יום שישי, 8 באפריל 2016

Attack of the Zombies / Breaking down a contested Republican convention

Welcome to "Of Donkeys and Elephants", my blog about the 2016 U.S elections.

My name is Yiftach Dayan and i'm a U.S politics junkie. I'm not an American citizen, nor do I reside in the U.S. Nevertheless, my goals are to make the U.S election cycle more approachable for readers and offer my own perspective.

Up to now, all my posts were published in Hebrew. After several requests, i've decided to put up an English edition to my latest post.

Hope you enjoy it.

Donald Trump appears to be in a predicament. About 10 days ago, polls in Wisconsin looked promising for him and in California he held a double digit lead over Ted Cruz. But then the things started to Shift. Trump ended up tanking Wisconsin and it appears that Cruz took a bite into his California advantage.

The reasons for this change of trend are mixed. Some of it definitely has to do with "The Wives War" Trump was waging with Cruz, during which he tweeted an unflattering picture of his rival's wife Heidy next to his wife Melania. His latest interview with MSNBC's Chris Mathews, in which Trump stated that "there should be some form of punishment" for women who chooses to abort after an illegalization takes place, is also a plausible factor. Finally, the key endorsement of Cruz by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who is adored by conservatives statewide, should not be underscored either.

It may be too soon to make a determination regarding Trump's chances of hitting "the magic number" of 1,237. However, one should definitely take the option that he will not manage to do so into account. For this reason, I would like to encourage you to focus NOT on the next primaries, but rather on the Republican National Convention from now on. As time elapses, it becomes crystal clear that a contested convention is where everything will go down.

A contested convention for beginners
The general idea behind a contested contention is quite simple really. 

Quick recap: in the primaries and caucuses held thus far, the candidates competed for delegates – men and women involved one way or the other with the Republican Party – who will be selected to represent the will of the party voters in each state. 

The delegates will come together at the convention in order to cast their votes on a first ballot. In this round of voting, most of the delegates are required to vote for the candidate who officially won their support during the state primary or caucus.

Should no candidate secure the support of 1,237 delegates, the process will move on to a second ballot. This is where things get interesting. Now, many states will release their delegates to vote however they choose. If no candidate will succeed in reaching 1,237 delegates on this round is well, we will move on to a third ballot, where even more delegates will be released. Next up there will be a fourth ballot, and so on. Not until one candidate manages to win a majority of the delegates, will the process conclude with a nominee.

This is a good time to stress that the selection process is governed by a thousand pages long bundle of rules and procedures, most of which are prone to various manipulations. I will lay out the most relevant upcoming manipulation later on.

Here are a few things to know about the delegates themselves. Their identity in most of the states or territories is determined only after the primaries are held. They are mostly selected not by the candidates, or the voters, but rather through different sorts of committees. The candidates are allowed representatives in these committees, but so does the party establishment. The more complex and unintuitive the process of naming the delegates is, the more savvy campaign staffs need to be in order to rip rewards. As of late, Cruz demonstrated such savviness, when it became clear that 10 of the delegates won by trump in Louisiana will be manned by Cruz supporters. We are now likely to see more and more battles over the recruitment of "Double Agents": delegates who will abandon the candidate who won their support as soon as they are released to vote however they see fit. This is the reason why the battle for the identity of the delegates is perhaps more important than the battle for primary voters support at this point.

Welcome to Zombieland
Now, there are two additional groups of delegates worth mentioning: Unbound state delegates and "Zombies". These two groups will arrive at the convention without a formal obligation to vote for a particular candidate. This makes them especially important, as they can vote with discretion as early as the first ballot (as opposed to the "Double Agents" who mostly start to matter only at the second ballot).

The unbound state delegates are delegates coming from states who chose not to hold binding primaries or caucuses: Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota. The Zombies are delegates won by candidates who've already dropped out of the race. Generally speaking, when the candidacy "dies", the delegates it carried "dies" with it, as focus moves to remaining contests. However, when no candidate manages to reach a clear majority, these delegates "come alive" (hence the name "Zombies"). The lion's share of the Zombies is consisted of delegates won by Marco Rubio. The Senator from Florida has made a formal request that they vote for him at the convention, regardless of the fact that he suspended his campaign.

Can Rubio miraculously win the nomination? What about the option of the republican establishment "parachuting" a new candidate? All will be revealed.

"The Romney Rule"
Now, let's talk dirty politics for a minute.

As I already implied, the Republican establishment leaves itself room to maneuver the selection process in order to support "favorite sons". Mostly, they tend to do it by proposing amendments to the rules during the convention. These amendments are the subject of a separate vote by the delegates, held before the first ballot. The delegates are asked to consider these changes, and they are allowed to vote however they please.

The most notable change inserted into the process in recent times had to do with rule 40(b). This one is arguably "the last piece in the puzzle" needed in order to understand the dynamics of a possible contested convention. Rule 40(b) determines a threshold for candidates to enter the first ballot. Up until the Republican Convention of 2012, it stated that each candidate must have a plurality of delegates in at least 5 states or territories. So what changed in 2012?

Let's roll back 4 years. As the convention began, it was clear that Mitt Romney will be the next Republican nominee for president. He has gathered the majority of the delegates and all his chief rivals (to name a few, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum), had dropped out and endorsed him. The only thorn remaining in Romney's side was Ron Paul, the former representative from Texas, who refused to concede. Initially, it appeared that Romney had nothing to worry about. Paul was not expected to meet the threshold stated in Rule 40(b), since he didn't manage to win a single state, and hence was likely to remain outside of the first ballot. But then Paul's supporters went for a hail marry pass. Tooth for nail, they squeezed their way into the delegates selection committees, little by little scraping unexpected and unelected pluralities in various states.

