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 http://www.kwt.info


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