Archive for April, 2016

A look at a contested convention

The last contested presidential nominating convention of a major U.S. political party happened a generation ago.


In 1976, President Gerald Ford persuaded undecided delegates at the White House to fend off former California governor Ronald Reagan. Reagan had actually led the pre-convention delegate count according to one national media source at the time.


A generation before that, it took Republican delegates five ballots to select businessman Wendell Willkie as their nominee in 1940. He had never served in public office before winning the nomination.


Neither of these two events was as contentious as the 1924 Democrat Party convention. It took 103 ballots and 16 days to finally land on compromise candidate John Davis. Davis subsequently lost to Calvin Coolidge later that fall.


While contested conventions haven’t born much fruit historically, at least Abraham Lincoln survived one to secure the Republican nomination – and ultimately the Union – in 1860. He promised a variety of cabinet posts to supporters in order to solidify his majority.


This year, if no Republican candidate amasses the required 1,237 delegates prior to July’s convention, here’s how the process could play out if rules passed at the 2012 convention hold.


Most delegates are required by the Republican National Committee to vote according to the guidelines that governed their state’s primary or caucus.


For example, since Trump won Florida and Florida was a “winner-take-all” state, each Florida delegate must vote for Trump on the first ballot.


About three-fourths of all delegates are “unbound” on subsequent votes if no candidate takes a majority on the first vote.


Texas delegates are slightly different. The Texas GOP held a “pro rata” primary, so delegate votes will split according to the percentage of primary votes cast for Cruz, Trump and Rubio. Again, this is on the convention’s first nominating vote.


If a Texas delegate’s candidate fails to win at least 20 percent of the first-ballot vote, that delegate can vote for any candidate on the second vote and beyond.


For instance, if Marco Rubio gets 8 percent (i.e., under 20 percent) on the first convention vote, his three delegates from Texas can vote for whomever they wish on the next vote, assuming no candidate won a majority on the first vote, of course.


That’s why politicos are descending on state party conventions: to try to get their supporters elected as national convention delegates, even if those delegates must cast a vote for an opponent on the first vote at the national convention.


All Texas delegates become completely unbound by the third national convention vote.


Conventional wisdom holds that Donald Trump will fall sharply after the first convention vote. At that point, delegates, many of whom will be long-time county party chairmen and state party leaders, are freed to vote their consciences.


To win, Trump would have to convince party loyalists to stay within his newly formed circus tent. That will be a tough sell.


“I was here,” they’ll likely figure in their yellowed Reagan-Bush ‘84 buttons, “when Trump was writing checks to Clinton, Inc. And I’ll be here long after he fizzles. I’m voting for….”


Kevin Thompson writes a weekly column in The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at

Tips for talking in hard conversations

Something is bothering you. Part of you wants to express yourself. Another part doesn’t want to rock the boat or appear overly sensitive or damage a relationship. You walk on eggshells a while longer. 
Then, you decide it’s important enough to bring up, though you know it’s risky. Opinions will likely conflict. Things could get emotional. Your heart races. Your hands sweat. Your voice shakes.
How do you handle high stakes, high pressure conversations? What’s the best way to address situations you know must change?
Common tactics include the age-old twins of silence or violence, also known as fight or flight. But dealing in the extremes of any part of life rarely gets us to where we want to go.
Four corporate consultants joined forces a number of years ago to write “Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high.” Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler published a second edition in 2012.
Most people would agree that the quality of our relationships largely determines our success and satisfaction in each area of life. So, if relationship is the end we seek, communication must be the means.
The ability to communicate toward healthy outcomes, especially when times are tense, will open opportunities unavailable to those stuck in the ruts of defensiveness, point-proving and score-settling.
Patterson, et al. offer the following ideas for making the most of important discussions. It turns out you don’t have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend. You can have both.
1.      Decide what you really want: for yourself, for others, for the relationship. This shared purpose will help you “start with heart” and remember your highest priorities.
2.      Establish mutual purpose. For example, “We both are counting on this organization’s success, so it’s important to me that we have a good working relationship.”
3.      Add to the “pool of meaning.” The word “dialogue” literally means the free flow of meaning between two or more people. Understand what the real issues are.
4.      Create a safe environment. Nothing kills the free flow of meaning like fear. When people use silence or violence, they are feeling unsafe. Resist the urge to respond in kind.
5.      Use contrasting. For example, “The reason I ask questions is not that I don’t think the organization is well-run. It’s that I truly want to build on the progress we’ve made.”
6.      Ask yourself, “What story am I making up?” Emotions can come on strong and make you imagine things that may not be true. Made-up stories then cause more emotions. 
7.      STATE your path.
a.       Share your facts – “I’ve noticed you’ve shown up late to the last few meetings.”
b.      Tell your story – “It appears you may be losing your passion for our cause.”
c.       Ask for others’ stories – “How do you see the situation?”
d.      Talk tentatively – “Perhaps you were unaware…” / “I am wondering…”
e.       Encourage testing – “What am I missing here? Is my view accurate?”
These skills take practice. Pick one and try it in your next hard conversation – or in your next response to your favorite columnist!
Kevin Thompson can be reached at

