Brokered or Broken?

On Citizen Tom’s blog, the idea of a brokered Republican convention came up. Many are talking about this, but it is not well understood. And for good reason; the rules are quite complex. So is the history:

The very first Republican convention, sort of, was in 1800. That’s not really a fair statement; this was a meeting of the Electoral College (with delegates equal in number to the Senate and House of Representatives combined) to decide who the president and vice-president would be. Oddly, each delegate could cast two votes.  I used “Republican convention” because the choices were basically Republicans (Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr). The Federalist, incumbent President John Adams, had fared very poorly in the lead-up votes to this process.

President and VP as Adversaries

At the time, the winner of the majority vote of these delegates became president, and the runner-up was VP. This frequently put political enemies in the two spots, and even members of different parties — which had been true for bitter enemies John Adams and his vice president Thomas Jefferson.

The system was changed with the 12th Amendment, largely because of what happened in 1800: Jefferson and Adams each received exactly the same number of delegate votes. They polled again, got the same results. And again. And again.

Now, Alexander Hamilton (the leading Federalist) despised “Democratic-Republican” Thomas Jefferson, and Hamilton was a very influential figure at this Electoral College convention, despite the fact that his candidate Adams had little support and no chance among the delegates. Hamilton’s history and footprint here were large.

Party Adversaries

Jefferson and Burr were both technically “Democratic Republicans” though they generally shortened this to “Republican.” This label would soon be dropped for most of the next half-century until being revived in 1854 as the successor to the failing Whig party.

During the Constitutional ratification process a dozen years or so before the 1800 convention, the Republicans had originally wanted the United States to be a confederated republic of largely independent sovereign states, rather than a national government including nearly powerless states that the mis-named Federalists argued for. The Federalists largely had control of the media, so they got the name and were able to make the label “Anti-Federalists” stick for their opposition instead of the better sounding “Republican.” To this day, their arguments are contained in the Federalist Papers and the also important Anti-Federalist Papers. (Another post on these soon.)

The Federalists won the argument, and the Constitution was adopted. But it was close, and the Republicans succeeded in getting a commitment to pass a Bill of Rights. James Madison (a Republican by philosophy who had argued as a Federalist to calm down the fears of Republicans) honored this commitment. George Washington was against the idea of political parties entirely … but became a de facto Federalist in practice as the first president of the new United States of America, which replaced the Confederated States of America that had been the weak pseudo-national government during the Revolutionary War.

Making it Personal

The battle over ratification of the Constitution cemented the hostility between Hamilton and Jefferson, which was not helped by both of them being forced to work closely together under President John Adams. Adams was the second president, after George Washington retired, during the four years leading to the 1800 election.

At one point, Jefferson secretly drafted a document (and gave it to a congressman to copy in his own handwriting and then submit) to impeach Hamilton for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Hamilton guessed at the authorship of this, as he knew Jefferson’s style well.

So, the hatred between these powerful men, who had each played major roles in the creation of the US, was well established during the 1800 election debacle.

Even More Hated

But, for a variety of reasons (worthy of another post), Hamilton hated Aaron Burr even more. Burr had been agitating for the northeast states (including Hamilton’s New York) to secede from the union and form their own country, with Burr as the new head or king or whatever. Hamilton was outraged by this, and the feud between the two was very public — and four years later would culminate in the duel that ended Hamilton’s life.

Hamilton passed the word around, worked the room, and finally was able to get the vote count to go toward Jefferson, the lesser of two evils in Hamilton’s mind. Thus Jefferson became the third President of the United States, with Aaron Burr (as much Jefferson’s enemy as Hamilton’s) as his angry Vice President.

Aaron Burr wound up later having a warrant for his arrest for murder (the only VP in history so “honored”) and also was tried for sedition by the US Supreme Court. That story influenced a lot of the US’s future history.

Complicated Relationships

Alexander Hamilton had been the largest voice for ratifying the Constitution, and Thomas Jefferson would have been the largest in opposition except for the fact that he was away as ambassador to France at the time. (France was extremely important to the US, and figures into much of the colonies’ and then new nation’s early history.)

Jefferson corresponded with Madison, making complaints and suggestions during the drafting of the Constitution, and the two men remained close despite Madison writing for the Federalist side urging adoption of the Constitution Madison had been so instrumental in creating. Madison honestly believed that the new federal government would be contained. History has shown that Jefferson’s fears were largely justified.

Fast Forward to 2016

Over the years, there have been a number of “brokered conventions” by parties, with a notable one being between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976. Ford finally won that contest, and thus the nomination — but lost the election to Jimmy Carter.

This year we have another brokered convention likely. This is often misunderstood. For example, one questioner asked:

Why would Trump get the nomination? We have an open primary system. That system allows Democrats to vote in Republican primaries,

This is only true in some states, 18 on the Republican side currently. In the others, you must be a registered Republican to vote in the presidential primary. California is all over the map, open in some races, closed for the presidential delegates. And it’s voluntary per party and currently open for Democrats and American Independents but closed for (and by) Republicans in California. Other states have different rules on primaries for state and national elections, and different by party as well.

In 2008, Mitt Romney won the Republican votes in the early primaries, but John McCain won the nomination because Democrats (!) voted for him. For a variety of reasons, including the new open primaries concept, voter participation has fallen way off. The Tea Party reversed this to an extent more recently.

Dump Trump?

Citizen Tom continued:

and it also allows someone with just a plurality of the vote to win the nomination. That is a stupid system the politicians foisted on us to serve their own purposes.

What he described here is possible, but not the guaranteed way it works, and that is especially an issue for Donald Trump this year. Trump may win a plurality of votes, but it must be a majority to secure the nomination on first ballot. Otherwise, anyone who has won eight states (very likely Cruz, and very unlikely Rubio) can be eligible to win on subsequent ballots. And if that doesn’t work, a motion to “suspend the rules” (as per Rule 40 of the Republican Convention in the link below) means that they can drop the eight states requirement and try over and over again with anyone until someone gets a majority of delegates.

Thus, Trump could get, say, 48% of the required delegates, Cruz 40%, Rubio 8% and Kasich 4%, and (because no one had 50%+1) the nomination could go to Mitt Romney or whichever other dark horse candidate the Republican establishment puts up after a “suspend the rules” vote.

The Last Republican Convention?

This fiasco would probably destroy the Republican Party, I think, but the establishment’s actions have already long since started down this path. And a third party run by Trump or even Cruz would be likely, all of which makes electing a felon or Marxist nearly certain, with associated great harm to the country.

The rules for the convention process regarding nominations and delegates are quite complex, and they are accessible here. You will see, if you explore that document, that the nomination process is far from simple. But the possibility of “the people’s choice” being ignored in favor of the power-brokers’ choice is quite starkly evident. It’s happened before, but now with the current history combined with the bizarre candidacy choices, it would mean the end.

And the Democrats, for their part, are lurching ever further to the left. None of this is good for the United States.

A quick drop-out by Kasich and Rubio would allow Cruz to make a clean win, and likely secure the nomination, the presidency (against a far-from-mainstream Clinton or Sanders) and would also restore the Republican Party’s principles of limited government and individual liberty. But I doubt that Kasich’s and Rubio’s egos will let them do the right thing for the country. So, I am quite concerned about the coming months.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle