not lack funds and neither would a competitive Cruz.

Virginia National Committeeman and rule expert Morton Blackwell went to the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee to warn the party’s ruling body between elections of the danger represented by other rules that might affect the nomination even more if there is a contested convention. He reminded them that

at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, a great many Delegates’ votes were not counted in the convention’s tally of the ballot for the presidential nomination. After loud cries of outrage from the convention floor in Tampa, hundreds of Delegates went home furious at the Romney campaign. As the national Rules of the Republican Party now stand, something similar would certainly happen again at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. This time, even more Republicans would be mad at their party. Perhaps worse, as the Rules of the Republican Party now stand, the 2016 Republican National Convention could nominate a candidate who does not receive the votes of a majority of the duly elected Delegates. 

Blackwell explained that the procedural rules of the convention were changed years ago to accommodate TV by not allowing frivolous “favorite son” candidates to eat up valuable air time at the expense of the actual nominee. The rules were thus changed to require any candidate to have “substantial support” from several states to qualify for nominating speeches and floor demonstrations. At the last convention, “the Romney campaign amended the rules as the convention began in Tampa and changed the requirement from having a plurality of the delegations in five states to having a majority of the delegate votes in at least eight states. They knew that this rules change would prevent a nominating speech and a floor demonstration for Ron Paul or anyone else except Mitt Romney.” The rules were changed to prohibit “even the recording or tallying of delegate votes” for any candidate who did not meet the new threshold.

The critical action was that the Convention Chairman and the Convention Secretary held

that Rule 40(b), as adopted by the 2012 national convention, required that only candidates who had the support of a majority of the delegate votes in at least eight states could be formally placed in nomination as our presidential candidate and that, therefore, under new Rule 40(d), votes could not be counted for any candidate not meeting the threshold of eight states. To repeat this abusive procedure at the Cleveland convention would be a national scandal and would certainly damage the Republican ticket. At no time, not even at the 2012 convention, when any such threshold requirement was proposed, debated, passed, or amended, was there any suggestion that the national rules would prohibit the casting, recording, and counting of the votes of duly elected Delegates who cast their votes according to their state party rules and their state law.  Yet the votes of delegates voting for Romney were the only votes announced by the 2012 Convention Secretary and counted in the final tally.

Here is what Blackwell calculates could happen at this year’s Republican Convention.

Assume that Candidate A wins 38% of the delegate votes at the national convention, then that Candidate B wins 39% of the delegate votes, and that candidates C, D, E, F, and G among them win the remaining 23% of the delegate votes.  With many states binding their delegate votes proportionally to their presidential primary votes, this could happen.
 
Assume also that none of the five candidates whose numbers made up that 23% of the convention votes won the majority of delegate votes in at least eight states.  That would be likely.

Then assume that a big majority of the Delegates whose votes were bound to Candidates C, D, E, F, and G would vote for Candidate A on a second ballot. That couldn’t happen because there wouldn’t be a second ballot.  Under the current rules, the votes for Candidates C, D, E, F, and G wouldn’t be counted. Candidate B would receive the presidential nomination with the votes of only 39% of the duly elected Delegates, although a majority of the total number of Delegates preferred Candidate A over Candidate B.

Blackwell’s reform proposal was defeated by the RNC, to a great extent in deference to Priebus’s expertise, which insisted this chaotic scenario could not take place. But in fact, this remains a possibility.

One theory is that the Republican establishment does not care if there is a chaotic convention if Cruz would become the nominee since the negative reaction to such a convention would surely end in his loss of the general election and the establishment soon back in control of their party. The more ominous scenario would be for the establishment to manipulate the Republican Party mechanics that run the convention to have the secretary simply declare either Trump or the establishment candidate the winner by only counting those votes they deemed legitimate. Of course, the conservative base would be infuriated and the GOP would lose the general election, but the party would again be back in the hands of the establishment.

