A Fair Nomination Rule For GOP Conventions

* We should treat the 2016 convention as a ‘runoff’ of the GOP primaries, not a ‘do-over’. This respects the outcomes of the primaries and the votes of GOP primary voters.
* A majority of delegates should determine the GOP presidential candidate, no less. For 2016, the golden delegate threshold is 1237.
* The convention should only enter into nomination those who have been successful in the primaries. Allowing nominations of unsuccessful candidates or non-candidates undermines the primary process and disrespects voters.
* A fair rule to implement that is to adjust Rule 40 (a majority of delegates in 8 states is required to be nominated) to re-instate the 5-state majority rule, broad enough to nominate the top successful candidates but not too broad to permit a subterfuge of the primary process.

The goal of the primary and convention process is to select the Republican nominee for President. The ideal nominee is one who has strong consensus support of the party. The best rules to do that would be stable, transparent and conducive to expressing the will of the majority involved.

When the primary system took over in the last 70 years from the prior system of sending delegates who would select candidates at the national convention, the convention took a back seat in the presidential process. (See History below). Now, in the 21st century, all states have some form of primary or caucus, and over 90% of delegates will be ‘bound’ by the process on the first (and in some cases further) ballots. The conventions going forward will most of the time be ‘coronations’, where the winning candidates was known well before the convention. That may happen in 2016. If Trump does well enough, he may either get to 1237 outright, or get close enough from the primaries and is far enough ahead that he picks up a few unbound delegates to take him over to win on the first ballot.

If we have a real contested convention without any candidate getting a majority prior to the convention, what then? A majority of delegates can decide on whatever and however they want, and can set the rules via the Rules committee, to whatever they want. But it would be unwise and destructive for the delegates or the rules committee to treat that as carte blanche.
We propose some ‘rules’ for how the convention nomination rules should work.

The goal of the nominations process is to pick a candidate for President approved by a majority of Republicans, i.e., a successful, consensus candidate to represent the party in the fall and lead the ticket. It may sound obvious that nobody should becomes the nominee unless they have a majority (1237 delegates) supporting them, but we already see the Trump campaign argue that if they have a plurality of delegates, then the nomination is ‘owed’ them. It’s not. A plurality is not a majority. If a candidate has 49% of the delegates, they do not have a majority, they have not won. We have seen the dreadful outcome of primaries that lack runoffs and allow a ‘plurality’ candidate to be nominated – Todd Akin in Missouri.

The convention should be viewed as a runoff, not a ‘do-over’ of the caucus and primary process. The process of becoming a candidate, running for President, and having candidates vetted via debates and elections, is a long, arduous and expensive process; it denies the voters their input when you circumvent that process. Parachuting in a non-candidate or a weak or losing candidate into the convention is not how the process should work, it disrespects voters.

Only those candidates who both participated and were successful in the primary process should be eligible for the convention process. It disrespects the voters if the ultimate nominee is someone who did not succeed somewhat in the primary process. That includes those who withdrew; those who garnered few votes and delegates; and certainly those who chose not to run.

It might be argued that there is no ‘harm’ in allowing vanity candidates or even some benefit to allowing candidates with few delegates to be nominated. What would be the result of votes and speeches for a candidate with one delegate out of 2,000? We have already established that it would be a derogation of the primary elections to ignore the top candidates and make such
a candidate the party nominee. So such a nomination would serve either as a distraction from the real race, or serve to enable the subterfuge of turning a primary election ‘loser’ into a convention ‘winner’.

A 2016 convention should be quite different from a 1948 convention, even if contested, because today we have a more involved and more complete primary process, one in which 25 million or more voters will have spoken by the time it is over. 25 million votes should not be overridden by the convention.

To ensure that, we a nominations rule limiting nominations at the convention to the most successful candidates only. Currently, Rule 40 does that, limiting the nominations to those who got a majority of delegates in 8 states. Rule 40 was revised in 2012. Before 2012, the Rule for nomination was:

“Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a plurality of the delegates from each of five (5) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.”

We should reduce the 8 state rule to five (5) state, but maintain the ‘majority’ nomenclature:

“Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of five (5) or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.”

