Friday, March 18, 2016

Contested Conventions Are Nothing New


There seems to be a sentiment among a good many people that contested conventions are, by their nature, undemocratic. That the candidate who gets to the convention with the most delegates and votes, even if it isn't enough for a majority, should win his or her party's nomination. That to deny the nomination to such a candidate is simply wrong and unAmerican.

Tell that to William Seward. Who is William Seward? Well, he was the frontrunner for the 1860 Republican nomination. Going into the convention, he had the most delegates, but lacked the necessary majority to win the nomination.

On the first ballot, Seward had 173.5 delegates, well short of the 233 needed for a majority. Abraham Lincoln was second with 102 delegates. It took four ballots and a lot of arm twisting, not to mention a little bribery on the part of his campaign, before Lincoln finally secured the necessary delegates to win the Republican nomination. Lincoln would go on to defeat Stephen Douglas in the general election to become the nation's 16th president.

In 1968, Eugene McCarthy had the Democratic nomination taken from him at the convention and handed over to then Vice President Hubert Humphrey, despite receiving 38 percent of the popular vote to Humphrey's 2 percent. Humphrey, who hadn't even entered a single primary, would end up losing the general election to Richard Nixon in a landslide that year.

In 1976, then President Gerald Ford was challenged by former California Governor Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination. Ford went into the convention just short of the required delegates, but was able to cobble together enough delegates to put him over the top by the first ballot, thus avoiding a long, protracted convention. Ford wound up losing the presidency to Jimmy Carter in November, and four years later, Reagan would win the GOP nomination and defeat Carter in the general.

My point is that contested or "brokered" conventions are nothing new, nor are they undemocratic. The fact is both parties have relied on a delegate system of nomination for more than a century; the Republican Party has had it in its rules since its beginning in 1856. Each party requires all of its candidates to reach that number in order to win its nomination. If the leading candidate falls short, even if only by a small amount, the rules require that a second ballot be taken. If no candidate reaches the majority by then, a third ballot is called for. This goes on and on until someone finally wins.

When Donald Trump decided to run for the Republican nomination, he agreed to abide by the party's rules, ALL of them. He can threaten the party with violence all he wants, but what he and some are forgetting is that, while Trump may have won the most states, he still hasn't won the majority of the popular vote. The fact is more people have voted against Trump than for him. What does the GOP say to those voters? A brokered convention, while risky, is the only way to honor the will of all the people and uphold the rules at the same time.

All this may prove academic. At the rate Trump is winning, he may end up with more than enough delegates to lock up the nomination, especially with so many winner take all states still left to vote. And with John Kasich deciding to stay in the race, the ability of Ted Cruz to catch Trump has been severely hampered, if not completely crippled.

Face it, it's looking more and more like Donald Trump is going to win the GOP nomination, but in the event he doesn't, it won't be because it was stolen from him. It'll be because he wasn't able to meet the requirements the party set in place. Is it fair? Probably not. Is it wrong? No.

Rules are rules and they apply to everyone. Just ask William Seward.

2 comments:

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