As much as I might like it to be the case, being a political scientist does not make me 100% informed about everything that can happen in American politics. We all have areas of expertise and beyond that the depth of what we know is not necessarily greater than any interested non-academic. Deep congressional procedure, for example, is a mystery to me. If you ask me about the Byrd Rule and the steps necessary to consider an omnibus bill under reconciliation. I have people for that, and without exception they can be taken out in public only infrequently and only at great risk.

That preemptive mea culpa is to admit that party nominating procedures are not something about which I have universal, all-encompassing knowledge. However, I've taught and worked with the topic enough to be comfortable with it. So I'm going to attempt to explain why the GOP is going to have a very, very difficult time setting up a "brokered convention" to stop Trump.

Brokered conventions are to politics what surprise witnesses are to the legal process – they're largely a narrative device used to create interesting scenarios, not a thing that actually happens in real life. They make good water cooler talk but the parties both have rules and procedures in place specifically to preclude them.

I'll keep this as basic as possible. Candidates compete in primaries, caucuses, and conventions in each state (and territories, oddly enough) to win delegates. Delegates are awarded on either a winner-take-all or a proportional basis. The early contests – the ones completed so far – must by Republican rules be proportional. The Democrats do it differently, but let's disregard that for now. Later GOP contests are mostly winner-take-all. The GOP used to do all W-T-A contests but changed recently when they realized that one candidate who did well for the first two weeks of contests would essentially wrap up the nomination. So this stretches the process out and generates more competition, because candidates who do not win the state still can win delegates under proportional rules.

Delegates are either committed (Republicans tellingly prefer the term "bound") or uncommitted ("unbound"). Committed delegates must vote on the first ballot at the national convention for the candidate that won said delegate in a primary. Uncommitted delegates can vote for whichever candidate they want. Some states award only committed delegates, and some states award only uncommitted. It's a very confusing system and all fifty states have unique rules. When a candidate wins committed delegates and then drops out of the race, those delegates become uncommitted.

What is not complicated is this: The GOP awards the nomination to whichever candidate gets a simple majority of available delegates. 50% + 1 of the current delegates is 1,237. Trump currently leads with 384 to Cruz's 300. The proportional system has treated Ted Cruz well, as you can see. Despite winning only four contests so far he is not terribly far behind Trump. If any candidate gets to 1,237 committed delegates, the race is essentially over.

There are two relevant internal rules in the GOP that must be understood here. One is a requirement that no candidate can be nominated who did not win a majority of delegates in at least eight states. That is crucial here. They can't nominate Mitt Romney at the convention no matter what. Nor, as things currently stand, could they nominate Cruz (four wins) or Rubio (one win) or anyone else (zero wins). The second important rule is that the Party can alter its own rules at the national convention without waiting until the next before any changes take effect.

So for a "brokered convention" one of two things must happen. First, the non-Trump candidates could win enough delegates to prevent Trump from reaching 1,237. If no candidate entered the convention with a majority, the first ballot (remember the committed rule) would be unlikely to produce a victor and then all bets would be off. Second, they could change any and all of the rules mentioned here, essentially blowing the whole thing up in a sort of anti-Trump Thermopylae; a last ditch, scorched Earth play. Cut off the limb and suffer in the short term to save the brand in the long term. And no, Trump could not mount an independent campaign at that point because in almost every state the deadline to get on the November ballot will have passed.

In short, to have a nominee other than Trump if and when he crosses 1,237 delegates would require the GOP to change its rules to disregard the entire primary process and let party insiders hand-pick a candidate. You can imagine how well that would go over with Trump supporters and Republicans in general. Then again, they might judge that to be worth it compared to letting Trump not only go down in flames but also to take god knows how many down-ballot candidates with him.

Finally, June 7 is likely to be a significant date, with California's 172-delegate, winner-take-all primary taking place. It's the last date for primaries and caucuses and if Trump has not secured 1,237 delegates already by then he will at least be in striking distance so that California would put him over the top.

Off the cuff it seems unlikely that the Republican Party would do anything as drastic as changing its rules at the convention to render moot everything that has happened in the nomination process to that point. It all depends on how effective the powers that be inside the party are at convincing themselves that Trump won't be so bad. The other issue is that the candidate best situated as a Trump alternative may be even more strongly loathed within the party.

Good. Times.

24 thoughts on “RADICAL SOLUTION”

  • The brand is damaged no matter what they do.
    A change in the rules would either incite the base to stay home or do a write in.
    The flow on down ticket would be providing they do show, vote for either some random chump who's also on the ballot, vote for the Dem or leave those parts blank just as a big middle finger to the party.

    Conceivably this would deliver the House, Senate and States to the Dems.

