Three Republican primaries or caucuses have ended with three different winners. Upcoming state contests may make the Republican candidate picture clearer, but if division remains, the Grand Old Party could end up with a brokered convention.
“Most delegates selected through the primary and caucus process are committed to a particular candidate for the initial convention voting,” says Gregory P. Magarian, JD, election law expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.
“If the process of voting based on delegates’ commitments does not produce a nominee, then something has to break the logjam. After the initial ballots, delegates are freed from their original commitments.
“The likeliest scenario is that one delegate will persuade another candidates’ delegates to switch their allegiance on a later ballot,” he says. “But more dramatic steps might conceivably happen, including the entry of a new candidate.”
A surprise candidate?
Magarian says that once delegates are free from their commitments, nothing would stop a new candidate from entering the fray and winning the nomination.
“In my view, this is extremely unlikely,” he says.
“A new candidate would risk alienating Republican voters, whose will would be subverted by the nomination of a new candidate. The new candidate would also not have run the gauntlet of the nominating process. That would be a problem for the general election, both practically and as a matter of voters’ perception. The candidate might get an initial novelty bounce in the polls, but ultimately, I doubt voters would elect a candidate whom they had only recently gotten to know.”
Magarian says this is especially true in this year’s GOP race, where none of the commonly cited alternatives — Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — has ever run a national race.
Impact of the superdelegates
“The Republicans, like the Democrats, seat a large number of ‘superdelegates’ at the national convention,” Magarian says.
“The superdelegates, mostly party establishment figures, go in uncommitted, so their swing to one of the frontrunners could settle even a very close contest on the first ballot, effectively ‘brokering’ an unbrokered convention.”
Magarian notes that there are a lot of primaries and caucuses left in which one candidate is likely to gain traction. “Even the very close 2008 Democratic race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton led to a settled result before the national convention,” he says.
“But anything can happen.”