Could a late candidate or an uncertain primary season lead to a multi-ballot Republican convention in July? Here’s a quick look at why some folks are discussing that possibility.
On Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that friends were trying to convince Mitt Romney to enter the presidential campaign at the end of the primary cycle, which could prevent any candidate at the Republican Party convention from winning the party’s nomination on the first ballot.
That would seem to be a long shot for two reasons: Romney has publicly said he has no interest in running, and there hasn’t been a deadlocked, or multi-ballot, GOP convention since 1948, which was before the presidential primary era. Back then, Thomas Dewey, who was also the 1944 nominee, defeated Robert Taft and Harold Stassen on the third ballot.
But also feeding these rumors was a November 4 Wall Street Journal op-ed from Karl Rove, the well-known GOP adviser, about the possibility of a multi-ballot convention, with or without Romney. Rove sees five candidates with the money and desire to stay in the primaries until the convention starts: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Jen Bush and Ted Cruz.
This leads to a scenario that with some Republican primaries allocating delegates in a proportional, and not winner-take-all way, there won’t be a candidate with enough delegates to get a majority of the first ballot at the convention.
The Republican Party at a national and state level controls the delegate part of the primary process (it’s not a constitutional thing), and in October, Time magazine’s Zeke Miller reported on rules changes that could affect the convention.
By Miller’s count, 29 states and territories have some type of proportional primary, where candidates get part of the delegate count once they hit a threshold. For example, in the New Hampshire primary on February 9, 2016, a candidate getting at least 10 percent of the vote gets to keep his or her delegates. But other states, like Virginia and Oregon, don’t have a threshold; each candidate comes out of the primary with some delegates.
In the long run, if at least three GOP candidates remain viable, the nomination could come down to the June 7th primaries, when California, New Jersey and two other states pick delegates in winner-take-all races.
But not all the delegates are selected during the primary season. For the Republican convention, extra delegates are added for states that were won by Mitt Romney in 2012 and who have GOP state officials. And there are also unbound delegates at the convention who, in theory, can vote for any candidate, and “unpledged” delegates, who are unbound party members who haven’t publicly endorsed a candidate.
Also, in 2016, the group that makes the rules at the GOP convention in Cleveland will have a say in the delegate count just before the first ballot. Under rules changes made after 2012, a candidate needs to have the majority of delegates in eight states to have her or his name placed in nomination for the first ballot.
The rules committee is expected to change that rule, known as Rule 40. “The minimum could move higher, in the case of a clear nominee, or lower, if there’s a contested convention,” says Time magazine’s Miller.n.
If no one wins the nomination on the first ballot, all 2,472 delegates can vote for anyone who has had their name placed in nomination.
Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, is among those who point to the possibility of a brokered convention.
“It’s hard for me to see why a round of brokering in Cleveland isn’t the most likely outcome,” Henninger said last week. “None of these candidates looks likely to pull away and capture the majority of primary delegates before the party’s nominating convention in Cleveland next July.”
Brokered conventions, in past eras, always didn’t yield positive results. In 1912, the Republican Party split after William Howard Taft’s supporters, including the Republican National Committee, awarded disputed delegates to the President, and not Theodore Roosevelt. The former President stormed out of Chicago and ran as a third-party candidate.
In 1948, the Democrats saw the Dixiecrats, a group of Southern delegates, mount their own third-party challenge after the convention approved a platform that supported four civil rights items. Four years later, the last brokered convention saw Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson walk away with the Democratic nomination. Estes Kefauver won 12 of 13 Democratic state primaries, but Stevenson refused to run for the nomination. After a convention speech, Stevenson relented to pressure to have his name placed in nomination on the convention floor, and he was nominated on the third ballot.
As for late Romney challenge, under the current rules he would need the majority of delegates from eight states to get on the first ballot. But it remains to be seen if and how those rules would change before the Cleveland convention.
Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.
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