A brokered GOP convention is even more likely than you think -- thanks to Mitt Romney

Got a verrrry interesting e-mail from a GOP insider this morning in response to last night’s post about the coming convention clusterfark. Sean Trende, looking at the electoral landscape, thinks a brokered convention is likely. My source, looking at the changes to the GOP rulebook in 2012, think it’s highly likely. Quote:

At the 2012 convention, the rules were changed (at the behest of Romney supporters) so that in order for a candidate’s name to officially be placed in nomination, he must have a MAJORITY of the delegates from EIGHT states. The old rule (at least since the ‘70s I think) was a PLURALITY of delegates from FIVE states.  Big, big difference.  The Romney folks pushed it as a way to keep Ron Paul from being able to get his name in the hat in ’16, assuming Romney won the White House.

Bottom line, with sooooo many good candidates in the race, and considering the other factors you mention, and the fact that the primary timeline/rules have changed so as to mandate that a state has to award delegates proportionally prior to March 15, the odds that anyone gets a majority of eight go down…and the incentive not to drop out is even more pronounced. 

A candidate figures the longer they stay in and cut the pie up into smaller chunks, the greater the chance they can prevent any one guy from getting a majority of eight.  Then you’ve got your brokered convention – and they might have a shot.

Other sub-plot to pay attention to in this scenario is the “territories”, (Guam, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Virgin Islands, DC)…they ALL get treated like “states” under RNC rules…meaning they could count towards the “majority of eight”…meaning be on the lookout for candidates raining down dollars and keg parties for 5 or 6 delegates out of Guam, etc…  Pretty soon the candidates will catch on to this rule change and make that kind of “investment”.  At this point most RNC members themselves, much less candidates/staffers are aware of all this.

Great time to be a delegate.

Read the rule for yourself. It’s 40(b). Dave Catanese saw all of this coming in a prescient story for U.S. News & World Report nearly a year ago wondering whether the change to Rule 40(b) — which, ironically, was supposed to help shorten the nomination process — would actually lengthen it considerably and force the party into a brokered convention. Like my source, Catanese also saw Romney’s fingerprints on the rule change: It was apparently Mitt’s lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, who pushed it through in 2012 so that President Romney would have less to fear from a Ron or Rand Paul primary challenge in 2016 when he ran for reelection. Under the new rule, Paul would somehow have to take 51 percent from the sitting president in no fewer than eight states to qualify for the nomination at the convention. Fast-forward three years: Romney’s now retired and the nascent GOP field looks to be the strongest and most evenly matched in modern history, raising the possibility that no one will win a majority of delegates in any state until the winner-take-all states start voting in mid-March.

So imagine this. Imagine, per Trende’s scenario, that Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul all break from the pack early on, supported by small but devout mini-factions within the party. Bush is the centrist, Walker the center-right fusion candidate, Cruz the tea partier, Paul the libertarian. They each settle at around 20 percent, with the remaining 20 percent divided among second-tier candidates. Someone wins Iowa, someone else wins New Hampshire, a third guy wins South Carolina and so forth. None of them, however, wins 51 percent (or even comes close to 51 percent) in these proportional-delegate states, meaning that none of them is any closer to satisfying Rule 40(b). That’s a strong incentive for each man to stay in the race and keep running: While the early states will be great for building electoral momentum, it’s the later states that award all of their delegates to the winner that will be truly valuable to each candidate in meeting Rule 40(b). Here’s the list of states that are currently scheduled to hold their primaries after March 15:

Arizona, Maryland, Washington DC, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Indiana, Nebraska, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon, Arkansas, California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota, Utah

That’s all subject to change. How they award their delegates is also subject to change, as far as I know. If each state decides that they’d prefer to award their delegates proportionally, they could do that; unlike the pre-March 15 states, though, they have the option of choosing winner-take-all. But let’s face it: Thanks to Rule 40(b) and the prospect of a closely divided field, they all have a strong incentive to prefer winner-take-all to proportional allocation. Imagine it’s early May and there are still three or four candidates battling for the nomination. Imagine if, at that point, it’s still the case that no one has won a majority of delegates in the eight states required by the rule. A state like Montana that’s normally overlooked in the primary process could, by awarding all of its delegates to the winner, become the crucial eighth state needed by one of the candidates to formally qualify for the nomination. And if Montana has an incentive to go that route, so does every other late state. The candidates will be desperate for majority victories; a winner-take-all allocation is the only way to ensure that when there are multiple candidates running.

Another interesting thing about the 20 states named above is how many of them are homes to some of the leading contenders this year. Wisconsin gave us Walker; New Jersey gave us Christie; Arkansas gave us Huckabee; Kentucky gave us Paul. If any or all of those guys are still in it at that point, their home states could be key to getting them to the eight-state threshold. Other states may be sympathetic to one candidate over the other because of regional biases. Walker, the midwesterner, should play well in Indiana, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana. Christie and maybe Jeb Bush will play well in northeastern or seaboard states like Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland, and DC. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Huckabee would have an advantage in southern or rural states like Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia. It’d be indescribably suspenseful watching each of the final few candidates in the race pile up late wins, wondering if one or even all of them will eventually get to eight to meet the Rule 40(b) or fall short.

Which raises another possibility. What if no man wins a clear majority of total delegates and only one man wins a majority of delegates in eight states? I.e., let’s say Scott Walker has the most delegates after all the primaries are over — say, 45 percent of all delegates nationwide — but has only won a clear majority in seven states. And let’s also say that Jeb Bush has won just 35 percent of delegates nationally but, thanks to his strength in the northeast and on the west coast, has won majorities in eight states. Doesn’t that mean Jeb is the nominee since he’s the only man left standing who qualifies for the nomination under Rule 40(b)? That outcome is … not going to go over well with Walker fans. Or, just for extra funsies, imagine that the 20 winner-take-all states are split roughly evenly among a strong and stubborn field of four final candidates, ensuring that no man satisfies Rule 40(b). Catanese wondered about that too. Can you say “floor fight”?

A delegate driven process would force candidates to devote significant time to a smaller group of party elites around the entire country rather than spending a disproportionate amount of time in a handful of early key states that receive the bulk of the media attention.   

If that sounds undemocratic, Haugland flips the argument and argues that the real modern day party bosses are the high-charging consultants and large dollar donors who power campaigns through an avalanche of television ads.

Having to chase delegates on a convention floor would suck the money out of the process and replace it with a market of ideas, placing poorly funded candidates on equal footing with the well-financed titans. Yes, Haugland’s self-aware enough to realize how quaint and unrealistic this sounds to naysayers in today’s era.

…Yeah, I suppose. But more likely it would be a free-for-all in which the final candidates each try to outdo each other in terms of special favors promised to various state delegations. It’d be a cronyist nightmare — and pure-spun traffic gold. Can’t wait.

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David Strom 12:01 PM on October 07, 2022