‘They Are in a Panic’: Breaking Down a Brokered Convention and What It Means for Establishment Republicans

As threats of a contested or brokered Republican National Convention loom, a longtime member of the party’s rules committee observed, “Something important is going on.”

That “something,” according to Virginia Republican National Committeeman Morton Blackwell, is what he referred to as the unprecedented and unpredictable defeat of establishment Republican candidates by more conservative or so-called “outsider” contestants in the 2016 presidential race thus far — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and businessman Donald Trump.

Yet despite their success over establishment candidates in the Republican primary, there is a brewing possibility of a contested or brokered convention that is becoming more frequently discussed in party and media circles as both candidates could head into the Cleveland convention this summer shy of the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 24:  Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus speaks at the annual RNC winter meeting January 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Significant changes in the Republican party's nominating process and national convention schedule are being discussed at this year's meeting.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Contrary to an abundance of misuse by pundits and media outlets, a “contested” convention is not perfectly synonymous with a “brokered” convention. If the candidates head into this summer’s convention without one of them having secured a majority of delegates, the convention is considered “contested.”

If no candidate has reached the magic number after the first round of voting, then it becomes a “brokered” convention, and delegates continue to vote until a candidate hits that majority of delegates. And as a brokered convention commences, most delegates are unbound and free to vote for anyone — including someone not running for president.

In an interview with TheBlaze, Blackwell, who also serves as president of the conservative Leadership Institute, noted that a rule added to the 2012 GOP convention in Tampa stipulated that besides reaching the delegate threshold, a candidate also needs to garner support of the majority of delegates in eight or more states — a feat that Blackwell speculated might be accomplished by only Cruz or Trump.

“The establishment understands that,” he said. “It has come to them belatedly, and now that the only two candidates for whom votes can be counted appear to be Trump or Cruz, they are in a panic.”

As Blackwell argued that the irony of the establishment’s panic over a contested convention without any of their chosen candidates shouldn’t be ignored since the Rule 40 (B) bylaw, which instituted eight-state requirement, was pushed as a way to ensure the nomination of establishment favorite Mitt Romney against a possible incursion by libertarian-leaning Ron Paul.

Blackwell argued that any consideration by the GOP now to change the rule for the upcoming convention would be unfair to the Cruz and Trump campaigns, saying that since the party “wrote the rules, now they’ve got to live with them.”

“They have the power to make changes at the RNC level and at the standing committee on rules level, but you can imagine how the Cruz campaign and the Trump campaign are going to react to that,” Blackwell said. “It’s an unfair changing of the rules in the middle of the game. People are trying to steal the convention and permit an establishment candidate to be the nominee who couldn’t be nominated under the rules that the establishment imposed on them.”

“You can imagine the permutations of that argument said at a considerably higher decibel level,” he added. “It would be awful. I think it would be a very bad idea to propose changes, except by consensus, to the rules of the nomination process at the convention.”

For his part, Blackwell did suggest changing the controversial rule at the RNC’s January meeting in Charleston, South Carolina — a failed attempt that he detailed extensively in a piece for RedState earlier this month. Blackwell said he attempted to “correct this outrageous, unfair, and counterproductive 2012 Romney power grab” and came close to doing so.

But as Blackwell told TheBlaze, “The same acts can be perfectly appropriate at one time and grossly inappropriate at another.”

As reported by Breitbart, a right-leaning site known for its pro-Trump coverage, political consultant Roger Stone predicted that the RNC will indeed attempt to change the rules at the convention — even if Trump walked into the Cleveland convention with at least 1,237 delegates.

“In a number of states, the Republican chairman is essentially placing non-Trump people into Trump delegate slots,” Stone alleged. “Under the party rules, anyone can register to be a delegate. You don’t have to really be ‘a Trump supporter.’ While those delegates would be bound by the results of primaries or caucuses to vote for Trump on the first ballot, they are not bound on procedural matters like the rules.”

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus defended the party and its convention rules in an interview with CNN last week during which he attributed a “perception of a problem” with the rules committee to people who do not “explain the process properly.”

“So the 2012 rules committee writes the rules for the 2012 convention. The 2016 rules committee writes the rules for the 2016 convention,” he said. “Are you trying to say that the rules committee made up of Romney delegates should enforce the rules for the 2016 convention which is largely made up of Trump, Cruz delegates? That wouldn’t make any sense, would it?”

Yet, the irony of the establishment’s panic isn’t noted by only Blackwell. The libertarian Paul, who was supposedly directly affected by the added convention rule in 2012, said the GOP “deserves” its recent headache.

“I think it’s a bit of an irony, and they deserve the problem,” Paul told CNN in an interview this month. “They’re terrified of competition, and now the establishment has competition that really looks strong, and there’s a lot of people behind Trump.”

Paul added, “So this is a big problem for them.”

Blackwell contended that there “are now only two ways to amend the rules of the Cleveland convention in the presidential nomination process — by a consensus among all major players or by a ferocious rules fight that could split the party.”

“I don’t think it’s likely we’ll see a consensus among all the major players, and I certainly don’t want there to be, on this matter particularly, a ferocious rules fight that would split the party,” Blackwell said.

As of Monday, Trump leads the GOP candidates with 739 delegates, followed by Cruz with 465 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich with 143.

The author of this article previously reported for Campus Reform, a project of the Leadership Institute. 

Follow Kaitlyn Schallhorn (@K_Schallhorn) on Twitter

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