With Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential race and a pack of candidates jumbled behind, there has been a lot of talk about the possibility of a contested convention.
The Iowa caucuses are just over one month away and in a crowded field with no candidate near a majority of support in national and state polls, the chances that the Republican party doesn’t have a clear-cut winner from the primary process appears more possible than at any time in recent history. What does all that mean? Here's a starter's guide:
What is a contested convention?
A contested convention occurs when the primary process yields no candidate.
There’s a primary process so how could that happen?
Before we explain that here’s a mini-primer on how the process works: A total of 2,470 delegates are up for grabs in the primary process where all the states, territories and DC either caucus, vote or hold conventions to choose their preferable nominee. In order to secure the Republican nomination, a candidate must win a majority of delegates – or 1,236.
How are delegates awarded?
Each state delivers a number of delegates based on population – so more delegates are available in California than Idaho.
Ok, so how could it be that one candidate doesn’t win a majority?
Another good question! That scenario could happen because of the way the system is set up. More than half of the states and territories appropriate their delegates proportionally, so theoretically three, four or five candidates could split the delegates among most of the states, leaving no candidate with a majority of delegates.
Why would anyone create a process that might not result in a winner?
Funny, right? But that’s the ironic thing about it. Two major changes by the Republican National Committee intended to clamp down on the process to ensure a long, drawn-out primary does not occur could do exactly that.
What’s the first structural problem?
First, the convention was moved up from late August to mid-July to shorten the primary calendar. The first nominating contest is also a month later this year so that Republicans spend less time beating each other up. And in an effort to keep states from extending the primary season, the RNC placed stringent rules on the states with repercussions that would reduce the states’ importance in the campaign.
I don’t get it. What’s an example?
For instance, any state that moved its primary or caucus before March 15th would lose its delegates, which means that the voters would have no say in the nomination process. So the unintended consequence is that while states stayed in line, more states give out their delegates proportionally, making it more difficult to reach a majority.
What’s the second problem?
It goes back to the 2012 convention. A rule the Republican Party agreed on in 2012, called Rule 40, made it more difficult for a candidate to win the nomination this election season. Instead of a candidate having to win a plurality of delegates in five states, Rule 40 mandates that a candidate must win a majority of delegates in eight states before he or she is able to be considered the presumptive nominee.
That rule was intended to keep 2012 candidate Ron Paul, who won a plurality of delegates in at least five states, and his supporters from having any opportunity to take away from Mitt Romney at that year’s convention.
But the unintended consequences is that four years later with a dozen candidates and no clear winner, that threshold could make it difficult for even the best funded candidate to meet.
What traditionally happens at a contested convention?
The delegates at the convention, which will take place in Cleveland, vote by secret ballot. If no candidate wins a majority of delegates then a second round of voting takes place, but not before the candidates and their staffs work to win over delegates.
“It’s called a convention,” Curly Haugland, Republican National Committeeman for North Dakota, said. “A convention will break out at our convention.”
Rounds of voting keeps taking place until a candidate wins the majority of the delegates.
What about the vice president?
Good question! If there’s no presumptive nominee heading into the convention then there’s no vice presidential presumptive nominee. In that instance, the running mate is chosen the same way – through a secret ballot by the delegates until someone obtains a majority of delegates.