    I have no idea where the party would from here. There would be no base—the Donor class cannot buy votes if they're not there—to vote for them. I think it was Robert Reich who observed that the GOP has descended into tribalism. Looks pretty much right. Spiked had a good analysis of the populism on both sides, but the majority of Dems will hold their noses and vote for Clinton.

  • And no, Trump could not mount an independent campaign at that point because in almost every state the deadline to get on the November ballot will have passed.

    Question for Ed (or any other experts): In this scenario, what if Trump becomes the nominee of a minor party? Suppose, say, the Constitution Party candidate agrees to drop out and be replaced by Trump, in exchange for $50 million and a promised cabinet post. Is there anything in electoral law to prevent that?

    Talking of law, if the GOP tears up its rulebook I expect Trump will sue. I don't think it would materially affect the election, but Trump suing the GOP for $10 billion would be awesomely entertaining.

  • I'm amused to see so many Dems FREAKING OUT about the orange one. Lest we forget, he's widely loathed in his own party, let alone in national polls. Hispanics and women will come out in yooge numbers to oppose him. Hillary or Bernie, electorally, can actually do _worse_ than the black dude with the funny name (lose, say, Ohio and Florida) and the Dems still win. Frankly, a white Democrat is never going to do significantly worse than Obama did in very comfortable wins in 2008 and 2012.

    But I don't think it'll be even that close. Trump is masterful at throwing red meat to the Tea Party (it's highly effective, natch!) but that's not going to fly once he gets into a one-on-one with a Democrat who can talk policy. The GOP has actually been kind of soft on him, for fear of getting smacked down by him during the debates. (Which is why Cruz is in second and Rubio is toast.) Don't tell me at least two dozen DNC staffers (not perfect, I know) aren't salivating at the possibility of going nuclear on Trump.

    Throw in the fact that there's going to be some kind of drama at the GOP convention, with the decent possibility of Trump's supporters being told to go fuck themselves, and then a lame effort for Rubio as the "real " Republican and, well, nothing is in the bag but let's not start freaking out.

    A major terrorist attack or major economic downturn? Those two things are worth worrying about. And there isn't a whole lot we can do about those sorts of things.

    Taking back the Senate is a real possibility now and we should be incredibly grateful for the gift that low- / non- information white Republicans are handing to the good guys.

    Yes, we have a lot of work to do to make sure the vote gets out. But would it kill my fellow Dems to act out of a sense of deserved confidence rather than bed-wetting terror? Trump vs. Clinton or Sanders is a _very excellent thing_.

    Also won't hurt to have two very popular ex-presidents campaigning, hopefully quite aggressively, for the Democratic nominee. Obama won't be thrown under the bus like Gore re: Clinton.

  • @Wetcasements; I think the Democratic unease comes from two main sources:

    1) there seems to be an endless supply of low- and no-information white evangelical Teaparty voters that are simply FURIOUS at everything…and they vote

    2) Remember 2000, with the Diebold machines that counted more votes for George Bush than there were actually voters voting? Yeah. Look to see who owns the machines.

  • @Katydid

    I don't trust electronic voting machines. Look at VW diesel cars. Their computer was programmed to send out false information to pass pollution tests.

    We need a paper trail. A paper ballot that can be OCRd can be hand counted also.

    Better yet, howabout an electronic voting machines with bells, whistles, blinking lights and streamers that prints out a paper ballot with your choices in big bold letters with a big bold "X" in the checkbox that is then placed in the ballot box and OCRd. You can check it to make sure it is accurate before depositing it.

    Your ATM receipt. Your gas pump receipt and your grocery receipt can all be checked against what you've received. A "receipt" from the voting machine showing your vote is meaningless unless that receipt is the actual ballot that will be counted.

    I'd also like a big counter (that makes a sound as it increments) on the wall of each polling place showing how many voters have cast ballots. I want people to notice that it is counting. If it starts counting up and nobody is voting I want that seen. I'm tired of ballots suddenly being "found" late in the evening that puts the trailing candidate over the top.

    There are poll watchers from each party at each polling place (or there should be). They can call in the total number of ballots as another check on the results.

    If there is the need for a recount the paper ballots themselves can be hand counted. There would be no hanging chads or mismarked ballots. The voting machine itself would mark the ballot perfectly.

  • And no, Trump could not mount an independent campaign at that point because in almost every state the deadline to get on the November ballot will have passed.

    What happens if the GOP fails to nominate any candidate? Could that conceivably happen? Would Cruz, Trump, Rubio, Kasich and whoever else remains then mount write-in campaigns? How do write-ins work, anyway? Do you just write-in the name? How do they know if you're writing in The Donald™, and not some other guy named Donald Trump? I don't know how many Donald Trumps, Ted Cruzes, and Marco Rubios there are in this country, but there are probably a lot of John Kasiches here in the rust belt states.

