A brokered convention is extremely rare, with the last GOP brokered convention occurring in 1948. A brokered convention occurs when no candidate gets the appropriate number of candidates needed to secure the nomination. To further complicate the matter, the Republican Party in 2012 added a bylaw named “Rule 40” which states, “ that any potential nominee must “demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight or more states.” At the convention a “first ballot” is taken and if no candidate receives the 1,237vote majority, the convention is considered brokered. At this point delegates are no longer tied to their candidate and they can vote for whomever they want. A contested convention is also a possibility, this occurs when a delegate does not have the majority of delegates heading into the convention but receives the majority after the first ballot.
There is little historical precedent for what occurs at a brokered convention, this is particularly important in the 2016 election with the Republican establishment firmly against leading candidate Donald Trump. In 1948 three ballots were taken before New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey received the nomination over candidates Robert A. Taft and Harold Stassen. Before that in 1880 thirty five ballots were taken before the two leading candidates threw their support behind Andrew Garfield who was not even running at the time. This lack of precedent could mean madness in Cleveland for the Republican Convention.
Will there be a brokered convention?
Although there are many winner take all states in the Republican Primary, most distribute delegates proportionally, making it more difficult to predict the specific number of delegates Trump will win. Nevertheless, FiveThirtyEight has provided delegate goals for the candidates in each of the remaining states. In order to reach the magic number of 1,237 Trump will have to meet or exceed these goals:
The FiveThirtyEight team worked with a diverse group of analysts to predict what will probably happen, ignoring these goals. All predict a close call with the overall average prediction having Trump narrowly missing the 1,237 mark (see below). However, some of the biggest states including New York and California have some caveats that could bolster Trump’s chances. If Trump wins his home state by more than 50% he will take home all the delegates. California’s heavily Democratic districts are currently a mystery, and could sway to any candidate at this point.
Even if this averaged prediction is correct and Donald Trump fall just short of having 1,237 pledged delegates, he would need very few unpledged delegates to join him in order to reach this majority. This makes it even less likely that there will be a brokered convention. Earlier this month, Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee Chairman has doubted that there will be a brokered convention. Notably, he said that the Republican Party will be “100 percent for the nominee.” This points to quite the dilemma. The Republican establishment is afraid of a Trump nomination, partially because it increases the chances of a Democrat victory.
But a potential Trump independent run will be equally detrimental to the party, and would make unpledged Republicans inclined to not have a brokered convention. Because Trump is very close to winning 1,237 pledged delegates and because any deficit can be easily made up, there likely will not be a brokered convention. However, the math is very close, and this race has proved to be very unpredictable.
If there is a brokered convention, what might happen?
Many states have laws requiring their delegates to vote with the majority of the state’s voters, or perhaps according to a more complex system, like “winner-take-most” rather than winner-take-all. If a convention is contested without a clear majority, the delegates vote multiple times until one candidate receives 1,237 votes. After the first vote, most delegates can vote however they choose, regardless of the voters in their state. This means a contested or brokered convention could swing wildly away from the predicted outcome based on polls and voters, in theory. In practice, this seems unlikely, but with a wild card, antiestablishment candidate like Donald Trump, perhaps anything can happen.
The last brokered convention to occur was the Democratic Convention of 1952, which produced Adlai Stevenson as a nominee. The last nominee from a brokered convention to win the presidency was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Often, the floor fight of such a convention damages a candidate’s public image so much that he or she loses legitimacy and popularity. In 2016, the topic of a contested or brokered convention has come up in the national conversation always in association with taking down Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. Many GOP elites are unhappy with the success of a candidate they have no control over, and would like an establishment candidate to take the over in the potential chaos of a contested convention. Pundits have thrown out the idea of people like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin or former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, both men who are not currently candidates for the nomination, re entering the race should the convention be contested.
Currently, commentators are hesitant to predict what will happen should the convention be contested before more delegates have been allotted. If Trump has a clear lead, many say it would be hard to deny him the nomination despite the party elite’s hatred of him. If he has a smaller lead, it is more likely that delegates would select another candidate, such as John Kasich or even Ted Cruz, not to mention someone like Romney or Walker, should the convention really take a wild turn. However, as Trump himself said last week, if there is a brokered convention, “there will be riots.”