Is aiming for a brokered convention the only way Republicans can stop Trump?

The 1952 Democratic Convention - the last major brokered convention
The 1952 Democratic Convention – the last major brokered convention
If there’s one thing that gets US political geeks fired up, it’s the prospect of there being a brokered convention to choose a party’s Presidential nominee. Every four years, professional and amateur pundits look over the field of candidates and proclaim that there’s no way someone is going to get 50% of the delegates and seal the nomination, leading to a brokered convention where the nominee only emerges after a series of ballots. Every four years, these predictions are then scattered to the winds as each party manages to find a nominee who can do just that, and the pundits go back to watching their West Wing series 6 DVDs to get their brokered convention fix.

Hopes were high that this year’s massive Republican field would finally lead to a brokered convention. Surely having so many candidates with so many varied appeals to the electorate would prevent any front runner emerging, leaving the final decision to be made in Cleveland in July where headline writers were waiting to unleash multiple variations on ‘the mistake on the lake‘. Normal service, however, appeared to have resumed with Donald Trump rising from the field and winning a series of primary victories including taking the most states in yesterday’s Super Tuesday primaries.

Unlike his predecessors who emerged from the field to claim a hotly contested nomination (Mitt Romney and John McCain are the most recent examples), the rise of Trump has not been welcomed by the Republican leadership, with various parts of the Republican elite looking to find a candidate to stop him. While there are three remaining anti-Trump candidates in the race – Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich – they face a collective action problem where all would agree that a single non-Trump candidate would be best for the party, but all believe that the other two should drop out and back them.

This problem is compounded by the structure of the Republican primaries. Up to now, delegate allocation in them has been principally proportional according to the share of the vote received, so while Trump has won the most contests, he doesn’t hold a commanding lead in total delegates. (Electoral Vote currently give Trump 332 of the 1237 needed for the nomination while Cruz has 221, Rubio 122, Kasich 27 and Ben Carson 8) From March 15th, however, most states allocate delegates by a winner-takes-all method. As repeated British elections have shown, getting around 40% of the vote when your opponents are split is a very good way to take advantage of a winner-takes-all system. If no single ‘Stop Trump’ candidate emerges by then, the conventional wisdom goes, Trump will be able to mop up swathes of delegates by exploiting his rivals’ division and secure himself the nomination.

There is perhaps a way for the Republicans to avoid a Trump nomination from this position, but it would require them to embrace the idea of a brokered convention occurring. If none of Cruz, Rubio or Kasich can be persuaded to withdraw, they could instead agree a non-aggression and non-competition pact instead. Previous results and polling show that each of them has the potential to defeat Trump in different states, so the best option for them is to tacitly endorse Stop Trump voting. For instance, just as Cruz was able to defeat Trump in his home state of Texas, Rubio can beat him in Florida and Kasich in Ohio, if the other two aren’t competing for their votes there. In states where the delegate allocation is winner-takes-all, it makes sense for them to identify which of the three is the best placed to defeat Trump and leave the field clear for them, effectively dividing the remaining states between the three of them. It won’t give any of them the nomination before the convention – there doesn’t appear to be a strategy for that for any of them – but it keeps it from Trump.

Sure, there’s a big downside (for the Republicans, at least) in the party not having a nominee until the end of July, giving Hillary Clinton the opportunity to effectively campaign without opposition once she seals the Democratic nomination. It feels to me, though, that the choice for the Republicans is now that they either accept Trump as their candidate or plan for a brokered convention as the only way to stop him. A single Stop Trump candidate seems unlikely to emerge through the primary process, but combined action from his rivals can at least keep the nomination away from him even if they individually won’t benefit from doing so.

Then again, the Republican Party might just spend the next few months continuing to tear itself apart to the amusement of all those outside it, further confirming my theory that the corporate interest most benefiting from this year’s election is Big Popcorn.

Vice-President Bloomberg?

