Friday, March 4, 2016

Trump to Political Science: Drop Dead, Part VIII (Will the Convention Be Un-brokered?)

Well, it seems we aren't done reviewing the ways Donald Trump is forcing the discipline of political science to eat crow.  Here's the next one:  we might have a brokered convention!

Let's define our terms.  A "brokered convention" is a nominating convention in which we don't know who the nominee is until a bunch of Thomas Nast cartoons meet behind closed doors to figure it out.  This doesn't happen anymore.  Why not?  Because we changed the rules after 1968.  Going into the 1968 Democratic convention, Eugene McCarthy had won the most votes in the primaries, but primaries didn't matter.  Most of the delegates were just party muckety-mucks who could choose any candidate they wanted, regardless of the primaries.  They chose Hubert Humphrey.  McCarthy supporters rioted, and the rules were changed.  Now, delegates are chosen by primaries and caucuses, and we haven't had a brokered convention since.

Every election cycle, pundits and other lower life forms begin speculating that maybe this year it will happen again.  They ask political scientists, and we say "no."  Why not?  In order to get a brokered convention, you need more than two candidates to divide up the delegates so that no one gets over 50%.  That doesn't happen.  Here are the main reasons.

1)  Winnowing.  Usually, once a winner starts to emerge, everyone who isn't just a protest candidate drops out, and the nominee gets easily over 50% of the delegates.

2)  Winner-take-all contests.  The early contests we have had so far allow delegates to be split within a state.  Now, we shift towards winner-take-all contests, where just getting more than everyone else yields all of the delegates, even if the winner gets less than 50% of the vote.  That makes it easy to get over 50% of the delegates, even without 50% of the vote.

3)  Voters tend to rally around the winner.  Whoever picks up the early lead tends to have voters flock around them.  After all, everyone loves a winner, right?

But this year, what if Rubio wins Florida, Kasich wins Ohio, and the rest of the states are split up enough among the non-Trumps for Trump to remain below 50% of the delegate count?

Well, this year (1) seems to have stopped.  In order for the Stop Trump movement to work, the field can't keep winnowing.  One can easily imagine Cruz taking this all the way through the contest anyway to solidify his place as the leader of the conservative movement, and Rubio will stay in because he hopes to be the beneficiary of the Stop Trump plan.  Kasich?  Maybe he wins Ohio and stays in the race to aid the Stop Trump movement.  That means a failure to winnow.  One way or another, political scientists will have been wrong on that.

Next, consider (2).  This one still operates, which puts more pressure on current losers to win outright in upcoming states.  Math still works, people.

Finally, there's (3).  I'm not sure if you have noticed this, but Trump likes to talk about what a winner he is.  Did you notice?  The whole point of Romney and his crowd bashing Trump is to keep that rally from happening.  Will it work?  Ummm...

So, it is not completely outside the realm of possibility that Trump stays below 50% of the delegates.  As I wrote the other day, though, I still see that scenario giving Trump the nomination because Cruz will have a hard time backing an establishment candidate, and the establishment will have a hard time getting everyone to rally around Cruz.

Also, we will probably have a nominee before the convention.  Once the contests are over, even if Trump is below 50%, we will find out what Cruz will do.  Technically, then, we won't have a brokered convention, but we might have something vaguely like it.  So, maybe we were wrong to say a broken convention (or something like it) couldn't happen this year.  For what its worth, PredictWise currently has some low numbers for Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney as the nominees.  Cruz can never back Romney, so the latter is completely impossible, and him backing Ryan is unlikely.

Remember, this isn't about cigar-chomping fat cats behind closed doors making decisions.  If nobody gets over 50%, it will be about what the candidates want.  Cruz's delegates will do what Cruz tells them to do because they are pledged to him.  He won't tell them to back an establishment choice.  He is more likely to be offered the VP slot by Trump.

Once again, the 2016 disclaimer:  everything here could be wrong because 2016 is batshit crazy.

Yes, I know this isn't the most famous version, but hell, if you recognized the title of the post, you don't care about fame.

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