  • I think the Ds have been given a tremendous gift. The trick, of course, in the general election is to reach 270 electoral votes and the popular vote usually correlates.

    The popular vote percentage edge is usually just a few points at most. You get to 3 points down and you have been whupped.

    So if Donald is hoodooed out of the nomination say 1/3 of his support does not vote for Pres (and perhaps at all) – if that translates to 1% in the R total that should be gracious plenty to elect Miz Hillary (or whoever the D pres nominee is)

    If Donald wins the nomination I would guess some similar percentage of non-Neanderthal Rs don't vote for Pres or for someone else (Is Gov Gary gonna roll one again this time ?) Again, the Ds will benefit on the Presidential line of the ballot and probably win.

    I think it is a lapse into wishful thinking to grant the effect is so strong as to run the table of the Senate and the House. Look at the retention rates for Incumbents of either party – they are over 90% right ?

    I think Christmas comes in November for the Ds this year.


  • One of the things that always confused my erstwhile colleagues during my quadrennial explanation of the Electoral College was the absence of any Constitutional basis for political parties. In theory, we could have an entirely legal and Constitutional government without them.

    Like everyone else, I have a hard time imagining what that would look like. Couldn't be much worse, though.

  • One of the many things we in the US don't understand about electing our President is that the US Constitution does not specify how the electors who meet at the Electoral College are chosen – that is left to the individual States.

    Neal Boortz, late of talk radio, used to taunt his audience by saying "You do not have a Constitutional right to vote for President." And he is correct.

    The States, through their Legislatures, select the method. In Georgia, the State Constitution specifies that the Pres/VP electors will result from a popular vote Statewide.

    Some few States (I believe Maine and Nebraska) apportion electoral votes on the basis of popular vote within the Congressional Districts. I don't know how they account for the 2 electoral votes that flow from the Senate seats.

    If a State decided so (and the people allowed it to stand) the Legislature could decide the Pres/VP elector slate on their own with no popular vote at all.


  • @mm says
    I don't want to completely discount electronic voting but the "we need paper receipts" canard is not useful. I know it sounds good but any 1st year programming student knows that what gets printed isn't necessarily what happened. For the 1st year student that's a bug, alogic error, in his/her program. For someone trying to commit vote machine fraud it is a feature. Unless you are counting the paper receipts every time you'll never catch the fraud. You have to make the code and the hardware open to independent audit and review to know vote machine fraud is being avoided.

  • Hi. Sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you can tell me why Republicans want to stop Trump? He seems to be a stronger candidate than they've had in a long time. Common conservatives seem to like him, and they do the voting, right?

  • @eric s.

    You are agreeing with my point.

    Have the machine print your ballot with your selection and the big "X" in the checkbox (now a perfect ballot). You read it. Make sure it is accurate and drop it into the bin where it will later be read with optical character recognition.

    It will OCR accuately and can later be hand counted if necessary.

    A "receipt" is absolutely worthless.

  • Can I just say Cruz and Rubio are even creepier than the fascist Orange Blowhard? All this babbling by "mainstream Republicans" just proves what warmongering tools they are.

  • I used a paper ballot in Virginia last week. Colored in the circle just like the old scantron tests. Then fed it into a locked scanner/counter device which would read the ballot any direction it was put in the machine. They got instant results when the polls closed and the whole unit was then shipped to the county courthouse. (I thought the little old lady at the polling place said 'whorehouse' at first, but that's another story).

    Seems pretty damn simple to me, electronic counting and a paper trail.

  • @sluggo

    In Florida in 2000 some ballots were thrown out because the circle was colored past the line or one circle was colored and another crossed out.

    If the voting machine prints the ballot for you with your selection it will always be done perfectly.

    I agree with you.

    "Seems pretty damn simple to me, electronic counting and a paper trail."

  • The problem with mis-marked ballots isn't that they happen (they do). It's what you do with them when they occur (e.g., throwing them out). In places where the voting procedures aren't designed for, let's say, the convenience of certain groups at the expense of others, the machine can just keep a count of ballots that misread. And if that number gets too high or just if the election is really close and someone challenges it that particular precinct gets a recount by hand.

    In Minnesota that's what happened in 2008 where Al Franken won the senate race by about three hundred votes (in what he described as – and I still love this – the most efficient election to the Senate ever.). It's also how we learned about the guy who voted for "Lizard People".

