By Rachel Blevins
With the rise of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, the Republican Party is facing a conundrum centered on a brokered convention.
According to the Party’s rules, a brokered convention occurs when no single candidate receives at least 1,237 out of the 2,472 available delegates. As of the New York primary on April 19, Trump is well in the lead with 845 delegates, but he still needs at least 392 out of the remaining 733 delegates to secure the nomination.
If Trump does not receive the required number by June 7, the Party’s nominee would be chosen during a convention in July, where the delegates who attend would cast a series of ballots.
Chad Hasty, host of the Chad Hasty Show on KFYO News Talk Radio, noted that while the rules can change at any time leading up to the first day of the convention, according to the latest rules put into place by the Republican National Committee in 2012, the only candidates eligible to win the nomination are those who have won the majority of delegates in eight states.
“As you go further into the process, on your first ballot, your delegates are bound,” Hasty said. “In other words, you’re bound by how your state voted. The first ballot is not really a secret.”
Hasty said on the second and third ballots, more and more delegates become unbound, meaning they are free to vote for a candidate of their choice, regardless of their constituents’ vote. The process then continues until one candidate receives 51 percent of the delegate votes.
“Trump has been going around saying that Ted Cruz has been winning all of these delegates and that the system is rigged,” Hasty said. “But the reason he is saying that is because Cruz and his campaign have done an excellent job—they have a campaign apparatus—that they have gone into these state conventions and said, ‘You have to vote the way your state voted on the first ballot, but I want my supporters to be delegates overall, so that way they can vote for me on a second or third ballot.’”
Seth McKee, an associate professor of political science at Texas Tech University, called Trump a “movement candidate,” and said he thinks the fact that Trump is not the typical politician has helped him gain popularity throughout the course of the election.
“[Trump] has these voters who don’t necessarily care what he says, or whether he behaves badly,” McKee said. “But they think he can be a fixer, and they think that the mess in Washington is something he is capable of dealing with.”
McKee said that although Trump is a plurality candidate in terms of voter popularity, he is not the majority candidate and does not have the support of the Republican Party.
“He’s sort of a factional candidate in that regard, and that’s why so many people really don’t like him,” McKee said. “And the fact that he isn’t necessarily ‘one of them,’ when you think about what the Republican Party stands for these days.”
Bryan McLaughlin, an assistant professor of advertising at Texas Tech, said one of the reasons Trump has done so well is because voters in the primary process differ from voters in the general election.
“The people who go out and vote in primaries tend to be the most politically engaged, and these are the people who generally hold the most polarized attitudes,” McLaughlin said. “What’s happened is that the primary process encourages candidates to adopt more polarized policy positions in order to secure the presidential nomination.”
Catherine Langford, an associate professor of communication studies at Texas Tech, said part of the reason Trump has gained popularity is because his messages offer a “spectacle,” which attracts media attention.
“Trump has surprised the GOP,” Langford said. “No one thought he was a serious candidate with the desire to go the distance in this election. That’s part of the reason why we saw so many candidates hang on for as long as they did. People thought that Trump would tire of the game of running for office. Now he’s gained so much momentum with delegates that the GOP isn’t certain what to do to stop him.”
If the Republican Party does turn to a brokered convention to determine the 2016 nominee, Hasty said it is unlikely an outside candidate would steal the nomination.
“I think that the American people would have a problem with someone who did not seek the office, actually winning the nomination,” Hasty said.
Even if Cruz is chosen as the nominee through a brokered convention, Hasty said, many Republicans would still vote for him if only to defeat Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.
After leading the race thus far, if Trump were denied the nomination at a brokered convention, it would be a “historic disaster,” McKee said.
“Democracy is a fundamental part of how these nominations are won,” he said. “And to the extent that there is more support for Donald Trump than anyone else, just how can you pull that off—giving it to someone else—and justify it?”