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What is a contested convention in politics?

Updated on July 21, 2016

What is a contested convention in politics?

There’s a saying about political conventions in America, “Anything can happen.” And that’s because, literally and truly, no matter how many rules are on the books before conventions happen, anything can happen at conventions. The Rules Committees for either party can literally make rules up as they go along to make sure they get who they want on the ticket. If the Republicans want someone with green hair and gold eyes on the ticket, they can create that rule, at convention. It’s legal. That’s not going to happen. But, anything can indeed happen. With convention week upon us, and one next week, all eyes are on the political stage to see what drama will unfold. Many dramatic events have already happened. And still can. The most dramatic thing that can ever happen though is, a contested convention. What is a contested convention? Basically it means that the delegates of any party can overthrow the presumptive nominee through their own process. And, there aren’t any rules. Where there are, but they can change at any time. It's a complicated process.

Mister Speaker, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan has been using the words “party unity” so many times in the last several months, it’s clear the Republican party is a hot mess. Speaker for the House of Representatives Republican Paul Ryan has made no pretense on his feelings about Donald Trump. Many Republicans have been very clear they don’t want Donald Trump as President.

It was just on May 5 when Paul Ryan said very clearly on network national television that he could not support Donald Trump for President “at this time.” Almost immediately following that statement, an announcement was made that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Donald Trump would have a meeting. Directly after the meeting a press conference was held where Paul Ryan spoke of the meeting, and used the words “party unity” countless times.

When asked if he was ready to endorse Donald Trump yet, Ryan still was unable to provide a clear answer. Instead he deflected with answers that the meeting was great, and he encourages party unity across the GOP board. It’s interesting.

While Mister Speaker has endorsed Donald Trump since, many still haven’t. Senator Ted Cruz, and former Presidential candidate, made waves July 20, 2016, at the Republican National Convention when he refused to endorse Donald Trump.

The New York Post reports May 13 that Republican National Committee Chair, Reince Priebus told Fox and Friends recently that the GOP is going to have to get on board with endorsements, for the sake of party unity.

“That [not endorsing Trump] would be a little awkward. I’m very confident we will have a unified party.”

“Will” have a unified party? The convention was not even two months out at the time, and the GOP was advertising they aren’t unified yet? That doesn’t look good for them.

The words “party unity” are going around the GOP camp a lot right now. And that’s not a good thing. After his meeting with Trump Ryan said,

“It’s very important that we don’t fake unifying, we don’t pretend unification, that we truly and actually unify so we are full strength in the fall. I don’t want us to have a fake unification process here.”

To have to say out loud to your own party that you can’t be fake, is just not good at this stage of the game. There are a number of reasons Ryan is holding back on his endorsement, and none of them are personal.

It’s all political. Paul Ryan represents the establishment. Donald Trump is the exact opposite.
If Paul Ryan wants to keep his job, and keep a Republican as the Speaker, which he does, he needs the votes too. If the Democrats take a gain in the Senate, even by 5 seats, Charles Schumer replaces Mitch McConnell as majority leader.

Paul Ryan isn’t going to lose his job any time soon to Democrats. At least at this stage and the number of incumbents in the House, that is very unlikely as Nancy Pelosi will need the Democrats to win 30 seats in the house to assume the gavel. That’s a big hurdle.

Is this enough to get the Mexican vote for Donald Trump? No.

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Is Paul Ryan watching this election with 2020 vision?

Donald Trump has however had success already in the districts in question during primary season. This placed even more pressure on Paul Ryan and other GOP elite to get behind him. On the other hand, the districts where Donald Trump is vulnerable include large populations of college students, Asians, and Hispanics.

Despite the giant taco salad bowl Donald Trump tweeted on Cinco de Mayo, he has not made any headway with those voters after threatening to build a wall and send them all to Mexico earlier in the election season. It is this kind of establishment pressure from those House districts that is keeping Paul Ryan from going all in with Donald Trump. Also, the future, beyond Elections 2016, which is where the GOP is always looking.

If Donald Trump changes the demographic landscape of Republican voters this time around, next time around the GOP could be in real trouble for the rest of their time on Earth. They want to appeal to women and non-white constituents.

But they aren’t, because of Donald Trump. This is exactly why, the same day as Paul Ryan's meeting with Donald Trump, that Paul Ryan tweeted a picture of himself with some school children and the caption, “My most important meeting of the day.”

And it is all this hubaloo and lack of party unity that led many to speculate on the possibility of a contested convention at this week’s Republican National Convention. What is a contested convention?

In order for a candidate to make it to the ticket at the Republican convention, they need 1,237 votes from delegates. Having them before hand helps, but doesn’t guarantee the nomination. There were 2,472 delegates voting at Convention.

The first round of voting at Convention is the one that sets the tone, as it always does. What happens after that could well be a free for all, and Donald Trump could have been stopped if he did not reach 1,237. At that point, if that happened for any candidate now or in the future, it becomes a contested convention.

According to TIME magazine, nominees go into conventions with a certain number of delegates they have won during the primaries. Some of those are bound, and some are unbound. Unbound delegates are delegates that can still vote however they want when it comes to convention, regardless if they are claimed by Donald Trump.

Bound delegates on the other hand can not. They will be required to vote for who they are bound to, at least in the first round of voting. Many delegates will become unbound after the first round of voting. After that they can vote however they want.

