July in Cleveland usually entails supporting a mediocre Indians team and hoping that a cool band plays at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This summer will be a little more exciting. The Republican National Convention could be the most dramatic weekend in the city since LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach. It’s beginning to look like the only way to prevent a Donald Trump nomination is a brokered convention.
To understand how this would work, we need to first look at the bizarre way political parties elect candidates. Much like with the Electoral College (we’ll cover that another day), voters indirectly vote for their desired candidate. The state party sends a coalition of delegates to the national convention, who are supposed to vote for the candidate for whom they are assigned. On the Republican side, some states divide delegates proportionally, some are winner-take-all and some are in-between. For Democrats, it’s proportional throughout.
Republican delegates will vote over and over at the convention until a candidate receives 1,237 votes. If there is no majority after the first round of voting, most delegates will be free to vote for candidates other than the one originally assigned by the state. At this point, one would expect to see “brokering” behind the scenes. In theory, this would mean aligning 1,237 votes against Trump and for another candidate.
This is why John Kasich is still in the race. It’s mathematically impossible for him to reach the magic number of delegates, but a strong performance could make him a potential option at the convention (which is also in his home state). Ted Cruz has some semblance of a mathematical path, although it will be difficult, as the upcoming slate of primaries are not the types of states he has been winning.
The overall idea is to prevent Trump from reaching 1,237 by continuing to divide voters in the proportionally assigning states, and picking off winner-take-all states. If Kasich and Cruz stay in, I have a tough time seeing Trump getting the 498 delegates he needs. Kasich should take enough mainstream Republicans, particularly in the Northeast, while Cruz should do well in winner-take-all primaries such as Nebraska and Montana. We certainly won’t know until the California and New Jersey primaries in June, when 200 delegates are up for grabs.
Of course, there’s no reason party officials and delegates would have to crystallize around any of the three candidates available. For instance, John Boehner has already said he would support Speaker Paul Ryan, the vice presidential nominee in 2012. Mitt Romney, the second half of the 2012 ticket, also has to be thinking about making a move.
It’s entirely possible that Trump could win the popular vote and fail to win the nomination. It’s also entirely possible the GOP won’t be able to organize delegates effectively to stop Trump. He has brushed aside every candidate the party establishment has backed, from Jeb Bush to Marco Rubio. If he can come out of a brokered convention, it would be his greatest win yet.