A “Brokered Convention” is Possible for National GOP

By Bruce Chapman Published on March 11, 2015

Quick now, name the likely Republican candidates for President in 2016. It’s tough, isn’t it? And it takes time. There are so many of them — more than in living memory, literally — that even savvy political reporters can’t keep them all in mind. An article by Stephen F. Hayes in a recent Weekly Standard came up with 18.

Some are not serious, like Donald Trump, and some, like Indiana’s Gov. Mike Pence, are sure to avoid the race once the difficulties of raising money and organizing for primary elections are experienced. Others, such as former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, seem to be in the race mainly to argue their policy stands and keep their name before the public.

But even if the real prospective candidates number only, say, 12, there are so many of them that for the first time since 1952 there is at least a chance that “favorite sons” and party officials from various states could wind up “brokering” the choice of the Republican nominee — selecting someone whose dominance wasn’t obvious going into the convention.

The Democrats seem set for a less exciting primary season if Hillary Clinton, still the runaway leader in current polls, announces her candidacy next month, as expected. If she does not run for some reason, the Democrats, too, could be fielding a long list of presidential wannabes.

But the Republican track meet already is crowded. There is great talent in a group that includes such accomplished senators and governors (and former governors) as Jeb Bush of Florida, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Rick Perry also of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio, Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, and award winning neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

But none is a quite a household name — yet. Not like Mitt Romney was and Hillary Clinton is.

In this situation, the early primaries a year from now are likely to be media scrum, a jumble of single digit “victories” that don’t prove much more than a reaction to local enthusiasms and a particular week’s gaffes.  The possibility arises that perhaps four or more candidates arrive at the Republican convention in 2016 with sizable numbers of delegates pledged to them, and none with a majority.

That is when elected officials and “unpledged” candidates could do the sorting out that used to happen in political conventions. Call it “back room politics,” if you like, but party leaders once gave us the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.

In short, 2016 could be a year that a political party’s appeal is stronger, for a change, than that of its standard-bearer. Some of the unlikelier candidates, therefore, would be well-advised to concentrate on gaining leadership of their own states’ delegations so as to help decide the national selection when the time comes.

Usually these days a state’s elected officials try to stay out of the presidential race in order not to divide their own followers. Maybe the high stakes for the country this time will call their leadership forth.


Bruce Chapman, a former Washington Secretary of State and Director of the U. S. Census Bureau, is Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute.

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