A ‘majority’ is better than ‘plurality’, because a majority is based on the candidate’s support only with no dependency on the support by anyone else, whereas a ‘plurality’ is not dependent on just the support for the candidate but whether and how support is split otherwise. For example, a candidate with 25% of the delegates might have the plurality if the rest are split 5 ways or might be in 3rd place. It should not matter if a candidate’s opponents are split or not; what should  matter is getting sufficient support from delegates. A good rule would be dependent solely on the candidate’s support level. To avoid the problem of this ‘dependent plurality’ we could have a minimum percentage support level, such as: “A plurality and no less than 40% of the total delegates from each of five (5) or more states”, but that gets complicated.  The majority condition is simpler and stronger than ‘plurality’, less subject to ‘manipulation’.

Why change from eight to five states? Recall that the 2012 rule change was solely to stop Ron Paul from having a convention floor demonstration and nomination speech. It was for a parochial reason, and not designed for either fairness or a contested convention. It looks from the current primary process, that when you have many candidates and few winner-take-all states, its easy to
have many states split in a way that no candidate emerges with many states with majorities. It’s conceivable that the eight state rule would be too high a bar for all candidates in some future scenario, of even currently. If Trump falls short of 1237 but Cruz is for some reason stuck at seven states, perhaps Kasich spoiling and winning a few states, should only Trump be nominatable?
As of March 20th, for example, Cruz had over 400 delegates, or almost 20% of total delegates, yet only four states where he has a majority. He is likely to reach the 8 states needed if he is succesful enough to stop Trump, but any candidate with 400 or more delegates probably should deserve being placed in nomination.

The process for 2016 will involve the Rules committee chewing through possible options. They could maintain the eight state rule,  adjust the state threshold down to the former level of five, or could go further.  The biggest mistake the Rule committee could make is to ‘open up’ the nominations to create an ‘open convention’ rather than a ‘contested convention’. There is no fairness to a system that has 17 campaigns engage in great efforts, expends $1 billion in campaign donor money, holds a dozen debates, has 25 million people vote across state contests and multiple
US territories, and at the end of it, none of the candidates who went through that grueling process became the winner. One such mistake is the Haugland Amendment:

“Each candidate for nomination for President of the United States and Vice President of the United States for whom any delegate is bound to vote as a result of the delegate selection process is deemed to be a candidate for nomination by the Republican National Convention.”


In the news, Rush has used this amendment to frighten listeners into thinking there is an establishment subterfuge in the works. Some on the Rules committee dispute that. “Rush Limbaugh is flat-out wrong,” said Mr. Feaman. “There is just no path to do that based on the rules.” Technically, it’s possible, but the majority of delegates to support, and it would be
sheer folly for delegates to open up that pandora’s box, for the attempt to push failed candidates that voters didn’t accept.  The convention should select from the candidates who have been most successful at the primaries, and them only.

Postscript: Some History

The Republican party has used a national convention in every Presidential election year since 1856 to select the party candidate for President,  where party delegates from all the states gather to decide who to lead the ticket. Since the middle of the twentieth century, primaries and caucuses started to emerge as key to the presidential nominations process, and since 1952, most races have been decided before the convention.

The last time there was even a race that went all the way to the convention was 1976, Reagan vs Ford, where Ford managed to find enough delegates to fend off Reagan’s strong challenge and win on the first ballot. The last time a Republican convention went to a second or third ballot was 1948, where the moderate Dewey was facing more conservative Taft of Ohio and several other contenders. Here’s how that went down at the 1948 Republican National Convention:

As the convention opened, Dewey was seen as having a large lead in the delegate count. His major opponents – Taft, Stassen, and Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan – met in Taft’s hotel suite to plan a “stop-Dewey” movement. However, a key obstacle soon developed when the three men refused to unite behind a single candidate to oppose Dewey. Instead, all three men simply agreed to try to hold their own delegates in the hopes of preventing Dewey from obtaining a majority. This proved to be futile, as Dewey’s efficient campaign team gathered up the delegates they needed to win the nomination. After the second round of balloting, Dewey was only 33 votes short of victory. Taft then called Stassen and urged him to withdraw from the race and endorse him as Dewey’s main opponent. When Stassen refused, Taft wrote a concession speech and had it read at the start of the third ballot; Dewey was then nominated by acclamation.


Commentary on the convention process: