Tuesday, March 08, 2016

A civics lesson

I've been getting a civics lesson lately in what is meant by a "brokered convention." I've done some googling, and asked a poli sci expert, and you can check out what I say for yourself and correct me if I'm wrong. With that caveat, here's what I believe I've learned.

Contrary to popular impressions fostered by vague headlines, vague articles, and vague talk, a contested or brokered convention (say, the Republican convention in July) is not a convention in which "the establishment" simply picks a political candidate out of nowhere, whom no one wants, and by fiat makes him the party nominee.

All the talk about "stealing" the convention or "taking" the nomination from a candidate who has a bare plurality (but doesn't meet pre-existing party rules for number of delegates for the nomination) is sheer rhetoric, and misleading, and I will no longer be a party (pun intended) to it.

In the end, the delegates choose the nominee. It's like voting for the pope. If no one has the required number of delegate votes on the first ballot, where they are all bound to vote for the candidate they came there to represent, they are freed from their original pledge, and the delegates vote over and over again until someone gets the requisite number of delegate votes. So the nomination is still made by the delegates. Any wheeling and dealing, any "brokering," any influence, must ultimately cash out in terms of delegate votes on some subsequent ballot. The delegates must be persuaded.

Now, certainly, illegitimate things could be done there. People could be outright bribed with $10k apiece. People could be outright threatened with physical harm. There is plenty of room for corruption as there is, unfortunately, in any political process, including votes of Congress.

But the process is not intrinsically wrong, corrupt, or even "undemocratic," anymore than are votes in Congress. People have this weird idea that democracy isn't democracy unless representatives are automata. In this case, the delegates should be thought of as representatives. They get sent to the convention in the first place according to all the Byzantine rules by which the popular primary (and caucus) votes select them. Once there, they vote. First according to their pledge, and, if that doesn't garner any one candidate the required total on the first ballot, according to however they are persuaded to vote. This isn't intrinsically bad any more than any representative democratic process is bad.

I am sorry to see that even some sensible people (including my favorite candidate, Ted Cruz, himself) are getting into this talk about "stealing" the nomination and the "illegitimacy" of a brokered convention. At this point, if D.T. cannot get enough delegate votes ahead of the convention, then guess what? The real "fix" would be just saying, "Ha, we didn't mean it. We'll give you the nomination even though you never won enough delegate votes." That would be illegitimate. He, just like anyone else, has to win enough delegate votes on some ballot or other. And if he can't win it on the first ballot, then he has to try to win it on subsequent ballots. Requiring that is just fair play. Indeed if anyone is likely to cheat at that point and use outright illegitimate tactics, perhaps threatening delegates with personal harm if they don't support him on subsequent votes, I fear that it is D.T.--the very man whose followers are most likely to yell about "letting the will of the people be heard" and "not stealing the nomination."

Cruz himself should hope to be the unity candidate in case of a contested convention (that's certainly what I hope), and unfortunately he's leaving himself only the tiniest inch of wiggle room, if that, in the above linked interview to do that without being accused of hypocrisy.

I think we conservatives, of all people, ought to be here to educate ourselves and others about how these processes actually work, not just to repeat talking points and empty rhetoric. I offer this post as a small step in that direction.

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