Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the Republican Party has made the specter of a brokered convention a distinct possibility for the GOP this July.
So, just what is a brokered convention? And how would it play out this summer?
The magic number
That’s the number of delegates a candidate must earn in order to win the Republican nomination at the National Convention in July. He doesn’t just need the most delegates of any candidate; he needs more than half of the total available. He needs at least 1,237.
Here’s the thing. There have been several candidates running for the Republican nomination, and they’ve been splitting delegates between them throughout the primaries. This means that it’s possible for no candidate to win a majority of the delegates. If that happens, we’ll have what is called a contested or brokered convention, which involves a number of rounds of voting and a whole lot of unpredictability.
Real Clear Politics notes that there hasn’t been a brokered Republican convention since 1948, when Thomas Dewey won after three rounds of voting. Every other election has only seen one round, which resulted in a majority delegate winner.
Let them loose!
Most of the Republican delegates are bound to vote according to the results of their states’ primaries. Basically, at present, there are as many as 207 unbound delegates – 166 from states with weird allocation rules that make them potentially or definitely unbound and 41 from candidates who have dropped out (134 of Marco Rubio’s delegates still have to vote for him in at least the first round at the convention due to fun state rules) – but the rest have their votes bound by their states’ election results. When the delegates get to the convention, they take a vote to see if any candidate has at least 1,237.
A winner is usually clear before the convention even takes place, since states report their election results before July, but this year could be different. If the race is super tight between, say, Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, it’s possible for the small number of unbound delegates to tip the nomination in one or the other’s favor at the convention. Also note that the number of unbound dellies will increase if Kasich bows out of the race, though he seems committed to sticking around distinctly because of the possibility of a brokered convention.
If there’s no winner after ballot number one, then about three-quarters of delegates become unbound.
Unbound delegates can vote for whomever they want because they are no longer tied to their states’ primary or caucus results. In the current race, this might not play out well for Trump; the GOP establishment does not want him to be the face of the party and unbound delegates may well tip the nomination to a more establishment-friendly candidate.
But…maybe not. All manner of fuckery could break loose, according to Bloomberg Politics, because there aren’t any clear rules by the Republican National Committee (RNC) to prevent outright bribery – either with money or career propositions – at this point.
Delegates could basically be bought and sold to the highest bidder after the first ballot, making the results highly unpredictable.
And the winner is .. what the?
Ballots would continue to be cast at the convention until a candidate receives at least 1,237. But what if enough delegates can’t be swayed to give a candidate a majority?
Take a seat for this one. If the candidates who have been competing throughout the 2016 election cycle can’t garner enough support, someone could be nominated who hasn’t even been running.
Based on current RNC rules, though, this can’t happen: Rule 40 dictates that a candidate must have won a plurality of votes in at least eight states during the primary season in order to be considered for the nomination. This rule could very well disqualify Kasich if he doesn’t pick up some real steam; it already disqualifies Rubio, so votes for him from his bound delegates just won’t count.
BUT, the RNC could up and change the rule. That could not only enable Kasich to stay in the running and Rubio to rise from the ashes, but could allow for extra names to be added to the ballot from outside the race.
Unless Cruz starts amasses big wins in upcoming contests, a brokered convention will be the only chance the GOP has of stopping Trump from taking the nomination. However, it’s unclear whether they would actually use that power in the event that Trump gets a plurality but not a majority of delegates. The backlash the party would face from Trump’s many primary voters would certainly be fierce and cause a dragged out battle.
So, what’s a brokered convention? A hot mess of malleable rules, possible (legal) bribery and a revolt of Republican voters waiting to happen. The race for the Republican nomination might get even more interesting in July.
Have something to add to this story? Comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.
Header image: Getty