Why Republican Party Delegate Rules Might Cause Them Convention Trouble

A long contested race plus new anti-Ron Paul rules from 2012 could leave many GOP faithful feeling locked out.


A wade into the weeds of Republican Party delegate assignment rules, by former Reagan staffer Donald Devine over at American Conservative, which have changed in important ways since 2012. Those changes are leading some to wonder if the Party isn't creating a very strong possibility that delegates will enter the convention with no clear winner.

The core of the potential problem:

The Southern Super Tuesday primaries and the other Southern contests before March 15 are required for the first time to award their primary delegates by proportional representation where each candidate wins only the percentage of delegates he receives from the popular vote, rather than the first-place candidate winning all delegates. That method guarantees no candidate will be able to build a commanding lead until after March 15 when winner-take-all nomination contests become possible.

Southern states made a bargain of sorts with the Party and the nation: they were willing to make their results' actual impact in delegate assignment smaller in order to make themselves seem more relevant by occurring earlier in the process before everything seemed like a done deal. 

This leads Devine to strongly suspect, in a world where neither Trump nor Cruz or any other non-Trump is able to start a true sweep of delegate numbers, that this might lead to a contested convention this summer, with no clear winner going in. But:

Republican party chairman Reince Priebus is confident that there will be no contested convention. He recently told Time magazine: "I know the rules pretty well, I'm pretty confident in how delegates are allocated, I helped write a lot of the rules and I believe that clarity will come very soon" as to who will win the nomination. The current plethora of candidates "doesn't mean that, by the end of March or mid-April, the end of April, that it isn't going to be very clear. There's only so much money to go around, there's only so long everyone can keep fighting." He claimed he was prepared for a contested convention but based on his expertise did not expect one, "so it's not like I need some sort of expert help to understand our own governing rules or how our convention might run."

Devine thinks it looks likely that at least three or more somewhat appealing candidates can stay in the game through the Spring or perhaps beyond.

Another change, aimed at making sure Ron Paul or future Ron Paul types could carry no weight on the convention floor, states that no candidate who does not command a plurality of the delegations of eight states or more can even get officially placed in nomination or have his/her vote counted, which could disenfranchise a lot of delegates whose guys or gals don't win enough states.

These leads old Party hand Morton Blackwell, who hates the new rules, to posit this potential conundrum for the GOP come convention time:

Assume that Candidate A wins 38% of the delegate votes at the national convention, then that Candidate B wins 39% of the delegate votes, and that candidates C, D, E, F, and G among them win the remaining 23% of the delegate votes.  With many states binding their delegate votes proportionally to their presidential primary votes, this could happen.

Assume also that none of the five candidates whose numbers made up that 23% of the convention votes won the majority of delegate votes in at least eight states.  That would be likely.

Then assume that a big majority of the Delegates whose votes were bound to Candidates C, D, E, F, and G would vote for Candidate A on a second ballot. That couldn't happen because there wouldn't be a second ballot.  Under the current rules, the votes for Candidates C, D, E, F, and G wouldn't be counted. Candidate B would receive the presidential nomination with the votes of only 39% of the duly elected Delegates, although a majority of the total number of Delegates preferred Candidate A over Candidate B.

Will the Party powers care if that happens? Probably not much. But lots of potential Republican voters who feel disenfranchised just might.