In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: what is a brokered convention? This is The Two Minute Drill for April 1, 2016.
The Republican presidential primary is at a boiling point. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Katich have all backed away from their pledge to support the party’s eventual nominee, foreshadowing a fight at the convention in July. The prospects of a brokered convention are getting increasingly likely. Republicans likely won’t know whether Donald Trump will reach the 1,237 delegates needed to win the GOP nomination outright until June 7, the date the final primary contests conclude.
Trump faces an uphill battle. He currently has 736 delegates and needs 501 more for the nomination. To cross the 1,237 threshold, therefore, he needs to win about 56 percent of the approximately 900 delegates still up for grabs. Roughly one-third of those outstanding delegates will be allocated across five states on June 7.
Ted Cruz’s road to 1,2237, while not technically impossible, is highly unlikely. Cruz only has 436 delegates and would need to win another 774 delegates to secure the nomination, or about 86 percent of the outstanding delegates. There is no way that John Kasich, with 143 delegates, can win the nomination outright. As such, he has been mathematically eliminated. Even if he won every remaining delegate, he’d still fall short.
Given the state of the race, it is highly likely that the Republican Party is barreling toward a brokered convention. But what is a “brokered convention”? Here is a (kind of) simple explanation.
The Explanation (500 or Bust)
To secure the nomination outright, a given candidate must win a simple majority of the 2,472 delegates awarded during the Republican presidential primary process, or 1,237 delegates. But if no candidate finishes the primary season with a majority of delegates, the summer convention can be described as either “contested” or “brokered.”
The last “contested” convention came in 1976, when President Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan arrived at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena short of the minimum number of delegates. Both Ford and Reagan attempted to sway their way to the necessary majority, but Ford sealed the nomination just before the first floor vote. Because Ford won the nomination on the initial ballot, the 1976 GOP convention is not technically considered to have been “brokered.”
A “brokered” convention, thus, occurs where no candidate secures the nomination after the first ballot. At that time, the real action begins. The Republican Party has a detailed set of rules that guide how it operates. In 2012, the rules that focused on the actual voting process looked like this:
Rule 29: Each delegate gets one vote. If the delegate holds two voting positions, he or she still gets only one vote.
Rule 16: If delegates vote for someone besides the candidate to whom they are bound, those votes aren’t recognized.
Rule 37: States are called to vote in alphabetical order, but they can skip announcing their vote until later in the queue. The chairman of the state party announces the number of votes for each candidate.
Rule 38: States can’t decide to cast all of their votes for whomever the majority of delegates back.
Rule 40: If, after all of the states (and territories) have announced their tallies, no candidate has more than 50 percent of the delegates’ votes, “the chairman of the convention shall direct the roll of the states be called again and shall repeat the calling of the roll until a candidate shall have received a majority of the votes entitled to be cast in the convention.”
In other words, if no candidate wins after the first ballot, the delegates will keep voting until there’s a majority.
But here’s the kicker: all of the “rules” articulated above may not even matter. They were the rules for the 2012 convention. The rules for the 2016 convention will not be decided until the even of the convention in July, when the 112-member Rules Committee will come together. The Rules Committee could undue policies requiring most of the 2,472 delegates to abide by the will of the voters, or to erect all kinds of obstacles to Trump’s nomination.
The process can get messy, fast. And we don’t really know what to expect.
It is for this reason why the major political parties have attempted to construct nominating systems to avoid brokered conventions, reflecting the belief that disunity in the summer means disaster in autumn. The last “brokered” convention occurred more than 60 years ago – the 1952 Democratic contest. For Republicans, the last one occurred in 1948.
So, what can we expect in July? Only one thing is certain. Come July, the nation will get to see, in the words of GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsberg, “how button-downed, conservative Republicans deal with pure chaos.”
Word Count: 538 (bust)
In case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week took a look at the opposition to GMOs and misguided belief in the power of organic foods. Read the Column for March 29, 2016 – Who’s Behind the Unscientific Crusade Against GMOs?