(CN) – It was supposed to clarify the rules by which the GOP will choose its presidential nominee three months from now, when 2,472 delegates gather in Cleveland for the party’s nominating convention.
Instead, the just-concluded meeting of 168 members of the Republican National Committee and top party functionaries at a beachside resort south of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. only seemed to heighten tensions between the GOP and Donald Trump, its frontrunning candidate.
In the process it virtually guaranteed the nomination will come down to which candidate the three still in the race or an as-yet unknown “white knight” has the best “boiler room” operation behind the scenes and emerges victorious from a messy, fractious fight for delegate votes on the convention floor.
All this became clear Friday night, when during a speech to committee members, GOP Chairman Reince Priebus said it doesn’t matter how close a candidate comes in the primaries and caucuses, if he doesn’t come to the July convention with the necessary 1,237 delegates to claim the nomination outright, he’s going to have to fight for it.
“If we don’t abide by the majority, we don’t honor one of the bedrock values of American government,” Priebus said.
“Majority rule is as American as apple pie or [baseball’s] Opening Day,” he added.
Trump is the only candidate in the race for the Republican nomination who continues to have any chance of winning enough delegates to secure the nomination. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is second in terms of delegates, was mathematically eliminated from a first-ballot victory at the convention by his poor showing in the New York State primary last week.
However, many in the party’s establishment are loath to have the bellicose Trump be the GOP’s standard-bearer in the November elections. They are pinning their hopes on Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich doing well enough in the remaining contests to deny the billionaire real estate developer and reality TV star the delegates he needs.
If they do, then as Priebus made clear, anything can happen something Trump knows only too well.
While Trump has trounced his opponents in contest after contest, Cruz has proven adept at besting the frontrunner time and again when it comes to preparing for a contested nomination process. He’s done this by ensuring that delegates who’ll support him on a second ballot regardless of whether they’re pledged to somebody else on the first are seated at the GOP convention.
Speaking Friday night in Delaware, one of five states that hold Republican primaries on Tuesday, Trump blasted his party’s leadership, dismissively referring to them as “bosses,” and the delegate selection methods they espouse.
“The system is all rigged,” he said at a rally in Harrington, Del., where attendees were happy to hear their candidate fired up.
“That’s why we have to win big. That’s why on Tuesday, everyone has to go out and vote. We have to win big because the system is rigged,” he said.
In recent days Trump has been particularly upset by the situation in Pennsylvania, another of the states voting Tuesday, where delegate selection is about as chaotic as a Jackson Pollock painting.
In all, 71 delegates are at stake in the Republican contest. But the winner of the primary will receive only 17 pledged delegates.
The other 54 delegates selected out of a potential pool of 162 names on the ballot, can vote for whomever they want.
And there’s another wrinkle, regarding the ballot itself. While it will list the prospective delegate’s name, it will include no information about whom they support.
That means the campaigns will be responsible for getting the word out to voters about their respective slate of candidates a ground game at which, as already noted, Cruz excels, but Trump flounders.
To sort all this out and get an outsider’s perspective on how the race for the White House will ultimately play out, Courthouse News recently caught up with Washington insider, journalist and pundit Morton Kondrake.
Perhaps best known for his work in television, where for years he was a regular panelist on “The McLaughlin Group,” co-hosted CNN’s “The Beltway Boys” and been a frequent contributor on the Fox News Channel, Kondrake’s long and varied career has mostly been in print journalism.
He has served as the executive editor and columnist for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, been the Washington bureau chief of Newsweek, a senior editor of The New Republic, and a columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
Kondrake is now the co-author, with fellow McLaughlin Group alum Fred Barnes, of “Jack Kemp: The Bleeding Heart Conservative Who Changed America.”
He also happens to have some experience with contested Republican conventions. The very first convention he covered, in 1976, featured a pitched battle between former California Gov. Ronald Reagan and incumbent president Gerald Ford.
“The situation we’re in now is one we really haven’t seen since then,” Kondrake said. “If nobody has 1,237 on the first ballot, the delegates will then be free to vote their conscience and a chaotic dynamic will ensue where it will come down to horse-trading.
“There have been other examples of this in American history,” he continued. “Abraham Lincoln went into the 1860 Republican National Convention third and he wound up with the nomination. Of course, it was different then. There were no elected delegates in those days. But it was multiple ballots and his people worked the floor and he secured the nomination.
“Similarly, I was just reading a book called “Those Angry Days” by Lynne Olson, about the nomination of Wendell Willkie in 1940,” Kondrake said. “Going into the Republican National Convention that year, New York District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey was the frontrunner, and Ohio Sen. Bob Taft had the next most delegates, but both were isolationists at a time when Nazi Germany was on the March.