Heads we win, tails they lose.

This may all appear implausible in today’s modern media age, but this rules expert was himself a prime participant in the rules shenanigans at the last contested convention in 1976, assisted in the dramatic rules changes at the 1972 convention, managed several contested state conventions, and can testify that this possibility is not mere fable. Indeed, the 1952 Republican Convention did in fact refuse to count the delegate votes from Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana on key rules, votes denying the nomination to conservative favorite Robert Taft.

It happened before and it can happen again. Only this time it could be easier since the Republican National Committee has signaled beforehand that the convention secretary and chairman might just be able to settle the matter all on their own.

And the chairman will be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution [1], and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term and one of his campaign strategists.

25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "Will the GOP Allow a Convention Fight?"

#1 Comment By Liam On February 10, 2016 @ 1:34 pm

Cruz is a ticket to GOP oblivion.

#2 Comment By AP On February 10, 2016 @ 2:06 pm

A positive possibility would be if a brokered nomination resulted in someone like Like Kasich being the party’s nominee.

#3 Comment By William Dalton On February 10, 2016 @ 2:45 pm

Romney was able to get the nomination at the 2012 convention because even after discarding all the Paul, Santorum and other pledged delegate votes not tallied, he still held a majority of the convention delegates. If the only the votes of the top two candidates are tallied, but they amount to only 38% and 39% of convention delegates, neither would have enough to be declared the nominee. It takes 50% + 1 if the seated delegates to achieve that. Once the first ballot is completed and delegates are unbound from primary and caucus results, then the horse-trading would begin for other candidates to get a majority of eight delegations’ delegates to submit their names in nomination. And then would begin the campaign on the floor of the convention among the nominated candidates.

The question is, will ANY candidate command a majority of eight states’ delegations in order to have their names placed in nomination on the first ballot? After March 15, a lot of primary outcomes will deliver their state’s delegates “winner take all”. But will any of Trump, Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, Bush, have gathered the momentum to capture eight of those winner take all states? Is Donald Trump, the clear front runner, capable of taking a majority of primary votes in ANY state which is going to vote this year? Is any candidate?

Under these conditions, I don’t see how the Republicans can avoid having their nominees for President and Vice President be determined by the actual delegates to their National Convention.

#4 Comment By CDK On February 10, 2016 @ 2:54 pm

I guess that’s possible if the Republican party wants to commit suicide Samson-style. Not only would they end up a historical footnote like their predecessor the Whig party, there would be civil unrest and the entire process would be delegitimized for a generation. A Trump presidency would, at best, be a speed bump to the establishment dominance, but outright subversion? Can one imagine the reaction of people who already are voting against precisely this type of elitist manipulation? If Trump is half the fascist his enemies say he is, he could call for nationwide insurrection and a LOT of people would go get their guns, literally. Once the military is called in (assuming they themselves don’t revolt or simply refuse to obey), Americans will see the truth in all its tinfoil-hatted glory: we are ruled by an oligarchy that thinks it’s an aristocracy while pretending to be a democracy.

Personally, I hope that cooler heads in the Republican party prevail and that they learn to live with the Trumpocalypse.

#5 Comment By Lee On February 10, 2016 @ 4:43 pm

A convention fight could very well be the beginning of the end for the GOP…as to political relevancy.

James Carville was right about one thing. Trump supporters generally have no love for the Republican Party or it’s leaders.

#6 Comment By Rossbach On February 10, 2016 @ 5:37 pm

If the GOP succeeds in thwarting the will of its base (again), it deserves to die. The rank-and-file care a lot more about the survival of the USA than they do about the fate of the GOP. People like Reince Priebus will be the death of that party yet.

