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Convention Rule 40 or Fight

My latest column for The Week [1] is extremely similar to Philip Diehl’s piece at TAC [2], in that we’re both writing about how Rule 40(b), designed to benefit the candidate who wins with the blessing of the establishment, is blowing up in the GOP’s face in this year of the insurgent. Further, we both think that a brokered convention won’t necessarily work to the party leadership’s advantage, because even if Trump comes to the convention with a mere plurality, Cruz may prefer to strike a deal with Trump to be his Vice President than to hand control of the process back to a leadership that despises him.

But I want to make an additional point about Rule 40(b). The rule, adopted in 2012, reads as follows:

(b) Each candidate for nomination for president of the United States and vice president of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.

The purpose of the rule, as I understand it, was to forestall a Ron Paul primary challenge against an incumbent President Mitt Romney in 2016, of the sort that President Carter faced from Ted Kennedy in 1980 and that the first President Bush faced from Pat Buchanan in 1992. By raising the bar for having a candidate’s name placed in nomination to outright majorities of eight state delegations, which would be exceedingly unlikely for a challenger to an incumbent President to achieve, the rule removed such a challenger’s leverage at a convention: the leverage to bargain for platform changes and/or speaking time in exchange for support for the nominee.

In other words, Mitt Romney expected to win, but he also expected his presidency either to be enough of a failure to prompt a serious primary challenge, or that there was sufficiently potent opposition to the party establishment that he might face a serious primary challenge even if his presidency was successful. And his team’s first instinct for how to deal with those possibilities was not to consider how to mend relations with the discontented faction, but to amend the rules to make it harder for such a challenge to succeed.

Donald Trump and Ron Paul have almost nothing in common – indeed, a Trump-Clinton contest would leave more room for a libertarian third-party alternative than pretty much any other other possible matchup I can imagine. But it’s very hard to credit exclamations of surprise from the GOP leadership at what’s been happening in their primaries this year, given that they anticipated – and had already implemented plans to stifle – an insurgent campaign back when they believed they would be the incumbents in 2016.

Hoist with their own petard doesn’t do it justice. This is more like, blown up fleeing through a field of anti-personnel mines they laid to defend against a rebellion by their own people.

13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "Convention Rule 40 or Fight"

#1 Comment By Alex On March 10, 2016 @ 6:28 pm

What can be said about the establishment aside from male merenti? I don’t know.

#2 Comment By William Dalton On March 10, 2016 @ 6:47 pm

“The purpose of the rule, as I understand it, was to forestall a Ron Paul primary challenge against an incumbent President Mitt Romney in 2016, of the sort that President Carter faced from Ted Kennedy in 1980 and that the first President Bush faced from Pat Buchanan in 1992.”

The purpose of the rule, which was changed just prior to opening of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, raising the majority of delegations threshold from five to eight, was to stop the name of Ron Paul from being submitted in nomination at the 2012 convention. In fact, it even negated all the delegate votes cast for Paul (and Gingrich and Santorum) from even being officially registered during the roll call of the states.

We who were Ron Paul delegates at Tampa knew that that would be his “last rodeo”. He wasn’t even running again for reelection to Congress. His time as a political candidate had come to an end. The next campaign would be that of his son, Rand. But there were doubts whether the son could carry his father’s sword, which doubts persisted and multiplied, undermining the Rand Paul campaign in 2016.

The other hero for the “Liberty” movement in Tampa in 2012 was the brash young candidate for the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz. He has disappointed even more than Rand Paul in his departure from battle for civil liberties in the face of the demands of the national security state, and his craven obeisance to neoconservatives. But Mike Lee and Justin Amash have joined the Cruz team. If Cruz succeeds in his campaign for the White House, I would not expect a challenge from the “Freedom Caucus” in 2020. But the Republican Party is nothing if it is not the story of shattered expectations.

#3 Comment By SteveM On March 10, 2016 @ 7:47 pm

Here’s an essay on the Republican convention rules:

[3]

Evidently, the voting rules for the 2016 convention are voted on at the convention, before the voting for the candidates. The 2012 rules are not mandatory and can be changed.

So apparently if Trump has less than a majority needed to be the nominee, the rules can be shaped by the Republican Bosses to hose him right then and there.

#4 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 10, 2016 @ 8:04 pm

“Hoist by their own petard doesn’t do it justice.”

No, it doesn’t do it justice.

But why did you change the preposition? You’re a first-rate Shakespeare scholar and the change was surely intentional.

Like Diehl’s a really fine analysis!

#5 Comment By icarusr On March 11, 2016 @ 3:27 am

“And his team’s first instinct for how to deal with those possibilities was not to consider how to mend relations with the discontented faction, but to amend the rules to make it harder for such a challenge to succeed.”

