Thursday, November 5, 2015

Karl Rove Tries His Hand at a Brokered Deadlocked Convention Scenario...

...and the results aren't pretty.

Count FHQ among the skeptics when it comes to the quadrennial parlor game that is "[fill in the blank] party will have a brokered convention and here's why." For the 2016 cycle all eyes are once again on the Republican Party and the potential for a chaotic 15-candidate field to yield an equally chaotic nomination process (through the primaries and caucuses) that in turn leads to a national convention serving as the final arbiter. The 2016 version of the parlor game can now include Karl Rove in its ranks.

The only problem is he does a stunningly bad job of weaving the chaos to deadlocked convention scenario. Let's break this down:

First, Rove essentially tells us how the field of candidates is likely to winnow. He shunts the bottom ten to the side and focuses on a race he sees coming down to Bush, Carson, Cruz, Rubio and Trump. The first rule of the brokered convention game is to not pre-winnow the field. That was mistake number one. And it is a big one. If 15 is chaotic, then 5 candidates seems, well, normal.

After winnowing the field for us, Rove then jumps into the delegate selection process. To me, this was just tough to read. Rove's accounting of the rules was riddled with mistakes and inaccuracies:

1) "The exception is South Carolina, whose winner-take-all primary was grandfathered in."
This is a loose definition of winner-take-all. The winner of the South Carolina primary will not necessarily win all of the Republican delegates from the Palmetto state. South Carolina is a winner-take-most primary. The statewide winner will claim the at-large delegates and the winner of each of the state's seven congressional districts will win three delegates per congressional district won. To win them all, a candidate would have to win in a variety of districts and by quite a lot statewide. 
2) "Add in the eight states voting on or after March 15 that also award their delegates proportionally, and some 60% of the convention’s likely total of 2,470 will be allotted that way."
That 60% proportional figure seems a bit high. Proportional means different things in different states. As Rove notes, some states have a floor percentage that candidates must hit in order to qualify for delegates in that state (and/or their congressional districts). Others have no such floor. However, Rove failed to mention that there is also a floor for triggering a winner-take-all allocation in some proportional states at the state or district level. Sure, the argument could be made that in a wild race with many candidates, no one is going to hit the 50% level that some states have in place to become winner-take-all (or winner-take-most). But if the field winnows to five or fewer candidates, hitting that majority threshold and thus a winner-take-all allocation becomes more likely. And a deadlocked convention becomes less likely in that scenario. Not more. 
3) "On March 15 five states and one territory, awarding 361 delegates, will vote. Of these, 292 will be winner-take-all."
Misleading. Period. First, those five states on March 15 (Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio) and one territory (Northern Mariana Islands) account for 367 delegates, not 361 as Rove notes. Of those 367, only 174 are truly winner-take-all (defined as "you win the state, you win all the delegates"). That's Florida's 99, Ohio's 66 and the Mariana's 9. That's it. North Carolina is proportional. Missouri is winner-take-most. The winner of the statewide vote would only receive 9 at-large delegates (out of 52 delegates total). Illinois is a loophole primary where congressional district delegates are directly elected on the primary ballot. Like Missouri, only the at-large delegates are allocated to the winner of the statewide primary in Illinois. There are only 15 at-large delegates at stake in that primary.
4) "The final primaries will be held June 7, when 294 delegates, all but 21 chosen by winner-take-all, will be at stake. California and New Jersey will dominate that day."
The claim that only 21 delegates out of 294 are allocated in some manner other than winner-take-all would mean something if it were true. It isn't. Say it with me, folks, "California is not winner-take-all." No one is going to walk into the Golden state on June 7 and leave with all 172 delegates. Actually, that's not true. Someone could do that, but that candidate would likely already be the presumptive nominee (see 2012), and that does not fit with Rove's narrative of a brokered convention. New Jersey is truly winner-take-all. South Dakota is truly winner-take-all. So is Montana. California is like South Carolina above: winner-take-most/winner-take-all by congressional district. 
5) "Moreover, GOP rules allow for the creation of “superdelegates,” with more than half of state parties exercising the option to make their chairman, national committeewoman and national committeeman automatic delegates. These uncommitted delegates, 210 in all, could be the most fluid force in the convention if no candidate has locked in victory."
FHQ doesn't know where to start with this one. Well, this idea that the RNC rules allow for the "creation" of superdelegates is as good a place as any. What is more chaotic and brokered conventiony than making it seem like the national party can stack the deck in some way for some preferred candidate? In the Year of the Outsider and discontent with the party establishment, probably nothing. Only, the only thing that is nefarious here is how Rove has described it. The state party chairman, national committeeman and national committeewoman are automatically delegates to the convention. That is why they are called automatic delegates. Neither these folks nor those positions are created. They exist. There is no swelling of their ranks to increase their power. Rather, this is a set number of delegates.
Actually it is a set number of delegates the power of which Rove overstates by mixing their discussion in with uncommitted delegates. Some of the automatic delegates are bound (roughly 40% of the 168 total automatic delegates) and the remainder are unbound. That roughly 60% of the automatic delegates gets combined with the unbound delegations from North Dakota, Wyoming and the fraction of Pennsylvania delegates (congressional district delegates) who are unbound. But let's put those automatic delegates in their proper context. 
There is a lot of nuance to all of this -- the rules -- that Rove just glosses over, all the while painting an inaccurate picture of how nomination system works or is likely to work in 2016. Again, FHQ is skeptical of the deadlocked convention scenario and the chaos theory more generally, but even brokered convention fans would counter Rove that he left out the biggest problem in the rules: the new Rule 40. Heck, it (Rule 40) is even back in the news this week. Rove, then, is wrong on both sides.

The Rule 40 issue depends on this: 1) early states are proportional, 2) there are a lot of candidates running for the Republican nomination, and 3) one of those candidates has to control of majority of the delegates from at least 8 states to be nominated at the national convention.

Some would contend that that combination will mean that no one will get to the 1230-something delegates necessary to clinch the nomination and that furthermore, either no one will control 8 delegations or multiple candidates will. The problem with the problem that is Rule 40 is that it assumes there is no winnowing or only winnowing to a certain point and that is just not how things tend to work in a sequential system like the presidential nomination process. Each week or every few days there are new results give advantage to one candidates and puts pressure on others to withdraw. Lack of support leads to dwindling resources. Dwindling resources leads to a future lack of support in primaries and caucuses.

That's exactly why Rove almost immediately eliminated ten of the 15 candidates before jumping into the rules. He probably should have kept going.

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