“This was a great concern to what I’ll call ‘Eastern establishment’ types, who were afraid the United States was going to abandon Europe and Britain to the Nazis. So Henry Luce, the publisher of Time magazine, and a bunch of bankers engineered a publicity campaign on behalf of Willkie, who was pro intervention, and it resulted in avalanches of mail being delivered to delegates urging them to nominate the establishment’s candidate.
“So the nomination has been stolen before from a frontrunner,” Kondrake said. “All within the rules, of course. I mean, the rules are the rules.”
At the meeting in Florida, GOP committee members ratified more than 40 rules, some of which appear to conflict.
For instance, the existing rules say that in order to have his name placed in nomination, a candidate must certify that he has the support of the majority of delegates from at least eight states. However, the rules also say that delegates are bound by their states to support specific candidates on the first ballot even if their candidate isn’t formally nominated.
The latter provision is why Sen. Marco Rubio wrote state GOP officials in March, stating that he wanted to hold on to the 164 delegates he won before suspending his campaign following his Florida primary loss.
Many of the rules are evergreen, simple guides to procedural housekeeping. Others are of a more recent vintage. The eight-state rule mentioned above, for instance, was adopted at Mitt Romney’s urging at the 2012 convention. At the time, he was worried about being shown up by supporters of Ron Paul, the improbable dark horse candidate of that election cycle who had a committed and vocal following.
The eight-state threshold rule also brings up another point any of the 42 exiting rules can be changed at the convention.
“For instance, the rules committee can say, 1,237 isn’t the threshold for securing the nomination anymore, or it can say, forget the eight-state rule let’s raise the bar a little higher,” Kondrake said.
“It all depends on who has managed to get the most of his supporters on the rules committee,” he said. “If the Trumpies are in control, they might say, ‘Forget 1,237, the candidate with the most delegates regardless of the actual number should get the nomination.”
If no one manages to secure the nomination on the first ballot after all that maneuvering, it’s time for the horse-trading to begin.
“It’s politics. It’s promises. And this is the time when who can beat Hillary and save the Republican’s Senate majority becomes the primary selling point,” Kondrake said.
The scenario Kondrake described was not all that different from what transpired at the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri.
Gerald Ford was vying for his first full term as president, having succeeded Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal. Going into the convention, Ford had won more primary delegates than Reagan, but didn’t have enough to secure the nomination.
Both Ford and Reagan arrived in the convention’s host city early to woo uncommitted delegates, but Reagan made two missteps. The first was promising that if nominated, he would name Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania, a liberal, as his running mate. Conservatives in the party balked at the choice. In fact, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina was so angry that he began a movement to draft another conservative as a possible nominee.
Hoping to regroup, Reagan’s campaign staff then pushed for a rules change that would have forced Ford to publicly announce his running mate before the balloting began. Reagan hoped by making a choice, Ford would lose the support of delegates who wanted somebody else, making those votes ripe for the picking.
The gambit didn’t pay off. Seeing Reagan’s move as a ham-fisted attempt to have Ford repeat the same mistake he’d made, his campaign staff quickly spun the proposed rule change as the “misery loves company” amendment, and it quickly fizzled. With that, Ford narrowly secured the nomination, only to go on to lose to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
Ironically, Carter himself would face a contested convention four years later. The 1980 Democratic nominating convention in New York was the last time a candidate attempted to upend the process by attempting to get delegates released from their voting commitments. In this case, it was Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts who was making a bid to unseat Carter. Carter won on the convention floor, but was defeated by Reagan in the 1980 general election.
“In each of these cases, the frontrunner won, but it was in doubt for awhile,” Kondrake said. “Now, getting back to 2016, say the frontrunner is denied the nomination on the first ballot; at that point, as a candidate, you are trying to achieve the magic number on subsequent ballots by literally going from delegation to delegation and in some cases delegate to delegate to secure their support.”
In practice, everyone vying for the nomination will have a “boiler room,” a command center and a strategy team, overseeing their delegate outreach effort.
“The boiler room will know the name, and have lots of data, on every delegate,” Kondrake said. “They’ll know what their interests are, where they are from, what they care about most, who their relatives are, who their best friends are … and they will be worked … by promises, by appeals to their principles and all of that. Each of the campaigns will be trying their darnedest to pull those delegates to their campaign. This is how it has always been done and how it will be done … and I’m sure the boiler rooms are ginning up, even as we speak.”
Kondrake said he believes a so-called “white knight” someone who hasn’t run in the primaries but is cast or is casting themselves as the savior of the party will have a much harder time securing the nomination than either Cruz or Kasich or even Marco Rubio.
