The drama! The wheeling and dealing! The backstabbing! No, it’s not an episode of Arrested Development but the Great White Whale of the punditry class — an open or brokered convention. Every four years, we all talk about the possibility of one or both parties going into their conventions without a single candidate holding a majority of the pledged delegates. And every cycle, Lucy yanks the football away at the last minute.
Could this cycle be different? We’d sure like to think so, but this time the Democratic party establishment might like to think so too. It’s beginning to look like the early primaries won’t force anyone out of the race, Politico reports, and that might be the Democrats’ only defense against a Bernie Sanders run:
Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, two centrists who are newly mauling each other, will move on to Nevada and South Carolina. So will Bernie Sanders, the frontrunner in New Hampshire, and Elizabeth Warren. Following the Iowa caucuses, Amy Klobuchar sent staffers to New Hampshire and Nevada.
The billionaires aren’t going anywhere, either: Michael Bloomberg will confront all of those candidates on Super Tuesday, and Tom Steyer is polling well enough in South Carolina to disrupt the race there.
“It’s straight out of House of Cards or Veep, just the level of uncertainty [in] contest after contest if we don’t have a verdict,” said Jay Surdukowski, a New Hampshire-based attorney and Democratic activist who co-chaired Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign in the state. “It could be a jump ball for months.” …
Even Ray Buckley, chairman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, suggested a winnowing of candidates here is unlikely. While fielding questions about a possible recount in New Hampshire if the election Tuesday is close, Buckley said at a Bloomberg News event that after the Iowa caucus debacle, more party officials from around the country are preparing to travel to Nevada, South Carolina and other later states to help with their elections and caucuses.
Rather than narrowing the field down, the early contests might be broadening them. Klobuchar’s risen to third place in recent New Hampshire polling, and Bloomberg’s threatening to come up into the first tier. Biden’s stumble out of the gate has voters looking for a centrist-ish alternative, which will split that vote while the hard-Left wing unifies around Sanders.
If that dynamic continues after Super Tuesday, an open convention might be the best outcome for Democratic Party leadership. The Hill reports that this possibility is “raising anxieties,” but it’s a sure bet that Sanders’ path to the nomination is what really worries the party establishment:
The chance of a contested Democratic convention has increased after the muddle of the Iowa caucuses, raising anxieties ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
Iowa’s delayed results left five top-tier candidates soldiering on, even as New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg blankets television airwaves with advertisements ahead of his contesting of delegates in March.
This has all raised the likelihood of a longer primary fight where none of the candidates might win the 1,990 delegates needed to clinch the party’s presidential nomination.
“It’s possible, it’s quite possible,” said Chris Spirou, the former New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman and veteran political operative in the state. “I think Bloomberg entering into this thing provides a much greater possibility of a brokered convention.”
Bloomberg wouldn’t matter if the wheels hadn’t started coming off the Biden Express. In truth, it’s a bit mystifying why the donor class lined up behind Biden in the first place, other than misplaced Obama nostalgia. Biden had run twice for the nomination and embarrassed himself both times. What made them think that Biden would succeed in his third attempt at his advanced age, in a party looking for either radical change or an identity-politics champion?
With the centrists splitting that wing of the party and Sanders consolidating the progressive wing, a brokered convention might be the party’s best shot against putting a socialist up against Trump. Assuming this happens, though, who does the establishment pick — and why should anyone have confidence in their choice? For the second cycle in a row, they lined up behind a time-proven terrible candidate, and this time their anointed couldn’t even get out of the gate without a faceplant.
Whoever it is, it won’t solve the Bernie Bro problem for Democrats unless it’s Bernie himself. If the superdelegates hand the nomination to someone with fewer delegates than Bernie in the race, expect 1968 all over again. If they hand it to Bloomberg, expect 1968 squared. They would have to nominate someone who didn’t run in this cycle as a compromise candidate, and someone with enough credibility to overcome the Bernie Bro revenge impulse. You can bet that person won’t be Hillary Clinton, whom Sanders’ supporters loathe, so look for someone like Eric Holder — or maybe even Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, who just delivered the response to the State of the Union address, although she’s only been in that office for a year.
Make no mistake, though — usually open conventions are a party’s worst nightmare. This year, it might be Democrats’ best hope — and a case of déjà vu for Bernie Bros. The Lucy-and-the-football model will look familiar to them, too.