#7 Comment By Just Dropping By On February 10, 2016 @ 7:25 pm

@CDK: I don’t see how an armed uprising against a party convention could even begin to work. I guess hypothetically a dedicated band of insurgents could hold the delegates at gunpoint and order them to nominate a candidate, but if the party leaders say that is illegitimate, then how do you get the insurgents’ preferred candidate’s name on the ballots when that’s a state-by-state process? Start threatening to kill the secretaries of state of states with early ballot registration deadlines if they don’t honor the insurgents’ demands? I can’t believe that’s likely or even feasible.

#8 Comment By Thomas Sm On February 10, 2016 @ 7:34 pm

It’s not true that Trump underperformed in NH. He overperformed by 4 pts. His RCP average was about 31%.

Roger Stone is running around insisting that a convention floor fight is the establishment’s *planned* last defence against Trump. I have seen major donors and operatives float the idea in the media that they can get a dark horse like Romney or Paul Ryan or Sen. Sasse out of a brokered convention.

I am not sure your cited interpretation of the rules is correct. I do not believe a ‘majority of delegates’ has ever been understood to mean a majority of recognised votes. In the 39%-38%-23% scenario, I think a second ballot would be called. Either way, the obvious strategy of the establishment would be to tell a number of candidates they cannot win, have them *release their delegates*, have a dark horse candidate with a majority in eight states, and try to nominate him from the floor, which could take 2-3 ballots.

I expect if Trump thinks he is going to be screwed that way, he will start reserving ballot places for an independent run.

#9 Comment By Will Robinson On February 10, 2016 @ 8:00 pm

I respect the author’s opinion, and he makes several good points, but he is also incorrect about a number of things.

“Yet Trump underperformed by winning only a third of the vote when the polls predicted he would win more. He gained no new votes over the course of the campaign and the polls in South Carolina show him around the same one-third total. He will not run away with the nomination.”

The polls predicted that he would win only slightly more than he did and less than one third over-all (and those polls were only the most recent; he had previously been behind Cruz for quite some time). Trump with no ground game won second place in a heavily evangelical state and, in the process, racked up the second highest republican vote count in Iowa primary history. Had either Carson or Cruz not been in the race, he would have won in an enormous landslide.

Trump followed Iowa by out-preforming many polls in New Hampshire. Nationally, and state-by-state, Trump leads the field, sometimes by a huge margin. Therefore, Trump will indeed run away with the nomination, at least in terms of how ordinary republicans perceive it: he’ll win a large majority of states down the stretch as polls currently indicate. That will make it impossible for the establishment to cheat him at the convention.

“The popular sitting governor and the whole state agricultural industrial sector proclaimed that Cruz must lose to save the state. The fact he won against this headwind, to say nothing of Trump and a talented field of others, does show remarkable strength. But he did come in third in New Hampshire behind John Kasich.”

Let’s not over-construe things. This only demonstrates 1. Cruz’s strength among Iowan republican evangelicals who don’t really care about ethanol subsidies, something not entirely representative of the state as a whole and 2. that his ground game paid off. I would, however, bet that Trump still polls higher than Cruz in Iowa if someone took a poll this week. I would also bet that his ethanol stance would cause Cruz to lose the state in the general election.

“As a result, not only will there be no bandwagon effect for a southern favorite like Cruz but the decision basically turns regional power to the Midwest, Northeast, Florida, and California, a moderate establishment’s dream for a Kasich or Jeb Bush.”

Trump is beating Cruz in virtually every Southern state, so I wouldn’t say this Canadian is the home favorite. Furthermore, Trump will also do quite well in those states that Jeb and Kasich are hoping for. Along with his strength in Southern states, this will make Trump the perceived winner with ordinary voters, regardless of delegate count. So, good luck trying to cheat the guy at the convention.

“The more ominous scenario would be for the establishment to manipulate the Republican Party mechanics that run the convention to have the secretary simply declare either Trump or the establishment candidate the winner by only counting those votes they deemed legitimate. Of course, the conservative base would be infuriated and the GOP would lose the general election, but the party would again be back in the hands of the establishment.”