To be fair, isn’t changing rules Republicans’ first go-to in the face of potential disappointment?

#6 Comment By Thomas On March 11, 2016 @ 8:37 am

If “the rules” can be arbitrarily changed, then why should we even believe that winning a majority of the delegates in the primary process be sufficient to get the nomination?

#7 Comment By Noah Millman On March 11, 2016 @ 9:12 am

Kurt: you flatter me. I think I just remembered the preposition wrong.

#8 Comment By TB On March 11, 2016 @ 9:20 am

“… if Trump comes to the convention with a mere plurality, Cruz may prefer to strike a deal with Trump to be his Vice President than to hand control of the process back to a leadership …”
______________________________

I would expect to see several Dem ads featuring Trump quotes calling into question the constitutionality of a Cruz presidency.

#9 Comment By collin On March 11, 2016 @ 9:22 am

File this under the Party is fighting the last war.

#10 Comment By Clint On March 11, 2016 @ 10:12 am

Trump has the neoconservative faction worried because he won’t take their Big Donor Neoconservative Money and they can’t seem to control him, as they appear to control Cruz and Rubio
Last night’s debate highlighted it, as The two Cubano Career Lawyer/Politicians tag team attacked Trump for daring to want to attempt to negotiate a peace deal between Israel and The Palestinians.
Also, The National Review and The “Open Letter” orchestrated attacks spotlight that the neoconservative faction is running around with their hair on fire.
They appear to be the faction that is most plotting to attempt to stop Trump at the convention.

#11 Comment By Sean Scallon On March 11, 2016 @ 11:07 am

“The purpose of the rule, which was changed just prior to opening of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, raising the majority of delegations threshold from five to eight, was to stop the name of Ron Paul from being submitted in nomination at the 2012 convention. In fact, it even negated all the delegate votes cast for Paul (and Gingrich and Santorum) from even being officially registered during the roll call of the states.”

As a Paulite one has to chuckle at seeing the party establishment hoisted on its own petard, which makes a vote for Trump palatable if just for a primary election. The rule was passed at the last minute, rammed through with all sorts of dirty tricks involved as well. The real irony was the Paul campaign was practically negotiating to NOT have Paul’s name put into nomination by their own delegates, agreeing to deals with the Romney camp (like with the Louisiana delegation for example) to prevent it from even having the five states needed for nomination. There was no need for any rules changes at all. That they did so shows how utterly insecure the Romney campaign was about itself which would have shown up clearly in a Romney Administration, which, Thank God, we didn’t have.

Of course, it was also obvious that Rand Paul’s endorsement of Romney meant nothing in the long run as far as any kind of leverage the Paul campaign had with the Romney camp. Indeed, it was whispered loudly throughout the 2012 campaign the Pauls had a “strategic alliance” with Romney. That would entail the Pauls would get something for their eventual support. Instead they got nothing. Rand’s endorsement didn’t prevent these kinds of shananigans with the rules and in the end all it got him was some convention speech nobody remembers. I hope no one is still wondering why Rand’s 2016 campaign was such an abject failure given the candidate.

Parties which wrap themselves up in rules changes are not parties in good shape as we saw with the Democrats in the 1970s and 80s, because changing the rules isn’t going to fix a parties’ long-term problems. They still find a way to manifest themselves and make a farce of whatever rules changes are adopted, like Rule 40.

#12 Comment By CharleyCarp On March 11, 2016 @ 11:44 am

Maybe I’m misunderstanding the discussion, but it doesn’t look to me as if Rule 40(b) is of any particular relevance to the situation facing the Republicans in 2016. Reporters had been writing as if the rule requires that a nominee have won 8 primaries/caucuses, but it doesn’t say that at all. And indeed, it would be likely impossible to meet the rule if that’s what it meant, because nearly no nominee for VP will have won 8 states. (Ryan certainly didn’t win 5 in 2012). No, it means that at the convention there have to be 8 delegations willing to support a nominee, in order to get a nomination.

This means that if some group of donors and party regulars can convince Sec. Rice* to allow her name to be put into nomination, and can get 8 delegations to buy the idea, then she can be nominated. The rule is no barrier at all to a candidate who has any chance of prevailing: obviously, if you can’t even get 8 states, you can’t win the nomination. Or do anything but waste time.

There don’t have to be 8 states where Sec. Rice has won a primary with 50%. There just have to be 8 states where Trump and Cruz together do not have a majority of pledged delegates, and where party regulars can sell the idea.

* I agree with Larison that the idea of a Rice candidacy is ridiculous, I’m just using her as the example.

#13 Comment By WillW On March 11, 2016 @ 1:10 pm

Mittens thought he was going to win? How sweet.