A victory plan for Republicans

Yesterday’s Wisconsin primary showed the shaky ground on which Republicans find themselves. An outspoken outsider still leads the race for their presidential nomination. But conservative stalwarts from governors to talk radio hosts are gaining steam against him.


Donald Trump needs well over half the remaining delegates to win the nomination. To date, he has won about half the delegates and roughly 37% of the popular vote. It’s increasingly possible that Trump doesn’t clinch the nomination before the Republican convention.


If Republicans flip Trump the bird at their convention, he’ll likely run third party. Like businessman Ross Perot in 1992, he’ll likely split conservative votes and usher in another Clinton presidency.


Meanwhile, the 10 million voters who pulled the lever for Trump in the primary will likely flip the Republican Party the bird – probably for good. Here’s a plan to harness these voters and win the White House. First, some thoughts on the candidates.


Trump seems genuinely to care about the direction our nation travels, though he appears to have limited desire to enter the weeds on foreign policy or social issues. He wants a platform to manifest his gusto ego, but he likely loves the surge of campaigning more than he’d like the scourge of governing.


Like Trump, I want to shake up the federal bureaucracy. I want the government working for the people, not lifelong bureaucrats. “You’re fired” has a nice ring to it and needs to be heard around Washington.


I have liked Ted Cruz since I had dinner with him several years ago at Boerne’s own Spinelli’s Vistro. He means well and would make a good president. However, I’d really love his conservative constitutional mind on the United States Supreme Court. He’d be Scalia reincarnate.


John Kasich has proven himself an effective executive of a large state. He walks a moderate line that could get social conservatives and fiscal conservatives onto common ground. He polls well against Hillary. Most importantly, he talks and acts presidential.


Campaign fatigue turned Marco Rubio into a debate puppet, but his body of work in the United States Senate shows he can contribute on the highest policy levels. He is likeable and youthful. He obviously has a drive to serve.


At the risk of sounding like a product of the “everyone wins” generation, here’s my resolution to the campaign quandary at hand.


  1. Cruz should cut a deal with Kasich: “I’ll throw my delegates your direction if you appoint me to the Supreme Court.”
  2. Rubio should cut a deal with Kasich: “I’ll endorse you if you make me your running mate.”
  3. With more delegates than Trump at that point, Kasich should then cut a deal with the Donald, borrowing from Obama’s playbook: “If you support me, I’ll make you Czar of Immigration and Government Reform. You will have clear autonomy to hire and fire federal agency heads and implement changes that… make America great again.”


This strategy would give Republicans the best chance to win Ohio, Florida, 10 million Trumpeteers and a courageous conservative to the Supreme Court.


In 1861, Abraham Lincoln assembled a “team of rivals,” as author Doris Kearns Goodwin put it in her 2005 book by that name. Three men who ran against Lincoln in 1860 served on his cabinet.


Today, we need a similar team effort to keep the Clintons out of the Lincoln Bedroom.


Kevin Thompson is a columnist for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Contact him at

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