Diary

Cruz's legitimate path: Lincoln, Ike and Reagan also fought in contested conventions

Donald Trump and his supporters have a message for the world: they are victims of cheating and stealing. That message will only amplify in the coming weeks and months, but it isn’t true.

Thanks to Trump’s tendency to hire the worst people, he has put forth virtually no effort in winning unbound delegate slots, nor has he bothered to get his supporters elected as bound delegates in the case that they become unbound. Oh, and Trump has ignored states like North Dakota and Colorado, which declined to hold primaries but instead chose delegates at their state conventions. In all of these scenarios, Ted Cruz continues to prevail.

Trump supporters allege that this is cheating. But cheating implies rule-breaking. Cruz’s superb campaign is actually being successful by understanding the rules and following them to the letter. And delegates can’t be stolen unless kidnapping becomes legal.

If no candidate captures the majority of delegates, which is 1237, the nomination process will head to the convention. After the first ballot votes are cast, almost all of the delegates will be unbound and can vote according to their personal preference.

A contested convention, contrary to what Trump and his supports claim, is not unfair. It is not subverting the will of “we the people.” In fact, Donald Trump has received just 37% of the votes cast (a plurality-more than anyone else-but not a majority), and many of those were from non-Republicans, perhaps liberals seeking a weak opponent for Hillary Clinton in November.

The entire purpose of a contested convention is to solve the problem that is created when no candidate gains majority support in the party. If the voters can’t coalesce behind one candidate, it is up to the delegates, who are strongly devoted to the principles and competitiveness of the party, to pick the best candidate. Undemocratic? Yes, but democracy has flaws as the Founders understood. And it should be noted that the Republican party is a private organization.

The GOP nomination process is not unlike the electoral college system that governs our general elections. If no candidate receives 270 electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the next president. Most people don’t know that because it is rare (it has happened three times: 1801, 1825, and 1877).

However, a contested GOP convention is not rare. The Republican Party has had 10 contested conventions, three of which involved the most acclaimed GOP presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan.

Daniel Bush of the PBS Newshour summarizes:

The GOP has had ten contested conventions since it started holding national conventions in 1856. The first was 1860, when neither Abraham Lincoln or William Seward entered the convention with a majority of the delegates. It took Lincoln three ballots to secure the nomination.

James Garfield won the Republican nomination in 1880 after 36 ballots (a record for the party). His vanquished rivals included former president Ulysses S. Grant, who entered the convention with 40 percent of the Republican delegates but failed to secure the nomination.

Dwight Eisenhower entered the 1952 convention having won just 26.3 percent of the delegates in the primaries. But he still went on to win the nomination over Ohio Sen. Robert Taft in the last true brokered convention for either party.

The last contested convention took place in in 1976, when Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan both came close but failed to win enough delegates to clinch the nomination outright. Ford went on to win on the first ballot.

The situations of Cruz and Eisenhower are very similar. Cruz trails Trump by about 9% in votes cast; Eisenhower trailed Robert Taft by about 10%.  Earl Warren and Harold Stassen also had substantial support; Marco Rubio and John Kasich have racked up a good deal of delegates this cycle.

2016 looks a lot like 1952. For the sake of the country, hopefully history repeats itself.