Michael_R_BloombergSo, it’s Super Tuesday in the US, and thoughts turn to just how this Presidential race might turn out. It’s looking increasingly likely that tonight will put the two leading candidates for their parties into near-locks on their nominations, so how does a Clinton vs Trump race play out.

One choice both candidates will have to make is a Vice-Presidential running mate. Trying to guess what Trump would do here seems like a fool’s errand, as conventional political wisdom doesn’t apply to his candidacy and the prospect of him whittling through randomly chosen candidates in an Apprentice-style format seems as likely as him making a rational choice of someone to balance the ticket, but Clinton has interesting options.

The three names I’ve seen suggested most often for her running mate are Housing Secretary Julian Castro, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. All three have strong cases to make for the nomination, but I find myself wondering if former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg could also be an option for her.

There are two obvious obstacles to Bloomberg being on the ticket. First, he’s from New York, the same as Clinton, so it could cause trouble in the electoral college (electors aren’t allowed to vote for a President and Vice-President from their own state) and secondly, he’s currently an independent, rather than a Democrat.

The first would be relatively easy to overcome. In the same way Dick Cheney switched his residence from Texas to Wyoming in 2000, Bloomberg could name one of his other homes – possibly in Colorado – and avoid that problem. The second is perhaps more of a problem for the Democratic Party than the electorate as a whole, but the Clinton response could well be to point out that Bernie Sanders was also an independent until recently, and that didn’t stop him from running in the primaries.

They’re also offset by the advantages he brings. Most notably, there’s the $40 billion he’s worth, including the billion he’s hinted at using for an independent presidential campaign, which also serves as a great deflater of Trump’s ‘I’m a businessman, I know how to make deals’ argument. Trump started with millions from his father, and all his noisy deal-making hasn’t outperformed what he could have achieved investing it quietly. Bloomberg started with little and turned it into a fortune that’s around an order of magnitude larger than Trump’s.

He’d also give Clinton a strong appeal to independents and moderate Republicans turned off by Trump and open up the prospect of her getting not just a victory but a blowout, with all the coattail effects that might mean for Democrats getting control of the Senate and House of Representatives as well as the White House. It would be a very tempting opportunity for the Democrats to take advantage of the turmoil in the Republican Party by selecting a running mate who can hammer a wedge into a potentially split party.

There are downsides with Bloomberg – he’s a Wall Street billionaire with little experience of politics outside New York City, and open to lots of attacks – and there’d be a big question over how much power Clinton would have to promise the Vice-Presidency to get him to agree to run, so it’s not a simple choice for Clinton to make. However, I think he’d be a strong option for her choice, and I wouldn’t be surprised if speculation about him joining the ticket rises as discussion of his potential independent bid fades away.

Worth Reading 187: Californian murder

Workplace coercion – “Why are people who profess to be classical liberals apparently so indifferent to workplace tyranny?” asks Chris Dillow.
Why the 2016 Election Will Be One of the Most Pivotal Moments of Our Time – It’s fun to laugh at the clown car the US election resembles at the moment, but there are important things at stake.
Claims of the increasing irrelevance of universities are ideology masquerading as evidence – Three political science professors present “the difference between lazy journalism and quality social science research: the former pontificates, the latter take the time and trouble to create and test the evidence.”
In support of a universal basic income: introducing the RSA basic income model – The RSA has come out in favour of a basic income and presents a very interesting model of how it could be implemented.
Do candidates dream of electric sheep? – This is the age of the American uncampaign, where candidates routinely evade election laws through ridiculously funded Super PACs that are ostensibly not part of their official campaign.

Worth Reading 186: The rapid spread of Bacchanalia

Hardball questions for the next debate – Some real tough ones for the Republican candidates for US President.
Terrorism: Et tu, Google! – Nick Harkaway tears apart some of the nonsense being spouted about encryption and surveillance by those who should know better.
A New Threat Such As We Have Never Seen – Flying Rodent offers a scale for judging the credibility of military action based on the level of bullshit advocating for it.
Party mechanics: why Labour would struggle to oust Jeremy Corbyn – Tom Quinn (my MA supervisor) looks at the internal mechanics of any attempt by the PLP to oust Jeremy Corbyn.
I asked 5 fascism experts whether Donald Trump is a fascist. Here’s what they said. – Trump isn’t a fascist, but this is a useful look at what fascism is and why his breed of right-wing populism is part of a trend.