That’s only partly correct. If Trump runs the table and wins the vast majority of states, then it won’t matter if only his votes are counted. He’ll be the perceived victor among rank-in-file republicans anyway a la Mitt Romney. Furthermore, Trump or Cruz losing the general election after a raucous convention engineered by elites is more likely to be blamed on said elites by the voters than on the candidates, resulting in the elite being permanently discredited…or even excommunicated from the party. They should consider that possibility carefully before making any rash decisions.

#10 Comment By Geogman On February 10, 2016 @ 8:21 pm

What happens if no one candidate has enough votes and Trump and Cruz enter a convention with the most delegates? Could you imagine a Trump Cruz ticket? Bring on the popcorn.

#11 Comment By Robert Levine On February 10, 2016 @ 9:50 pm

What stops Cruz from opening a commanding lead as he heads into nine southern states that should be his natural base? The first obstacle is that the Washington Republican establishment simply loathes him. They recognize Cruz as someone who actually represents change that will threaten their privileged position of power in the nation’s capital. They will fight him with all it takes as long as it takes. The fact they prefer even Trump as one with whom they can cut deals demonstrates the strength of their convictions against a Cruz candidacy of principle.

The only principle motivating Cruz is that Cruz should be president. That’s why the establishment loathes him; he’s the very opposite of a team player, and that doesn’t go over well in a legislative body.

#12 Comment By JR On February 10, 2016 @ 10:52 pm

“Americans will see the truth in all its tinfoil-hatted glory: we are ruled by an oligarchy that thinks it’s an aristocracy while pretending to be a democracy.”

Damn CDK, that is the money line if ever I saw it…

#13 Comment By Reid E Pagliaccio On February 10, 2016 @ 11:58 pm

No way.

#14 Comment By Richard Parker On February 11, 2016 @ 12:25 am

“Party rules are a tragic accident waiting to happen.”

And can be changed on a whim by the money bags. Romney’s mistreatment of Paul supporters in 2012 certainly cost him some votes. Enough to matter, probably not, but the election could have been closer.

I look to be sold out again. I might vote for Bernie.

#15 Comment By Tenet On February 11, 2016 @ 5:05 am

Hilarious how Donald Devine tries to present Goldman Sachs’ boy Cruz as a threat to the establishment. They dislike him because everyone does, even his college roommate, not because of his policies. He did not oppose mass immigration, that is just something he has come up with now that he is imitating Trump. His proposed amendment to the Gang of Eight bill would not have prevented mass amnesty, that is a lie he manufactured in the last few months. He did not “stop the bill” – as Jeff Sessions says Cruz was not prominent, he was a Johnny-come-lately to the efforts of those who opposed the Gang of Eight. Cruz in fact only started his conservative-values thing when the Tea Party had gained strength and he realized he could ride it (and secret Goldman Sachs money) to the Senate.

But here’s Donald Devine’s take – which ignores Cruz’ operatives systematically lying about Carson dropping out, and manages to make it sound like Donald Trump “underperformed” after the most stunning New Hampshire win in history:

“Donald Trump gets bragging rights for a big victory in New Hampshire but so does Ted Cruz for Iowa. Yet Trump underperformed by winning only a third of the vote”

“They recognize Cruz as someone who actually represents change that will threaten their privileged position of power in the nation’s capital. They will fight him with all it takes as long as it takes. The fact they prefer even Trump as one with whom they can cut deals”

(The establishment prefers Trump? So that’s why they have been attacking him to the extreme, far more than they have criticized Cruz. Even now after New Hampshire Fox News interviews reps from the establishment politicians, including Cruz, while ignoring Trump as much as possible. The Wall Street Journal didn’t even show Trump on the front page of its website and soon removed the news about the New Hampshire primary, leaving only a tiny picture of Bernard Sanders down the page to click.)

“One theory is that the Republican establishment does not care if there is a chaotic convention if Cruz would become the nominee since the negative reaction to such a convention would surely end in his loss of the general election and the establishment soon back in control of their party.”

