Brokered convention proponents are missing the point

posted at 12:01 pm on March 7, 2016 by Jazz Shaw

Right off the bat I’d like to reiterate that I’m still far from convinced that the GOP nomination process is heading for a brokered convention scenario, no matter how certain it seems to be in the eyes of some of my colleagues. That’s not to say that it can’t or won’t happen, but there is still plenty of running room left for somebody to make it to 1,237 delegates if they pick up a serious head of steam by next week and some of the bigger states down the road fall in line. Still, it’s a possibility on the minds of many, particularly in the #NeverTrump camp, and they appear to be pinning all their hopes and dreams on it.

There are, of course, huge problems which come with this dream scenario and we’ve discussed them here before. Not least among them is the fact that you’re going to spark a massive riot among the grassroots over the perception (a key word we’ll circle back to in a moment) that the will of the voters has been thwarted. That’s not stopping the proponents of the plan, though, and my friend Matt Lewis makes a valiant attempt at defending such a scheme today at the Daily Caller.

Ted Cruz recently portrayed a contested convention as a way the Republican establishment “can snatch this nomination from the people.”

“If the Washington deal-makers try to steal the nomination from the people, he continued, “I think it will be a disaster. It will cause a revolt.”

Snatch? Steal?? Revolt???

Cruz’s rhetoric has a populist ring to it, but what does it really mean? Am I not a person? Are the 2,472 delegates who would vote at a contested convention not people?

I’m perplexed. If Donald Trump or Ted Cruz (or anyone else) fails to garner 1,237 delegates prior to the convention, they will not have won a majority of the delegates up for grabs. In other words, the majority of delegates will have been awarded to someone else (if Cruz thinks we should get rid of the delegates system and just have a popular vote, that’s another story).

Why would playing by the rules constitute “stealing” the election?

Matt is wrapping a few different arguments into one ball of wax, and some of them are both true in the technical sense and defensible from a conservative perspective. None, however, serve to negate the underlying realities we’re dealing with here, at least in my never very humble opinion. The first one to sweep off the table is the fact (yes… I said fact) that what’s being discussed is completely permissible under the rules. I’ve read the byzantine convention rules myself and it’s absolutely true. If no candidate makes it to a majority on the first ballot, all of the normal rules of engagement are pretty much out the window and some coalition of delegates for underperforming candidates could band together and decide the nomination.

But just because something happens according to the rules, that doesn’t make it “right” in the eyes of the hoi polloi. The rules we’re operating under change every cycle and they aren’t exactly carved in marble with the Founders’ signatures under them. (For the record, the rules committee will be meeting the week before the big party in Cleveland and they’ll be changing again – for this year – so hang on to your hats.) Telling everyone that a failure to achieve a majority means that the will of essentially everyone who took time to vote can be tossed out the window isn’t going to win hearts and minds. It also blatantly claims – as Matt directly asserts in his column – that a plurality is essentially meaningless. But we base all manner of things in politics on pluralities. Just look at any of the endless polls which are cited in support of various positions. Further, the delegate allocation process relies on pluralities. Many of the states allocate three delegates for each congressional district to two candidates when nobody wins a majority. The person who gets two of the three does so with a plurality. Why not throw those allocations out as well?

Matt then goes on to argue on behalf of the poor, beleaguered delegates at the convention. Are they not people too? (As in, “the will of the people.”) This is a prima facie case of misdirection. The bound delegates are most assuredly human beings, but they come to the convention carrying a burden upon their shoulders. That weight is comprised of the will of thousands or tens of thousands of people who voted in their home districts and states. When they drop that burden to the ground on the second ballot and deliver the will of all those voters to a candidate who none of them voted for (and one who many of them might even despise) something has gone terribly wrong with the system even if the rules are being followed.

Yes, it’s true that we can follow the rules and hand the nomination to someone who may have only managed to take third place in the overall voting nationally. And yes, again, it would be within the confines of the rules. But let’s not pretend that it wouldn’t stink to high heaven, let’s not act surprised if a plurality of the primary voters respond with a middle finger salute and a refusal to show up in November. That’s probably even more of a crime, because in at least some quarters of the movement, beating Hillary Clinton is now seen as a less conservative goal than beating someone who is at least ostensibly running for the nomination in our own party.

In the end, I hope this isn’t a necessity. Ted Cruz was correct in the quote Matt cited above. The way to win this race is to not lose in the first place. I would like to see Cruz accumulate 1,237 delegates on his own and put these ugly questions behind us. But failing that, if Trump manages the task he is our candidate. And if either of them fail but gain a definitive plurality of delegates and we ignore the voters who made that happen, well… we deserve what we get.

For some additional reading in support of Matt’s side of the debate (since we like to be fair here) read this piece from Hugh Hewitt which was penned nearly two years ago. Why not an open convention? I may disagree with the final conclusions, but many of the base arguments are certainly valid and defensible.


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