Sunday, March 06, 2016

In Praise of the Smoke Filled Room
- or -
How I Learned To Love The Idea Of A Brokered GOP Convention

Image ripped from WSJ
As an undeniably lazy blogger, there are few things I find more satisfying than quoting myself while repurposing an old blog post. Why not? I often find my previously published blog posts to be insightful and profoundly moving.  Mitt Romney provided the catalyst for this particular exercise in self-plagiarization with his call for a brokered convention to stop Donald Trump from securing the nomination:
"If the other candidates can find some common ground, I believe we can nominate a person who can win the general election and who will represent the values and policies of conservatism. Given the current delegate selection process, that means that I’d vote for Marco Rubio in Florida and for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state."
In other words, everyone stays in to deny Trump the 1,237 delegates needed to win the nomination before the convention. Trump may arrive in Cleveland with a plurality, but not a majority. Denied a first round nomination, another candidate could be selected at the convention, presumably built out of a coalition of the majority of delegates that support Rubio, Kasich, and Cruz.  This seems like an eminently reasonable strategy to avoid nominating a megalomaniacal authoritarian with zero understanding of our constitutional protections who is afflicted by narcissistic personality disorder and delusions of grandeur.  But that's just me.

Rabid Republican partisan pundit Erick Erickson - despite opposing the nomination of Trump -  has a different view:
"The Republican leadership is damn insane if it wants a brokered convention and Mitt Romney should shut the hell up. It is clear the GOP has not one fundamental clue about what is happening and Romney might as well have poured gasoline on himself and struck a match. It was the same stupidity that caused Project ORCA and does nothing but embolden Trump supporters... 
... the Rubio team openly stating they intend to have a brokered convention is the signal that Rubio needs to get out now. If Rubio does win Florida, all he will do is generate a brokered convention. Him winning Florida will require major resources, leaving Ohio to Kasich, the field divided, and uncertainty reigning. Rubio winning Florida would be a Pyrrhic victory causing a brokered convention delegitimizing the winner and stigmatizing the GOP, putting it beyond repair."
Which brings us to my previously referenced historical post.

Let's turn the wayback machine to March, 2008, when - almost to the day - we were writing about rabid Democratic partisan pundit Jonathan Alter, begging Hillary Clinton to withdraw  in a series of columns and avoid a Pyrrhic victory in primaries leading to a brokered Democratic convention:
"If Hillary Clinton wanted a graceful exit, she'd drop out now—before the March 4 Texas and Ohio primaries—and endorse Barack Obama. This would be terrible for people like me who have been dreaming of a brokered convention for decades. For selfish reasons, I want the story to stay compelling for as long as possible, which means I'm hoping for a battle into June for every last delegate and a bloody floor fight in late August in Denver. But to withdraw this week would be the best thing imaginable for Hillary's political career...  
... no matter how you cut it, Obama will almost certainly end the primaries with a pledged-delegate lead, courtesy of all those landslides in February. Hillary would then have to convince the uncommitted superdelegates to reverse the will of the people. Even coming off a big Hillary winning streak, few if any superdelegates will be inclined to do so. For politicians to upend what the voters have decided might be a tad, well, suicidal."
Nonsense then. Nonsense now. Here was my view on "deligitimizing" the "will of the people" at a potential brokered Democratic convention in 2008 - "Alter's Word Comprehension Problem":
"Alter's problem is not math. It is word comprehension. The problem with his thesis is that he conflates a lead in pledged delegates with "the will of the people". The pledged delegate total is many things, but the one thing it is not, is the "will of the people". The pledged delegate lead is polluted by many and significant non-democratic elements in the peculiar byzantine Democratic Party nomination process. Among these are: Caucuses that have absolutely nothing to do with the "will of the voters" in their states; Weird delegate allocation rules that make some voters more equal than other; Ignoring all of the voters in two of the biggest and most important states in the union... If the undemocratic superdelegates reverse a narrow undemocratic pledged delegate lead, well - that is the way the game is played. Clinton did not make the rules. If Obama fails in Ohio and Texas then he failed to render the superdelegates moot."
Jonathan Alter advises the Clinton campaign in 2008Erick Erickson advises the Rubio campaign in 2016
 2008 and 2016 

Coincidentally, that is exactly the same as my current perspective of a potential brokered Republican convention in 2016.

Let's be crystal clear about exactly what a political party nomination process is about, or more specifically, what it is not about. A party presidential nomination is not now and never has been exclusively about a popular democratic vote. Not in the Republican nomination process and not in the Democratic nomination process. A popular democratic vote is a crucially important element in the process, but it is only an element. This notion of the "will of the people" determining a political party nominee is ridiculous. If it was, there would be no caucus states, no super-delegates, and no open primaries where non-aligned or opposite party voters could choose to game the outcome. Both the Republican and Democratic nomination process are an amalgam of contests that tests candidates under a variety of campaign pressures and conditions with the hope that the party will find a nominee with the best chance of winning a general election. Closed primaries test party enthusiasm, loyalty and fund raising. Open primaries test cross-over potential and fund raising. Caucuses test campaign organizational skills and fund raising. I am not exactly sure what the Democratic Party "Super Delegates" test, except to avoid again nominating George McGovern. Which shouldn't be a problem anymore, since he's dead.

Here is the point for Republicans: Earning 1,237 delegates in this process means a lot. It means more than a lot. It means everything. It means your candidate has passed the test and won the game and earned the nomination. However earning a plurality of delegates that is less that 1,237 means exactly diddly squat. It means your candidate failed in the process to win the nomination. It means that the convention will need to initiate a different process to find a nominee, a process that everyone agreed to before the first primary, caucus or debate. The backup convention selection process is put in place in the event no candidate secures 1,237 delegates. While it is a totally different process, it is every bit as valid as the primary/caucus delegate selection process.

Neither Donald Trump, nor any candidate, is entitled to the nomination just because that candidate has a plurality of delegates.  If he/she falls short of a majority, there should be no automatic expectation of securing the nomination. Falling short of those 1,237 delegates means that candidate has failed the primary/caucus process.  That is all it means. If there is no winner in the primary/caucus game, a new game starts at the convention. Full stop.

Let the games begin.

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