How Would A Brokered Convention Work?

The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro recently reported that the Republican establishment is now preparing a convention strategy in order to prevent the seemingly-inevitable popular nomination of Donald Trump. It’s been a long time since either party has chosen a nominee in this unconventional way. What does a brokered convention even look like? More importantly, what is a brokered convention? FiveEightThirty’s managing editor, David Brimstone has the answer:

A brokered convention is one (historical) form of a contested convention, when state party leaders (or union bosses) acted as brokers for their delegates in the convention horse-trading. Those bosses and brokers no longer exist, so the candidates will have to do the negotiating, along with leaders like RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, etc., who can hope to use their clout to sway delegates. Of course, there’s no recent historical precedent for that, since all the big rule changes, so no one really knows how this would work.

The problem with a brokered convention is not just the bad press that will certainly hit the GOP (Expect sensationalist headlines like: “The Republican Party’s Bloody Civil War,” or “GOP Elephant Eats Itself Alive”). A brokered convention is incredibly complicated and logistically confusing.

It is indeed perfect arena for political exploitation and manipulation of the party’s electorate. Nate Silver, a highly- influential statistician and FiveEightThirty’s editor in chief explains:

One other thing that people may not know. The GOP’s delegate math is somewhat fuzzy. In particular, there are various sorts of unbound delegates. This is much clearer in the case of the Democrats with their superdelegates, but there are some equivalent cases within the GOP. That maybe gives the GOP a 5-10 percent fudge factor, depending on how you count different categories of delegates. Usually, that fuzzy math helps the establishment to consolidate around a nominee. But the party could also seek to use those delegates to hold out for a contested convention rather than having to nominate Trump.

Republican primary voters should be ready for a brokered convention end-game. This election season is different; Trump is a game-changer. “My most likely scenario is still that no one wins a sufficient number of delegates to claim the nomination,” says Real Clear Politics’ Sean Trende. “As Nate Silver lays it out, this comes in three different “flavors”: (1) No one wins, but someone is close enough that the writing is on the wall; (2) no one wins, but things get sorted out at the convention; (3) no one wins, and it is fought out on the convention floor.”

In the increasingly likely event of a brokered convention, it’s anybody’s guess what could happen. Micah Coleman, politics editor of FiveEightThirty catalogs the potential outcomes:

  1. Result in a Trump nomination.

  2. Result in an establishment nominee who is currently running.

  3. Result in an establishment nominee not currently running.

  4. Result in Ted Cruz.

  5. Destroy the GOP.

  6. Other.

Here are Silver’s statistical estimates for the first four scenarios:

  1. 10 percent

  2. 35 percent

  3. 20 percent

  4. 35 percent

The numbers indicate a dead-heat tie between the nomination of conservative firebrand Ted Cruz and an establishment candidate, ostensibly Rubio.

Ben Shapiro argues that the Republican Party has pigeon-holed itself after years of neglecting its conservative base. “There is one solution standing right before the GOP establishment: back Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX),” asserts Shapiro. “They find this solution unpalatable, because they believe that a soft-spoken Republican who avoids speaking about social issues and wavers on immigration is the only candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton. They also despise Cruz personally for his attacks on establishment favorites like Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and former Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH).”

The last time a political party even came remotely close to holding a brokered convention was in 1988, when the Democrats were split between Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, and Jesse Jackson. Dukakis eventually became the nominee and lost to Republican George H.W. Bush, after becoming the Democratic torchbearer in the final rounds of the primaries. The last actual brokered convention occurred during the 1952 Democratic Party primary. For Republicans, it goes even further back, to 1948, when Thomas E. Dewey clinched the nomination. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the last the candidate who won the presidency after going through a brokered convention nomination.

The GOP establishment is navigating dangerous uncharted terrain. In an effort to derail Trump’s populist insurgency, the party may shoot itself in the foot and ensure four more years of another Democrat in the White House.

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