SUBSCRIBER CONTENT: From the Atlanta Business Chronicle, December 4, 2015
As often noted in various national news media reporting, The Evans Report is already on the record as stating that there is a one-in-three chance that either the Democrats or the Republicans will have a “brokered” national convention next year. While the media would certainly love a political free-for-all in either Cleveland, Ohio (for the Republican National Convention) or Philadelphia (for the Democratic National Convention), political parties, insiders and candidates fear it like the plague.
Why? Because there are no rules. It is like a Texas Cage Match in Wrestling where anything can happen. Backroom deals abound and delegates can get unruly. In brokered conventions, all the rules of the game of politics can be essentially thrown out the window since it is the convention itself that sets its own rules.
And so, chaos ensues for political powerbrokers dependent on manipulating the rules of the game, donors seeking to cash in on their pre-nomination contributions, and candidates seeking some sort of predictability. All of this political mayhem gets magnified in an age of instant communication where no one controls who knows what and when.
Technically, a brokered national convention is one in which no candidate has enough delegates to win the nomination at the end of the first official vote. In some cases, however, parties have presumptive nominees, meaning that while no candidate has enough pledged delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot, a candidate does have enough delegates to make the outcome inevitable.
When a political party has a pre-convention nominee, or even a presumptive nominee, things tend to be much more orderly. After all, the delegates pledged to a presumptive nominee will presumably support the rules, resolutions, and platform that the presumptive nominee wants. It is the reason that in recent years national party political conventions have become almost entirely staged events with one simple goal: help the nominee win.
Of course, occasional hiccups occur such as unplanned hurricanes, rowdy constituencies intent on challenging the chair, or simple political unrest that shows up when the cameras are rolling. But, for the most part, modern political conventions have become little more than elaborate productions like prominent award shows, except that the winner is already known.
On the other hand, if there is no presumptive nominee with effective voting control, the disparate delegates supporting different candidates are left to make it all up on the spot in prime time. The very fact that the delegates could not agree on any one candidate illustrates how difficult it will be for those same delegates to agree on rules, resolutions, or a platform.
Contrary to popular belief, national political parties actually have little control over what happens at a convention, absent a governing majority of delegates to set the rules of the convention. That is what makes brokered conventions so appetizing for the media and viewers and so frightening to political insiders and candidates – no one knows what is going to happen next and no one is actually in control.
Yet, new and different dynamics exist this year increasing rather dramatically the chances that one or both of the national political conventions could be more like a political reality show than a scripted, elongated political advertisement. Oddly enough, these increased chances for brokered conventions exist for both the Republicans and the Democrats, but for completely different reasons.
For the Republicans, two different dynamics increase the chances of a brokered convention. First, the sheer number of viable candidates heading into the nomination process increases the risk that no one candidate has a majority before the gavel comes down. To be sure, a few candidates have already fallen by the wayside during what can only be described as the political preseason.
And, the first four carve-out states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada will weed out a few more. But it only takes a few to survive the early contests to steadily increase the risk of a brokered convention. If only two candidates make it to Super Tuesday, then the chances of a brokered convention are slim to none. But, if more are still in the hunt come March 15, 2016 when the winner takes all states start, then chances increase dramatically.
Second, Republicans changed their nomination rules by compressing the schedule and changing delegate selection rules. But, more significantly, Republicans injected a steady stream of valuable earned media through a series of nationally televised debates giving lesser candidates the chance to stay alive from one debate until the next. These changes could result in no one candidate having enough delegates to win the nomination or be the presumptive nominee come the Republican National Convention.
Democrats have exactly the opposite problem. With their candidate all but decided, they hope no mishaps derail the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton train on its way to the Democratic National Convention. With so many issues floating around the former Secretary, many Democratic political insiders are holding their collective breaths until the convention (and even afterwards – until the General Election). And, all hope that if the big shoe drops, it does so before the Convention and not after the nomination.
Should she stumble and fall, a horde of Democratic hopefuls wait in the wings to jump in. Unfortunately, it will likely be too late for any one of the latecomers to win the nomination outright almost certainly leading to the first truly brokered convention since 1952.
Randy Evans is an attorney and columnist.