What happens if nobody wins the requisite number of delegates to wrap up the Republican nomination for President? The result would be a brokered convention. The scenario isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. For example, if Newt Gingrich stays in the race and the negative ad campaign begins to turn off voters to the point of giving Rick Santorum a boost then Santorum might then stay in the race longer than anticipated. A prolonged four way contest would be enough to dilute the pool of delegates so that no one would reach the 1,144 needed to wrap up the nomination.
Is there precedence for this scenario? Not since the modern primary election system began has there ever been a brokered convention. The last one was Dewey/Truman in 1948. Prior to that nominations were routinely brokered. However there have been several close calls. The 2008 Democratic primary is the most recent example when Hillary Clinton; sensing she couldn’t pick up enough delegates to beat then Senator Barack Obama in the remaining races, tried to push the campaign all the way to the convention where she hoped she would pick up the remaining super delegates that had been reluctant to commit. Recall also that Clinton petitioned to have Michigan and Florida’s delegates fully counted. Both states had lost their delegates as punishment for moving their primaries forward against party rules. That would have worked in her favour but by then Obama’s momentum was already too great.
There have been other close calls as well. Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey might have been brokered had Kennedy not been assassinated. Al Gore, Michael Dukkakis, and Jesse Jackson had each racked up multiple victories by Super Tuesday in 1988. Dukkakis eventually prevailed.
What happens during a brokered convention? Simply put, all delegates are released from their pledged status and are allowed to re-vote. A lot of the classic ‘smoke-filled back room’ negotiating takes place before the second vote is cast (hence the term ‘brokered’). Political parties actually don’t like the possibility of a brokered or open convention, as it’s sometimes called. They don’t want the public seeing a battle over who gets whose delegates on the convention floor.
Additionally, candidates who reach this stage are deemed vulnerable or weak in the general election. Often much of the brokering will have taken place before the convention as a result. One possible concession might be that two of the leading candidates join forces as President and Vice President giving the ticket a ‘twofer’. This has the effect of making the ticket stronger in the general election.
Another possibility is a late entry of a dark horse candidate. Delegates at a brokered convention could essentially vote none of the above and get behind the dark horse. Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, and Jeb Bush have all been floated around in the press as such potential late candidates. If the party image looks as if it will take a beating; which, given Newt Gingrich’s sociopathic tendencies is entirely possible, then the dark horse candidate could be called upon to ride in and save the day.
Smoking may not be allowed at conventions anymore but the machinations that went on in them is alive and well.
- The Brokered Convention Fantasy (thedailybeast.com)
- Tom Brokaw Thinks Chris Christie Could Still Jump In If Brokered Convention Occurs (mediaite.com)
- GOP Nightmare Scenario: A Brokered Convention (usnews.com)
- Still Holding Out For A Brokered Convention? (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- How a brokered convention would work (Washington Post)