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Death By Brokered Convention

There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks about the possibility of a brokered convention.  Yglesias even proposes that it would be good for the GOP to have the high drama of a nomination contest that came down to the end.  He’s right that it would draw a lot of media attention, and it would give endless material for political reporters and pundits to talk about, but while there would be a lot of media exposure it’s not clear to me that this works to the benefit of the eventual nominee and the party.  In some respects, a hard-fought nomination contest improves all of the candidates running and prepares them for the general election, but as with any long, drawn-out internal contest the winner at the end comes away muddied and bloodied and vulnerable.  In open elections, a party doesn’t really want an automatic coronation, which then allows the nominee to become lazy and rusty in his campaigning, but it doesn’t want the kind of free-for-all in which all of the participants are made to look vulnerable and small.  While the media would be paying more attention to a four- or five-way grudge match, the image that this sends to the country is that the party is in disarray, rudderless and imploding before their eyes.  While it’s true that a third candidate typically benefits from a fight between two leading rivals, no one really benefits from a four- or five-way scrum, since the very existence of the contest reminds the public that any one of these candidates was unable to weld together a political coalition within his own party.  If, as David Brooks has said, the Republicans are beginning to talk like the 1970s Tories on economics, they are behaving like the late 1990s Tories in their leadership contest, and it will have similar general election results.  Also, a contest that goes all the way to the convention makes it that much harder for any eventual nominee to unify the obviously fragmented party around himself, and in the course of the next six months until the convention the divisions wiithin the party would become wider and more damaging as each faction would be jockeying for position.  The Democrats in 1952 had a brokered convention and then lost badly that fall, but then they, like today’s GOP, were on the wrong side of public opinion regarding an unpopular war.  If the Republicans cannot unite around someone before April, this year could be even worse for them than it was already likely to be.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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