  • Not a political scientist myself, but if California's primary election turns out to matter this year the GOP is in hella trouble. The election not being wrapped by by June means that even if there aren't any shenanigans with vote tallies and convention rules and whatnot, there are going to be a lot of angry people who will need to be pacified by July. If, somehow, there is still no majority for any candidate after June 7th holy cow will the GOP be in trouble – there won't be 6 weeks worth of pacifying and bargaining and whatnot. There will be six weeks of angry arguments about who should be the nominee right into the convention. Which would be delightful for me, but somehow I suspect not good for party unity in the GOP.

  • Net Denizen says:

    @Talisker: There are a number of states for which you cannot simultaneously run for a primary under one party while campaigning in the general election under another. If Trump goes in to the convention as a republican candidate, I believe he would then be ineligible to mount a 3rd party campaign, even if he signed onto an actual 3rd party ballot.

    @sad: republicans are scared of losing the Senate if Trump is the nominee. He will most likely destroy the down ballot candidates by being his usual self. As well as they are scared they will finally be seen by the public at large as the racist, xenophobic, misogynistic political apparatus they have always pretended they are not.

  • schmitt trigger says:

    Once upon a time, on a circus:
    -"Son, son…take a look at that cute monkey! He is got a gun on his hand. Isn't he cute how he struts around with it? How hilarious that he points it at all of us?"

    -"Ma, ma. The gun is….. IS LOADED!"

    -The mother, screaming: "NOT funny, run for YOUR LIFE!"

    If this circus performance was happening on Bolivia or Cameroon, it indeed would be quite hilarious.

    But it is actually happening on the US. With its military might and economic clout, it is NOT funny. Not at all.

  • the Vichy D's wouldn't actually "help" downstream voters. that would require "foreword thinking or actual action" from the party leaders. this is a club and downstream voters are not in it. with a 97% average rate of re-electing due to gerrymandered districts, the low hanging fruit will be picked by the R's first, though some D's will actually win here and there. but they will be the exception. the odds increase with more D voters, if it's a cold day in hell, that is. will be fun to watch, though. Both parties are bought and sold, as the Donald said the other day. That's why the former Middle Class voters and their children are pissed as hell.

    The D's for sure will snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory, always have and always will. wouldn't be the "D" party, otherwise. what's weird is seeing the Prodigal Son sticking it to his own. Trump is so timely. Fiction stories could never be this good.

    i wonder if the 99% are going to get any good out of this "Payback/Karma" coming to bite the Owners this time around. i mean, for the 1st time in some 40 to 50 years, the snake is eating its' own tail. never thought i'd ever see such well deserved "fear and loathing" done by the feared and despicable. will change be aborted?

    bread and circuses.

  • There's an easy solution to all the electronic voting machine, printing receipts, coded-in fraud problem. It's called vote by mail. Oregon does it for every election, most states at least offer it as an "absentee" option, and there's no damn reason it couldn't work everywhere.

    The idea that somehow we need volunteer Grandma to help pull off any election is quaint at best. As is the notion that your vote doesn't count for as much if you don't have to trundle to a grade school gymnasium on a workday.

  • @Net Denizen: Interesting, thanks. I wonder if those laws have ever been tested in court. If Trump is denied the GOP nomination, we may get to find out.

    @Abdoozy: There's an even simpler voting option: Go down to the polling station and make an X with a pencil on a piece of paper. It doesn't involve shiny machines with cool flashing lights (or government contracts to build and service same), but it works just fine for elections in the UK.

  • @Talisker @abdoozy

    If I thought that the vote counters were honest everywhere in the country I would be fine with a pencilled X on the ballot and personally, I use the vote by mail option rather than going down to the polls.

    However a manually marked X is open to human interpretation. Maybe it is hanging out of the checkbox a little and maybe the voter didn't really mean to mark that box, but the one closest to the direction of hang.

    I know it's stupid, but so was that show of checking the ballots in Florida in 2000.

    My vote by mail ballot comes in an envelope with a 2 other envelopes enclosed. One is for me to put the ballot into and seal. There is a tear off strip attached to it where I sign that I am really me and nobody made me vote for anybody that I didn't want to vote for. That goes into a third envelope that then mailed in.

    At the county clerk's office, the envelopes have to opened. The strip ripped off and recorded (shows that I voted), the now anonymous envelope opened. The ballot unfolded and then read. I don't really know if it's done by machine or not.

    A touchscreen and laser printer similar to a point of sale terminal would let you vote and print your filled in ballot. How much would that cost?

  • I've been voting by mail for years now. Originally because our precinct polling place was moved to the other end of the precinct. Seems to be working so far.

    bb, the original Constitution had an interesting detail – the ONLY Federal office elected directly was Representative. President was Electoral College, Senator was state legislature, but a Representative was the direct, well, representative. According to the story I read, John Quincy Adams served in the House *after* being President, specifically because it signified popular support. It may have been John Adams, but all those short, rotund, irascible New Englanders look alike to me.

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