Ten Miles Square


March 20, 2012 11:40 AM The Deadlocked Convention Fantasy

By Jonathan Bernstein

I usually think that Jeff Zeleny at the NYT does a good job, but the Page 1 story he and Jim Rutenberg wrote about the possibility of a contested convention recently was pretty awful.

First, the good news: the word “brokered” didn’t appear anywhere in the piece. Excellent!

So why am I so cranky about it? Well, first of all, the possibility of a deadlocked convention remains tiny. Zeleny and Rutenberg say it’s the first time in a generation that Republicans are “preparing for the possibility that their presidential nomination could be decided at their national convention,” but as Steve Kornacki shows, deadlock convention scares happen all the time, including all the way back in…2008. That’s right, this “first in a generation” possibility happened last time around for the Republicans.

But that wasn’t enough to get me all cranky. No, what really bothered me was the evidence that they provide that the candidates are really preparing for a convention fight. Because their evidence, for the most part, shows no such thing. What they show for the most part is that the candidates are fighting hard for every delegate. For example:

The jockeying in the delegate race is causing the campaigns to work through a labyrinthine set of state rules under which delegate allocation does not always track with the popular vote in primaries and caucuses.

But that’s what nomination politics is always about! And really, the bulk of the article is made up of such things — so that Santorum trying to win delegates in the Missouri caucuses is treated as an unusual activity forced by the possibility of a contested convention, rather than the normal way that the nomination is always fought. Nor is a losing candidate claiming that he will somehow manage to win at the convention anyway something new; Hillary Clinton’s campaign made those claims in 2008.

Is there any real preparation for a contested convention going on? Zeleny and Rutenberg do mention that people are “dusting off their party rule books, running through decades-old procedural arcana and studying the most recent convention-floor fight,” but it’s not really clear whether all of that is real or just an old cliche.

The one thing I’ve read elsewhere is that there’s some talk of jockeying over who will get the pledged, bound delegate slots. That’s a contested convention thing; if Romney has 1144 (that is, a majority) then it doesn’t matter what those 1144 individuals really think as long as they are bound to him on the first ballot, but if Romney falls short than it would matter if some of his delegates are stealth Paul or Santorum supporters. So if campaigns are spending their limited resources on that, then it really would be a sign of preparing for something major in Tampa.

However, most of what this article is about is just normal nomination politics. Including day dreams about a deadlocked convention. Which, you know, is really not at all likely to happen.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Back to Home page

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.


  • AmusedOldVet on March 21, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Fantasies are good!

    My fantasies include:
    - the repuke party completely destroying itself
    - the democrap party allowing progressives to have a real voice
    - the Cubs winning the World Series

    Fantasies do not have to have any chance of coming true to be enjoyable to discuss!

  • Anonymous on March 21, 2012 3:31 PM:

    We all know that most of the political "reporting" ranks up there with the sports section. The writers are trying their best to create a set of scenarios in which every team (candidate) has a chance to win. Otherwise who would buy a paper if the pennant was already decided.

  • Stop the Horse Race Coverage on March 21, 2012 9:53 PM:

    I really think Bob Shieffer at CBS has finally gone over the edge. On one of his recent programs after asking the upteenth person about the possibility of a "brokered" Republican convention, he broke out in a high pitched giggle and was almost beside himself as he said, "We keep bringing it up because, well, because it would be so much fun to cover."

    Cripes. It is time for Bob to retire. That way Bob can stay home, watch the "brokered" convention, and giggle away.