If you are Donald J. Trump, you are not very excited about the idea of a “brokered convention.” Aside from falling short of the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination for president outright, the way delegates are chosen, and the nomination process itself, are not ideal for someone running an outsider assault on the party.
A brokered convention is actually less far-fetched after the impressive surge lately by Senator Ted Cruz over the past week. So it is worth sharing some basic insights on how such an event would be politically structured, so that you can make your own political calculations about what might happen at such an event – which would be an epic, political maelstrom.
On the first ballot at the convention, just over 85% of the 2,472 delegates will be bound to vote for the candidate to whom they are individually pledged. Some delegates are pledged for more than one ballot, but not most. Just under 15% of the delegates – 165 of the 168 RNC committee members – are “superdelegates.” Yes, we have them too – though far fewer than the Democrats. Around 7% of the RNC convention floor will be made up of superdelegates – i.e. people who are automatically delegates separate from the election process. The Democrats will have 717 of them – about 15% of their 4,678 total delegate count. In addition, there will be around 180 delegates from a handful of state and territories that send their delegates “unbound” and who go to the convention as free agents.
After that first ballot, most of the delegates will likewise be free to vote for whomever they choose. Now before you start thinking that Trump, Rubio, Cruz or Ohio Gov. John Kasich would “control” their delegates, understand that this is likely not the case.
Just over 10% of the states have party rules that provide for candidates to choose their own actual delegates – 259 delegates, to be precise (and 169 of those are from one state, California).
However the vast majority (close to 90%) of the delegates are actually chosen through internal party elections of one sort or another. Some are chosen at conventions, some at caucuses. In some states individuals run for delegate, by name, on the ballot. These folks are then “bound” to a candidate, as I outlined above.
Presumably candidate-chosen delegates will have a much higher likelihood of being loyal to their candidate and also more likely to let their candidate “broker” or “throw” their votes as part of a negotiated deal. But again, that’s a small percentage of the total delegate pool.
As you can see from this process, the convention will have a lot of delegates where the actual person who is voting was able to win election to the convention through their local party process. Maybe they will be a supporter of the candidate to whom they are pledged after they are no longer bound, but maybe not. Either way, they are likely to be much more independent, and not “throwable” by candidate A to candidate B.
So suddenly you have to wonder: who will be the influencers at a brokered convention?
And the answer is: it will be a madhouse. The lists of influencers will certainly include the candidates, past and present. But it will also include party luminaries, governors, senators, members of Congress, state legislators, party leaders, interest group leaders, celebrities, media personalities, major donors and more.
And while it might be a bit unseemly to discuss openly, think about what is being brokered behind closed doors. Of course the presidential and vice presidential nominees – but who can say whether discussions will take place about commitments on cabinet secretary picks, Supreme Court nominations, ambassadorships and the thousands of patronage positions in government that are available to a president. Maybe as a delegate you have a son or daughter you want to get into the Naval Academy or West Point?
Lastly, but not to be overlooked, is the ability of party insiders to monkey around with the rules and credentialing of the convention itself. The RNC Rules Committee will meet a week before the convention – as “insider” a group as you get. They make recommendations to the full RNC, who in turn make recommendations to the RNC Convention Rules Committee, made up of two members per delegation, chosen by a vote of each delegation. These rules are then put up for adoption by the full convention. But there is also a Convention Credentials Committee, which actually gets to decide who is on the initial roll of the convention itself, chosen by delegations as well. If it seems confusing, that’s because it is.
Look for outsiders to the party process to have a diminished role. As I said from the outset: Donald Trump will be severely disadvantaged going into this sort of thing, and would undoubtedly be leveraging a potential third-party bid to press his claim to the nomination if it came to that.
Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California and national politics, You can reach Jon firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @flashreport.