Vowing to appear like an unopposed winner, Romney was determined to prevent Paul from appearing on the first ballot. He then turned to the GOP establishment, and together they revised Rule 40(b) ahead of the vote on rules and regulations. Consequently, the rule was altered so that each candidate will now be required to demonstrate a majority of delegates in 8 states or territories. The particular change of the type of advantage, from plurality to majority, was dramatic. Under the new language, it was no longer enough just to win most of the delegates in the state in order to have it counted for the threshold. Candidates will now have to accumulate over 50% of the delegates awarded in a particular state in order to "make it count" for rule 40(b).

To illustrate that, let's examine the vote in Iowa in the current republican cycle. In these caucuses, 30 delegates were at stake. The delegates were awarded proportionally, which is why Cruz, the winner of the caucuses, registered only 8 delegates. This was more than what any other candidate has achieved, but shy of 50% of the delegates in the state (15). Had rule 40(b) remained untouched in 2012, Cruz would have been able to subscribe Iowa for the threshold. In light of the change, he will not be able to do that.

Back to 2012. The new rule 40(b) (from now on: "The Romney Rule"), effectively blocked Paul from entering the first ballot. Some infuriated delegates abandoned the convention in protest, but the GOP establishment downplayed these events. After the election, while eying 2016, the establishment made additional changes in the primary process. More "Winner-take-all" states where added in order to make life even more difficult for future "Fringe" candidates.

Reversal of Fortunes
The Romney rule limits not only the entrance of candidates to the first ballot, but also to subsequent ballots as well. This means that as long as the rules remain untouched this time around, a first ballot without a winner will not result in new nominees entering the race. The Romney rule simply forbids it. Remember how after his "NeverTrump" speech, speculations arose regarding a possible Romney candidacy? Well, as irony has it, Romney is now blocked from competing directly because of his power play four years ago.

If only Romney had allowed Paul the crushing first ballot defeat he was asking for…

Romney, of course, is not the only casualty of the Romney rule. Rick Perry, Paul Ryan and others who may have secretly hoped to get the call of duty, will be barred from competing due to the same reason. John Kasich, who is not likely to win any additional states, will be marginalized from the first ballot as well. A similar destiny awaits Marco Rubio, which may move his Zombies to waive the option of voting for him, assuming that they are interested in their votes being counted. This leaves the establishment with a choice between Trump and Cruz, a choice that was described by Sen. Lindsey Graham as an equal to choosing death by being shot or poisoning.

So what do you do when your own rules work against you? If you ask the GOP establishment, the answer is "change them again!". However, realistically speaking, that may prove easier said than done.

Elephants Entrapped
Donald Trump may be a political rookie, but to his credit, he did prepare in advance for the establishment's trickery tactics. Should he not win 1,237 delegates, Trump has two big sticks with which he can smack the political elites.

The first stick is an independent run. Polls suggest that such a run would swing roughly one third of all republican voters to Trump's banner, neatly delivering the presidency to the Democrats on a silver platter. Trump may have signed "The Pledge", hence binding himself to support the Republican eventual nominee, but he restricted his commitment on cases where he will be "unfairly treated". The criterion for such treatment will be determined by non-other than Trump himself.

The second stick is the Chaos Trump may ignite in the convention itself and following it via his supporters. About three weeks ago, Trump had stated that should he be 100 delegates short of a majority and the establishment will try to work against him, "there will be riots". Such a scene could endanger the Republican Party even farther, with severe ramifications for its political future.

In order to increase the gap between Trump and the majority of the delegates, the GOP establishment is now rallying around Cruz. Just as they need him, so does he needs them. Cruz has no real base of support in most of the remaining states that have yet to vote. Only the endorsements of GOP top figures such as Graham, Walker and Jeb Bush, as half-hearted as they may be, can get him started in the Midwest or the Northeast.

In a way, the collaboration between Cruz and the establishment resembles the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939. Both sides need each other desperately in the short run, but have nothing but malevolent intentions at heart for later on. The establishment didn't really plan on uniting behind Cruz at the convention. They only wish to employ him as a "Useful Idiot", helping them dispose of Trump. As soon as primary voting is over, their plan has to be a repeal of the Romney rule, which will allow them to crown one of their own, whoever that might be.

Cruz is well aware of this plan, and in the past week and a half he has been relentless in trying to sabotage it. In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Cruz states that if no candidate wins 1,237 delegates, the party should operate under the existing rules. A change, Cruz speculated, would spark the exact same "riots" Trump was mentioning. It is clear that Cruz is trying to delegitimize manipulations in the current set of rules. After getting the endorsements he needed, Cruz feels confident enough to throw a wrench at the establishment's Masterplan, just before they stab him in the back.

It is still too early to make a call about what's coming next. Trump can still notch 1,237 delegates. The establishment can distance themselves from Cruz once again. The Romney rule can be somehow tossed aside, elegantly or not. All is still possible.

But the way things look right now, we can definitely be expecting a showdown between Trump and Cruz in a contested convention. The establishment will be left sidelined, wishing they could have somehow fast forwarded the entire thing. In my opinion, the key is at the hands of the unbound state delegates and the Zombies. The closer we get to the convention, the more crucial their support of a candidate will become.

Twitter - @yiftachdayan
Mail - yiftach.dayan@gmail.com

2 תגובות:

  1. ראית את זה?

    1. וואו.
      כרגיל, אתה עם היד על הדופק יותר מהר ממני ;)


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