Potentially a Hot Milwaukee Summer

In this photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, a university student attends a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. A wave of spontaneous protests over Iran's weak economy swept into Tehran on Saturday, with college students and others chanting against the government just hours after hard-liners held their own rally in support of the Islamic Republic's clerical establishment. (AP Photo)

Political pundits love to speculate about brokered conventions.  Every four years we are treated to their musings.  In 2016, there was talk of a brokered GOP convention- the last gasp of the NeverTrump faction to stave off a Trump nomination.  It is understandable given the boredom associated with party conventions, but usually these are hollow predictions.

This year, it is the turn of the Democrats which the specter of a brokered convention has descended upon.  Unlike previous years, however, there is some impetus to the scenario happening.  The Democrats front-loaded the primary schedule.  They currently have six “viable” candidates in the mix: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and the wild card Michael Bloomberg.   If we learned anything from Iowa and New Hampshire, it is that we know nothing at this point.

There are two races before March 3, Super Tuesday- Nevada and South Carolina.  One is a caucus state, the other a primary state.  One of those in the mix is placing his chances in South Carolina (Biden).  The drama of a potential brokered convention can be blown out of the water only if three of those six drop out of the race after Super Tuesday.  Under normal circumstances, getting 20% of the vote in New Hampshire would have convinced a candidate to pack it in, like Klobuchar.  But that is not how it works these days.  Because so few delegates are chosen before Super Tuesday and so many on that day, there is no incentive to drop out of the race until the day after Super Tuesday, at the earliest.  Further, the proportional way in which delegates are chosen creates another layer making it hard for any candidate to reach a majority of delegates.  This serves as a disincentive to drop out of the race and remain all-in and pile up delegates to have bargaining power at the convention.

About 40% of all delegates will have been chosen as of March 4th, and about 60% after March 17th.  If any candidate is well below a path to a majority of delegates as of March 18th, it will be damn near impossible to do so among the remaining 40% of delegates up for grabs after the March 17th primaries.  To put it in perspective, even if the field winnowed to two candidates after March 17th and Sanders racked up huge wins, he still would not have enough delegates.  That is because 84% of the delegates are chosen by the will of the people with the remainder (16%) being reserved for super-delegates.

These delegates are pledged to no one even though they cannot vote on the first ballot.  In effect, they serve the role as the party bosses of old who can sway the selection of a candidate not even on the ballot and without winning a single primary vote.  As one pundit noted, imagine Sanders getting one-third of the voter-selected delegates with the remainder spread over other candidates.  The bosses then caucus and decide Sanders is not electable and decide to throw their support behind a Klobuchar or Biden.  It is conceivable that a candidate who ran fourth or fifth could secure the nomination.

Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver and company have determined who will win a majority of delegates through the primaries.  Coming in at 90% is “no one.”  Only Sanders (34%) and Biden (14%) register in double digits.  Now imagine if Bernie Sanders is the plurality winner, but not the nominee.  One can envision Milwaukee turning into Chicago, circa 1968.

Will Bernie allow this, or will he once again slink away and make a pact with the devil, all in the name of “party unity,” mind you.  He could offer the VP slot to Buttigieg, but nothing prevents delegates who support Buttigieg to support the pleas of Sanders.  Likewise, Buttigieg can make similar deals with just about everyone, as can any other person in the mix.  It is the Sanders supporters who are the real wild cards here as they are virulently supportive of The Bern and will resist any repeat of 2016 at all costs.  Sanders has set into motion the chaos that may erupt.

A plurality winner in the primaries creates the perfect storm for a brokered convention.  If six candidates are in the race and the winner consistently pulls in 30% of the vote- pre- or post-Super Tuesday- the likelihood of a brokered convention increases with each primary return.  According to Morning Consult, after New Hampshire, we saw the following among prospective Democrat voters in states not named Iowa or New Hampshire:

  • Bernie Sanders jumped from 25% to 29%;
  • Joe Biden from 22% to 19%;
  • Michael Bloomberg from 17% to 18%;
  • Pete Buttigieg holding steady at 11%;
  • Elizabeth Warren from 11% to 10%, and;
  • Amy Klobuchar from 3% to 5%.

For Biden, going from presumptive front-runner to trailing by 10% is problematic, but dropping only 3 points after dismal losses in the first two states is hardly catastrophic.  Thus, two questions emerge: (1) Can Warren get her act together and become the alternative to socialist Sanders?, and (2) Can the rest of the party coalesce around a candidate that is not obviously socialist?  One would think that Klobuchar would have been convinced that sitting at 5% would quit, but finishing ahead of Biden seems to give her a sense of hope.

The candidate under the most pressure to quit is probably Elizabeth Warren.  There may be calls for her to cede the Far Left field to Bernie Sanders.  Second on that list is Joe Biden.  If he stays in too long, he will be perceived as the spoiler handing the nomination to Sanders.

Fun times in the Democrat Party.