One highly touted white knight, House Speaker Paul Ryan, removed himself from contention earlier this month.
Kondrake said Mitt Romney’s name “is in the air,” but “having lost last time, I don’t think he has a prayer.”
In their book, Kondrake and Fred Barnes contend Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, who died in 2009, “was the most important politician of the twentieth century who was not president, certainly the most influential Republican.”
They base this contention in large part on Kemp’s having been the man who steered President Ronald Reagan to supply side economics, a complicated theory that most explain by saying its adherents believe tax cuts, couple with less government regulation, are the best way to stimulate economic activity.
But Kemp, a former NFL quarterback who served nine years in Congress and was housing secretary in the administration of George H.W. Bush, could never secure the presidency for himself.
He made an unsuccessful bid for the White House in 1988, and was former Sen. Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996.
In both races, and really, throughout his career, Kemp maintained “The purpose of politics is not to defeat your opponents as much as it is to provide superior leadership and better ideas than the opposition.”
He was a fiscal conservative, but advocated immigration reform.
Kondrake believes that had he lived, Kemp would be shocked and in despair over what’s transpired during the race for 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
“Bear in mind that when we finished this book, well over a year ago, we had no idea Donald Trump would be the frontrunner for the nomination. The words ‘Donald Trump’ do not even appear in the book. That said, what I’ve been saying on this book tour is that I believe Jack Kemp would have been perfectly appalled by what’s going on,” Kondrake said.
“He was positive. He was optimistic. He was inclusive. He was compassionate. He never insulted anybody – even when he should have,” the author continued. “He never went negative. He was the absolute antithesis of Donald Trump and I would say, Ted Cruz too because Kemp worked across party lines, wouldn’t shut down the government, and on and on.”
“As a matter of fact, he thought the party was going in the wrong direction in the 1990s when Newt Gingrich was campaigning to overthrow the Democrats in Congress. He thought that was nasty and negative.”
One wondered then, whether a possible white knight might emerge from the Jack Kemp wing of the Republican party. The only problem is, there isn’t one.
“There is a kind of Kemp nostalgia, but at the same time, there’s kind of a screwy division in the Republican party right now, beyond the Tea Party and all that,” Kondrake said. “There’s a group called the ‘Reform Republicans’ who are basically intellectuals. They are not politicians. They are idea people.
“The Wall Street Journal conservatives regard them as renegades, but they are sort of Kempian in mentality,” he continued. “I think The Wall Street Journal editorial page, even though it doesn’t like the Reform Republicans for doctrinaire reasons, is sort of Kempian. And you know, all the people who drafted Paul Ryan for speaker, while they may not be conscious Kempians they are Ryanites because he holds many of the same beliefs Kemp had, they could be considered Kempian in a sense.
“So, I don’t think people go around with Jack Kemp in their head, but there is a Kemp remnant, a legacy, that still exists,” he said. “Paul Ryan is at the top of the list. Marco Rubio shows signs of it. And Jeb Bush. … Sen. Lindsey Graham.”
Kondrake said hard line conservatives would have a difficult time supporting an alternative who espouses Kemp-like values, including immigration reform, at the convention.
“The only reason they would stay loyal and work for the party is if they can beat Hillary. But they will go away very bitter and they would have to be wooed back,” he said.
“Now, this brings Rubio to mind. He’s holding on to his delegates and he might go into the convention and try to make his own stand,” Kondrake said. “Now, he’s going to have trouble with women in the general election because he’s against abortion under any circumstances, but in a wild free-for-all, it’s conceivable he could come out of the convention with the nomination.
“A lot depends on organization, on the skills of your backers and bargaining, the strength of your boiler room,” he said. “And remember, while all this is going on, you’d also have a reshuffling of all the endorsers. Endorsers tend to have more power at a contested convention than they would otherwise. Who does Mitt Romney ultimately support? Who does Lindsey ultimately support? He supported Rubio initially and moved on to Cruz for tactical reason after Rubio suspended his campaign, so he probably goes back to Rubio.
“So if Rubio wants it … he could conceivably be in the mix,” Kondrake said. “And of course there’s Kasich, but everybody says he can’t get the nomination.”
The question now is, what will Donald Trump do if he actually is denied the nomination.
“I don’t know,” Kondrake said. “Maybe Trump runs as a third-party candidate, although it would really be too late for that. My guess is Trump tells his people to stay home and that he’s going to run again something along the lines of ‘I’m not going to quit. I’ll be back.’ Something like that.
“My crystal ball develops cataracts after that,” Kondrake said.
- Sex Offender Sentencing Headed to High Court
- PayPal Fraudster Gets Washington Audience