#16 Comment By Tenet On February 11, 2016 @ 5:11 am

Another note (assuming that my first comment passes moderation) – every GOP candidate that has won first and second place in the first two primaries has won the nomination. The establishment critters and rabbit men in fake-conservative rags better get used to the fact that there will be a president who will uphold American law about illegal aliens.

#17 Comment By TB On February 11, 2016 @ 8:11 am

Will the GOP Allow a Convention Fight?
_______________

No. They will placate their Manhattan Silverback and humbly offer him all the bananas.

#18 Comment By the unworthy craftsman On February 11, 2016 @ 12:33 pm

I’d love to see what evidence Devine has for the assertion that DC folks prefer Trump to Cruz, whom they supposedly despise–other than the fact that this meme is being repeated constantly in the media. Cruz, despite his unattractive personality, is the natural choice of elites managing the current populist moment.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 11, 2016 @ 2:24 pm

The Southern Super Tuesday primaries and the other Southern contests before March 15 are required for the first time to award their primary delegates by proportional representation where each candidate wins only the percentage of delegates he receives from the popular vote, rather than the first-place candidate winning all delegates.

Objectively, that is the right way to do delegate selection. The notion that in a crowded field, the candidate who picks up a plurality of 30 percent or so gets all the delegates is ludicrous as a way of representing the will of the people. Of course its bad for party pros who want to manage the process, and if the people aren’t cooperating, elect a new people as necessary. But the whole story is a massive revolt against political pros.

Further, the candidate who picks up a plurality of thirty percent or so can easily win the nomination, only to go down in a massive landslide in the general election, because really, a third of their own party can’t stand to vote for him, and ninety percent of the independents can’t either.

Winner take all presents a distorted picture of the electorate, which has serious hazards of its own.

#20 Comment By Clint On February 11, 2016 @ 9:53 pm

Meanwhile, The Democrat Party is doing a state by state rip off of Bernie Sanders and his supporters.
In the overall delegate count, Clinton holds a commanding lead after a razor-thin victory in Iowa and a shellacking in New Hampshire. Clinton has 394 delegates, both super and electorally assigned, to only 42 for Sanders.

#21 Comment By Richard Parker On February 11, 2016 @ 11:45 pm

“Clinton has 394 delegates, both super and electorally assigned, to only 42 for Sanders.”

The Kids will learn the amoral corrupt nature of our electoral system. It won’t be healthy for the future of our country. The super-delegates were created to specifically thwart the will of Democrat primary voters.

I can picture scenarios where I would vote for Bernie.

#22 Comment By Mark F. On February 12, 2016 @ 12:25 am

No way will the Democratic Party deny Sanders the nomination if he earns the most delegates–unless they want an open revolt and a guaranteed Republican President. Mrs. Clinton is not that stupid.

#23 Comment By Clint On February 12, 2016 @ 11:04 am

Ed Rendell,Former DNC Chairman,
“I think because of the superdelegates who cast their vote based on electability have serious doubts whether Bernie Sanders could be electable once the GOP starts campaigning against him and putting ads against him. I think Hillary’s going to do very well with super delegates. That means Bernie would have to win a significant majority of the elected delegates.”

#24 Comment By Brett Champion On February 14, 2016 @ 9:44 am

Every year we hear about the possibility of a contested convention, and it never comes close to panning out. This year will be the same as all the others.

#25 Comment By Melanie Ennen On March 4, 2016 @ 10:32 am

“They recognize Cruz as someone who actually represents change that will threaten their privileged position of power in the nation’s capital. They will fight him with all it takes as long as it takes. The fact they prefer even Trump as one with whom they can cut deals demonstrates the strength of their convictions against a Cruz candidacy of principle.”

Perfectly said. Everyone who is angry should be looking to the true conservative, Sen Cruz.