Brokered GOP convention? No way. Yes, way…

The Republican national convention in Cleveland's Public Auditorium in 1924. This year's GOP convention is in Cleveland, too. (Photo: Everett Historical, via Shutterstock)

The conventional wisdom says fuggedaboutit.

Pundits, campaign managers, and the politicians themselves express doubt about the possibility.  Not as much as previously, but still doubt.

It might happen.  And California could be in the middle of it all.

There is growing buzz that the 2016 Republican convention won’t be the usual long and tightly scripted infomercial for a political party that conventions have become over the past 55 years or so.

Instead, even after the hullabaloo of Iowa and New Hampshire, it may be a “brokered” convention, where no candidate arrives in Cleveland on July 18 with sufficient delegates to wrap up the nomination on the first or second ballot.

“It’s hard for me to see why a round of brokering in Cleveland isn’t the most likely outcome,” says Daniel Heninger, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. “None of these candidates looks likely to pull away and capture the majority of primary delegates before the party’s nominating convention in Cleveland next July.”

The primary calendar is set up so that there probably will not be a nominee by mid-March, as in past years.

Speaking about the possibility of a Trump/Cruz/Rubio standoff as the convention opens, The Economist, that astute British observer of all things American, had this to say:

“A three-horse race could even mean that no candidate wins a majority of delegates … the candidates would then try to woo each other’s delegates at the convention in July, something that last happened in 1948.”

If there really is a brokered convention, California will become, at least for a few days, a major player in national Republican politics.

Here’s how the improbable is becoming, if not probable, at least much more likely than it was three months ago:

The primary calendar is set up so that there probably will not be a nominee by mid-March, as in past years.  That’s because many of the early-voting states award delegates on a proportional basis, which means Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, maybe Marco Rubio, may be sufficiently effective against each other to prevent a single candidate from emerging as the clear party choice.  The three, or maybe just two of them, could be separated by only a few delegates.

If it indeed remains Trump/Cruz/Rubio after Super Tuesday (March 1), along with a few surviving stragglers, we’ll still have a relatively large number of candidates. So we may not have anyone with a lead commanding enough to steamroller through the convention on the first ballot.  Remember,  even candidates with poll numbers in the single digits, at least a few of them, will in all likelihood be able to slog on, even with minimal campaign funds, until July, hoping all the while for a miracle.

Republican guru Karl Rove last November saw five candidates who could hang on until the convention: Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Jeb! Bush, and Ben Carson.  (Carson has been fading since then.)

Given that situation, the low-polling hopefuls may still control sufficient delegates to prevent any of the presumed-as-of-today top candidates to clinch the nomination on the first ballot.  And so the deal-making will begin.

Enter California.

Here’s what the Party says what delegates from California must do in Cleveland, according to the The Official Guide to the 2016 Republican Nominating Process:

“Each delegate to the Republican National Convention shall use his or her best efforts at the convention for the party’s presidential nominee candidate from California to whom the delegate has pledged support until the person is nominated for the office of President of the United States by the convention, receives less than 10 percent of the votes for nomination by the convention, releases the delegate from his or her obligation, or until two convention nominating ballots have been taken. Thereafter, each delegate shall be free to vote as he or she chooses ….” (emphasis added.)

No less an expert on Republican politics than Rove thinks a breakaway will happen.  Here’s what he had to say in the Wall Street Journal last month:

“The GOP will hold its first multi-ballot convention since 1948.  Delegates will be fractured — with many legally bound, for at least two ballots, to support the winner of their state or district — and at least two ballots will be required.  But the candidate with the most delegates going in will win.”

If things are sufficiently muddled so the convention goes to three ballots, it becomes a free-for-all.  The Golden State will have 172 delegates of the 1,237 required to secure nomination.  That’s a considerable number to swing behind anyone, especially if the delegation doesn’t split into factions.

However slim the possibility might be, the California Republican Party (CRP) wants no part of speculation about what might happen this summer in Cleveland.

“The CRP won’t be commenting on the possibility of a brokered convention in Cleveland, said party spokeswoman Kaityln MacGregor in an email.

But while they want to keep mum on the possibility now, California Republicans may find themselves in an unaccustomed catbird seat after a tumultuous but indecisive five and one-half months.

In the meantime political reporters can entertain wistful thoughts about what might happen — even if it probably won’t.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: