CRP Blog

Friday, January 11, 2008

Brokered Convention?

More than once in the last week I've been asked about the possibility of a brokered Republican National Convention, so this is a good time to discuss it.

Under party rules, a candidate must receive the votes of the majority of delegates to become the party's nominee for President or Vice President. With multiple candidates, no clear frontrunner, and a hyper-compressed primary schedule, the possibility of a brokered convention is higher than it has been at any point in recent years, although in my estimation it remains slim.

The term "brokered" convention suggests that instead of anyone being guaranteed the nomination at the onset of the convention due to the commitment of a majority of candidates, a nominee can only emerge once someone "brokers" a deal where someone throws their support (and presumably delegates) to someone else to reach the vote threshold.

It's an interesting scenario, although one that has not occured in 60 years, as former Senator John Lewis notes in his column on Red County.

The present primary system is specifically designed to avoid a brokered convention. The reason is clear: the party that first establishes its (inevitable) nominee has the advantage in being the first to shift to a general election mode, adjusting strategy, tactics, and message to fit the general election audience, rather than primary voters.

(A brokered convention on the Democrat side is a virtual impossibility due to their contest now being a two-person contest, much to the dismay of John Edwards, no doubt.)

Recent conventions have become so predictable that media coverage has waned as the events become non-stop informercials for the respective parties, albeit important ones in our democratic process. Platforms are shaped largely at the behest of the inevitable nominee, and rules requiring delegates to vote for the candidate to whom they are committed (on the first ballot, anyway) limit the possibility of the nominee being unknown in advance.

The compressed primary schedule increases the uncertainty factor because we now look at a series of "snapshot" primary days, rather than a longer series of contests where one candidate builds momentum over time, leading to the eventual thinning of the field as one candidate becomes the clear winner.

The snapshot is most evident when we see that by the time the polls close on February 5th, 27 states will have voted. Meaning, only 23 (mostly smaller) states will remain to determine the eventual nominee if it is not already determined. Many of the largest states, such as California, New York and Florida will have already voted, meaning a supermajority of delegates will have been selected.

While interesting fodder for pundits and political scientists, a brokered convention is not even remotely desirable. This year's national convention will be the latest in our party's history: Septemeber 1 - 4. The "other" Super Tuesday is March 4th, with a handful of states voting thereafter. If no one emerges with a majority of delegates by then, we look at the possibility of six months without a nominee. No nominee means no campaign, except for those who plan to compete at the convention coneying a blur of differing messages to delegates and voters. This is not a best case scenario, to say the least.

Fortuantely, again, this is an extremely unlikely case, and in all probability we will know the Republican nominee by mid-March, if not sooner. In the meantime, expect the columnists, bloggers, and political scientists to discuss this possibility even more in the coming weeks.

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