It might not be all over for Joe Biden

BOCA RATON, FL - SEPTEMBER 28:  U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at the Century Village Clubhouse on September 28, 2012 in Boca Raton, Florida. Biden continues to campaign across the country before the general election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
BOCA RATON, FL – SEPTEMBER 28: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at the Century Village Clubhouse on September 28, 2012 in Boca Raton, Florida. Biden continues to campaign across the country before the general election. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Joe Biden won’t be making a third bid for the US Presidency, and the assumption is that his political career will come to an end in January 2017 when his second term as Vice-President ends.

There is, however, a way it can continue and not just in unlikely scenarios where a weary Democratic National Convention turns to him to break the deadlock between a faltering Hillary Clinton and a not quite surging enough Bernie Sanders. It comes in a simple omission from the US Constitution: the 22nd Amendment limits any holder of the Presidency to no more than two terms in office, but no such limit is placed on the Vice-Presidency.

It looks increasingly likely that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for President, while the prolonged Republican flirtation with Donald Trump and other odd figures from the fringe right continues unchecked. That would give Clinton a great opportunity to reach out to moderate Republican voters and try to draw them over which would bring benefits to other Democrat candidates in Senate, House and state races. For many reasons, Hillary has problems reaching out to those voters but what if she chose a running mate with a proven track record of bipartisan action and who has received great praise from Republicans for his work? A Clinton-Biden ticket would be a huge positive for the Democrats, and give them the opportunity to win back lots of electoral ground from the Republicans. There’s even precedent for it – George Clinton was Vice-President for both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, while John C Calhoun served for both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

And if Biden doesn’t want to do it, there’s another former Vice-President out there who might be interested. There might even still be some Clinton-Gore campaign materials left to be recycled…

Jeb Bush, active explorations and history repeating

If nothing else, he’s better at using multiple clauses in a sentence than his brother, but it is a declaration surrounded by a whole forest of ambiguity. He’s not exploring running for President but actively exploring the possibility of running for President, an act of unintentional political philosophy that could lead to disaster if he decides he first needs to fully comprehend the meaning of his decision to actively explore this possibility before even beginning to properly explore where it all might lead to.

Of course, it’s in the nature of US Presidential elections that candidates need to go through all the rigmarole of not actively running so they don’t have to answer any actual questions but can still begin to raise the vast funds needed to see if it’s possible to raise the immense funds required to mount a serious bid for the Presidency. There will likely have been a pre-public exploratory phase before all this, just to make sure things won’t completely fizzle out, which is why there’s a big jump from thinking about running for President, and exploring it. One you do privately, the other you do publicly and are pretty much committing yourself to run barring utter disaster – it’s the political equivalent of the one finger that’s just touching the chess piece after the move, hoping you haven’t missed something really obvious now it’s in place.

Once the candidate has formed the exploratory committee, they’re pretty much running for President, even if they’re still being coy about it. In fact, I can only think of one US politician who explored running for President and then decided not to run – the late Paul Wellstone in 1999 – though there are many who explored, ran and then realised they should have explored more.

Jeb Bush becoming President in 2016 would prove my prediction from 2012 correct, even if I wouldn’t want it to be. I do hope his explorations will include an extended discussion of whether history repeats itself, and if so, just how farcical a process the election would need to be to have him elected by the House of Representatives like John Quincy Adams and who the Andrew Jackson of the twenty-first century would be.

(Edit: And just after I posted this, I saw this article pondering on the possibility of the both US parties splitting in two, which is surely a sign of us being in 1824 all over again)