In the aftermath of Super Tuesday, Donald Trump now has the lead in the GOP delegate count, with 319 delegates, followed by Ted Cruz at 226 and Marco Rubio at 110. But with 1,777 delegates remaining, Trump faces challenges to reaching the 1,237 delegates needed to win the Republican nomination.
Currently, Trump has just over 25% of the delegates needed to seal the nomination. For comparison purposes, Hillary Clinton has approximately 44%. Trump needs another 918 delegates, 52% of the 1,777 remaining, to reach 1,237.
Meanwhile, with John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz still taking votes away from each other, it is clear that none of them could realistically get to 1,237 delegates unless a miracle happens, like Trump supporters actually changing their minds and embracing the Republican establishment — which they hate with a passion.
At this point, only Trump could realistically reach the 1,237 threshold. But, the winner-take-all process for Republicans could actually make it harder for Trump to win enough delegates. For example, if Rubio wins his home state of Florida (winner take all) and Kasich wins his home state of Ohio (also winner take all), and/or if Cruz wins a few winner-take-all states, Trump could struggle to get to 1,237 delegates, because his likely 25% (or higher) share in pretty much every state could be worthless in terms of actually winning delegates.
So what happens if Trump doesn’t reach 1,237 delegates?
Well, since the dawn of 24-hour cable news and the internet age, there has not been a brokered convention. In fact brokered conventions have been rare since the dawn of television itself! Conventions are supposed to be a party, a show, a performance. They aren’t supposed to be official business. Conventions are a coronation, not an actual decision making point.
The last time there was a brokered convention was in 1984. Walter Mondale, former Vice President under Jimmy Carter, was 40 delegates short. Democrats quickly chose Mondale as the nominee at the beginning of the convention. But without ample time to mount a credible national campaign, Mondale went on to lose to Reagan by 17 million votes, winning only one state. Democrats were divided in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter had to ward off a tough challenge from Ted Kennedy. Carter was crushed by Reagan.
1976 was the last time a Republican convention was brokered. President Gerald Ford (who became President after Nixon’s resignation in 1974) won the convention fight against Ronald Reagan, then went on lose the general election narrowly to Jimmy Carter.
The last time a brokered convention produced a victor was in 1932. That was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and he won, in part, because for three years the Republican incumbent had presided over a national depression with 25% unemployment, bread lines, and tent camps for the millions of new homeless called “Hoovervilles” (named after the incumbent President).
But history doesn’t predict what would happen this time. In the era of the 24-hour news cycle, candidates need to be chosen early enough to have time to run a national campaign. They need broad party support. They need to raise money…even Donald Trump. It takes months to mobilize a national campaign infrastructure.
A brokered convention by Republicans would force them into a nasty fight on a national stage. What does this mean for the producers of videos showing eagles soaring through the sky, children playing, soldiers saluting, and smiling minority families wearing golf shirts? What does this mean for down-ticket races? The fact is, a national political party needs a national candidate to stand behind, and this could get really messy.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are having a good, old-fashioned primary battle. Clinton is well ahead, and probably will win all the necessary delegates by April 26, when Pennsylvania is up for grabs. But even if Clinton hasn’t officially won by then, she’ll wrap up the delegate count during the May primaries. She’ll have plenty of time for a national campaign.
As for Republicans, they very well may have to wait until their July 18-21 convention in Cleveland before settling on a nominee. Their primary contest will most certainly last through June 7. What shape will the party be in when all this is over? Stay tuned…
For more information on the history, see this Wikipedia article.