Share this article

print logo

A brokered convention is more about mood than math

The tale of a brokered Republican convention has little to do with how well Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and the others are faring in the delegate count.

Rather, it perfectly reflects the anti-establishment, anti-incumbent sentiment that has dominated the Republican Party since 2010. That year, numerous establishment Republicans, who were shoo-ins for their Senate and governor races, were knocked out in the primaries by ideological or tea party-backed challengers.

In Romney, they see another establishment figure who won't shake up the system. That's what's really at the heart of the brokered convention talk.

But the truth of the matter is, a brokered convention won't be so chaotic or revolutionary. Whoever enters with a lead in the delegate math will undoubtedly prevail in later ballots. Party insiders, who know the arcane nomination rules, are certain of this.

After all, it's hard to see delegates who committed to one candidate suddenly flee for another suitor. Yet those who continue to hype a brokered convention need to consider the consequences: What if the second- or third-place candidate becomes the nominee?

This would be an undemocratic disaster. Think of 1824's "Corrupt Bargain" between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, which blocked Andrew Jackson from the presidency despite his leads in the popular and electoral votes.

Similarly, drafting a brand new nominee or "savior" poses serious risks (Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush are most frequently mentioned). Namely, it would circumvent the all-important vetting process of a long primary campaign.

Moreover, an outside nominee would have serious trouble proving his or her legitimacy. Even at the brokered 1968 convention in which the Democrats nominated Hubert Humphrey, who had not actively competed in the primaries, he was already known as the sitting vice president. Thus he was not an out-of-the-blue surprise.

Not only will a new candidate need to overcome the perception of a back-room deal; he or she will need to pivot into a full-borne, two-month sprint against President Obama's re-election machine -- an impossibly daunting task.

An easier solution awaits: One of the current candidates can co-opt the mood that brought the calls for a brokered convention in the first place. He must take bold stands, break free from the establishment mold and show that he is willing to make drastic reforms.

And by all means, especially if it's Romney, he needs to choose a running mate who captures the fire that lit up the 2010 primaries and House races and delivered the chamber to the Republicans for the first time in ages.

If the nominee-in-waiting does all that, the idea of a brokered convention will be long forgotten before he takes the stage at the Tampa convention.

***

Adam Silbert, an attorney, served as a deputy field organizer for the 2008 Obama campaign in Pennsylvania.