March 21, 2016

RUBASHKIN | Who Doesn’t Love a Good Contest(ed Convention)?

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Tune into any Sunday morning talk show and you will hear about the “growing possibility” of a contested Republican National Convention this coming July. You will most likely hear that “there hasn’t been a contested (or brokered) convention since 1976” when Gerald Ford defeated Ronald Reagan in Kansas City. This is not entirely accurate; while Ford entered the convention with only a plurality of pledged delegates, he quickly won the support of enough unpledged delegates to ensure a victory on the first ballot. The last time our nation saw a real “contested convention” was in 1952, when the Democratic Party nominated Adlai Stevenson, not even a candidate at the start of the convention, instead of Estes Kefauver, who had won all but three primaries that year.

Simply put, not since the advent of the modern primary system in 1972 has our country seen a contested convention. Accordingly, the possibility of one this year has political journalists and junkies of all stripes salivating. Aside from providing more fodder for the ever-hungry 24-hour news media cycle, a contested convention would offer a peek into the arcane parliamentary procedures that govern our politics. Even though most of us will never understand the full scope of those rules and regulations, they are an intriguing concept nonetheless. Let’s not forget entire movies were made recounting the legal and administrative debacle that was the 2000 presidential election.

Try not to get too carried away. Come July, there will in all likelihood be a presumptive GOP nominee. For better or worse, that nominee will most likely be a riot inciting, overgrown and morally corrupt Jersey Shore extra also known as Donald J. Trump. Regardless of what you may think about the Donald’s overzealous trumpeting of his electoral victories, the man has a point. He is winning votes, and he is winning a lot of them. Sen.Ted Cruz (R-Texas) counters by saying that 63 percent of Republicans haven’t voted for the Donald, and that disqualifies him, but by the same logic, 75 percent of Republicans don’t want Ted Cruz, and that really disqualifies him from the nomination. Donald is a winner, and there is absolutely nothing to suggest that he’s going to stop winning anytime soon. Cruz’s best states are behind him, and Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) has openly stated that he has no direct path to the nomination. That being said, if this election season has taught us anything, it is that nothing will happen the way it is predicted to happen, and that Donald Trump’s hands are perfectly in proportion with the rest of his body, thank you very much.

Let’s assume Trump walks into Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, with fewer than the 1237 pledged delegates necessary to win outright. What could happen then? The possibilities range from the absolutely mundane to the mildly eccentric to the off the walls improbable. With each round of voting, more and more delegates are freed from their obligation to vote for any given candidate, and so each new ballot adds another measure of volatility.

The most obvious scenario is also the most boring. Trump arrives with a clear plurality, far ahead of Cruz or Kasich, and after a first ballot fails to produce a nominee, enough of Ted Cruz’s delegates switch their allegiance to Trump to carry him to the nomination. He announces a limited-run edition of The Apprentice during which he will select a running mate, and then he takes his private jet out of Cleveland as fast as he humanly can.

Again, quite boring and altogether likely. But what if Trump isn’t able to quickly consolidate support? In this case there is a historical analogue. In 1924, Democrat William Gibbs McAdoo won a plurality on the first ballot with 40 percent of the delegates, and his main competition was Al Smith, who recorded 22 percent of the delegates. No other candidates registered more than six percent. After 103 rounds of balloting, the party declined to nominate either frontrunner and instead went with the consistent third place finisher, John Davis, who, while not inspiring any enthusiasm, was moderately acceptable to enough delegates.

This is the situation John Kasich is hoping for. The Ohio governor hopes that both Trump and Cruz are so unpalatable that no matter how hard they work to curry the favor of the delegates, neither one will be able to muster a majority. Eventually, Kasich reasons, the party will grow tired of the Trump-Cruz rivalry, and will coalesce around him, the compromise candidate. In this version of the convention, Kasich, like John Davis, does not need to place first on a single ballot until the final one. That being said, we should be so lucky to have as exciting a convention as there was in 1924. As each individual ballot was announced, supporters of the various candidates would launch into spontaneous parades (complete with marching bands) around Madison Square Garden.

Then, there is what I like to call the Boehner option, named for former House Speaker John Boehner. Boehner endorsed Governor Kasich before the Ohio primary, but since then has stated that if there is a contested convention, he will support his successor Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.)for the nomination. Speaker Ryan has stated in no uncertain terms that he is not at all interested in the nomination and has no intention of accepting the nomination if it is offered. This is, of course, the same Paul Ryan that not one year ago stated in no uncertain terms that he was not at all interested in the Speakership and would not take it even if it were offered to him.

When push comes to shove, Paul Ryan has shown himself to be highly susceptible to peer pressure, and there is no reason to believe this time would be any different. In a situation where Trump, Cruz and perhaps a resurgent Kasich are locked in a dead-end battle for delegates, the optics of which only hurt the Republican Party, it is not hard to see Speaker Ryan succumbing to the pleas of the party establishment and stepping in to take the nomination. The man did run for vice president in 2012, so it’s fairly clear that he wants to end up in the White House some day. Why not now?

There is, of course, another possibility, alluded to by Donald Trump when asked about the possibility of a contested convention. Trump declared that there would be riots if he were denied the nomination, and the conduct of his supporters at various rallies backs up that assertion. Trump’s campaign manager has recently been at the center of not one but two incidents involving violence against protestors and the media, and Trump himself has incited his supporters to violence against protesters multiple times. If Trump simply applies those tactics to the convention he could have the whole thing wrapped up in an hour. Ted Cruz supporters? “Get ‘em outta here!” Kasich supporters? “Go back home to mommy.” Republican Party establishment? “In the old days, they’d be carried out on stretchers … punch them right in the face. I’ll pay for the legal fees.” The GOP has been spineless against Trump so far. It’s not hard to imagine that a little more strong-arming (quite literally) is in the cards.

All jokes aside, this is a very odd time in politics. All this uncertainty is frightening, for sure, but it is also exciting. We could witness history this July, an event that would require the rewriting of textbooks and could serve as a final reckoning for one of America’s major political parties. So there you have it folks. Go and buy as much popcorn as you can. If nothing else, this should be entertaining.

Jacob Rubashkin is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at jrubashkin@cornellsun.com. The Jacobin appears alternate Mondays this semester.

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