So, Donald Trump wanted 1,237 votes after the first round or he could have been in a lot of trouble. Because after the first round, many delegates will become unbound and won’t be committed to voting for him, or any other candidate in the future. It is estimated that 95% of the delegates that came to convention were bound to the candidate for the first round of votes, and 5% would have been unbound at the first vote.

There are some states that require a certain number of votes to occur before delegates can become unbound. Florida for example requires three votes to occur before the delegates can become unbound.

Because conventions are party run events, and not government run, rules can literally be made up as the convention goes along. The first vote at convention then looked a lot like the numbers we’ve been following all along. But after that, if anyone changed their mind at the last minute (and it has happened) it could literally have been a free for all.

The Democratic Convention is next week. And it too is still under the “anything can happen” mentality.

The New York Times says that there are approximately 5% unbound delegates in round one, that grows to 57% in round two, and 81% by round 3. It is entirely possible for a delegate to change nominee preferences during convention, and it has absolutely happened in the history of the GOP, and the Democratic party alike.

This is where the election term “white knight” comes in. If Donald Trump failed to get the majority in the first round of voting, someone else would literally have had to run from the floor. Or, they would have kept voting and Trump would have been literally campaigning with delegates on the floor of convention, until he got his votes.

If that had happened, there aren’t too many white knights to choose from at this point. All of the Bush’s, both former Presidents and Jeb Bush have said they weren’t going in protest of Trump.

The nominee from the last cycle, Mitt Romney said the same. And all previous candidates in this cycle have dropped out. That leaves few, but Paul Ryan, unless previous candidates reclaim their bid at convention.

Which could have happened. Because, anything can happen. When discussing the white knight theory for this year’s convention, Paul Ryan’s name is the one that kept coming up the most, considering half of the key figures in the GOP party are so angry at Donald Trump they aren’t even going.

And this is why Paul Ryan is touting party unity. How many rounds of voting at convention are allowed? As many as it takes report Time Magazine.

In 1924, it took 103 votes for the Democrats to settle on a nominee, with the final pick being John W. Davis. But he wasn’t even running before then. The frontrunners fighting for votes were Al Smith and William McAdoo.

And after all that, John W. Davis lost the general election, which appears to be the theme on candidates that win at contested conventions. So the GOP really doesn’t want to “go there”, if they don’t have to.

Pew Research Center says, in the past 150 years, 10 nominees were picked at contested conventions, and only one won the general election. His name was Franklin Roosevelt.

So before the result where Donald Trump won the nomination in the first round, the GOP were definitely treading on eggshells with all of these possibilities at convention. The GOP is a hot mess, and a contested convention would only make that worse. Additionally, the delegate counts that candidates arrived with at convention are handed by actual American voters.

Contested conventions then take the decisions out of the voters hands, and into the Rules makers and the party big wigs that want things to go their way. That’s not a good thing to do either, for the party, but also for America. America is after all, a democracy.

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The numbers are in Hillary Clinton's favor so far.

This is why contested conventions are so rare. They are bad for the party. And bad for the general election. But anything really can happen.

The truth is that, as possible as this all is, the chances of it actually happening are slim to none. As we saw, despite all of the protests, a contested convention didn’t happen for the GOP in 2016. A contested convention would have been a complete disaster for the Republican party, that is already so obviously divided. It would make them look like they don’t have their stuff together on any matter, policy, candidate, establishment, nothing.

And that would be a disaster for the party. The Republicans are always about the optics, because optics elect Presidents. So if it looked like Paul Ryan was saying “party unity” like he was getting paid for it every time he did so in a 10 minute presser, that’s because, he probably was.

The truth is, Number 41 and Number 43 and last year’s cycle nominee were not at the convention. It seems like half of the Republican party has suspended a bid in this election already. That means, there are few left to contest the floor.

Paul Ryan is one of them. And he’s already said many times that he doesn’t want to do it. Why? The GOP looks ahead, not in the now, so much. The true GOP are always thinking of the Party, and its longevity, as they believe it is what created the Republic on which all Americans stand.

And they will do anything, say anything, pay anything, to preserve “party unity.” So that’s why there wasn’t a contested convention, and it has become a Clinton vs. Trump game, and one that she likely will win. That is another reason why the GOP is scrambling right now to work to make it look like they have it all together, when we know that they don’t.

The optics are bad. The last two Republican Presidents don’t want to come to the convention. The last Republican Presidential nominee, doesn’t want to go to convention. And Paul Ryan really, really, really doesn’t want to be President.

Or, is it that Paul Ryan has his eyes on 2020, and doesn’t want to get beat by the one person the GOP loathes the most? Time will tell. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be a great convention. Though, Americans hoping to catch a binders full of women slip this year or an autograph signing by Big Bird are going to be disappointed. But Trump will be there.

And he’s already slipped. His wife is now forever attached to a plagiarism scandal. And the Trump Camp lied about it. Also, he’s not getting the endorsements he needs to gain some serious ground going into the full swing of debate season and the General Election.

Paul Ryan wants party unity. He also really, really doesn’t want to lose to a girl. So instead he will take notes over the next 4 years, and then tell America in 2020 what she did wrong and how he is better, just like he did with President Obama when he was running as Mitt Romney’s running mate.

The best strategy for him, and the GOP in this case then would be to do just what they are doing. Write this cycle off, not show up, and shove Donald Trump to the front of the line to let him be the first GOP beat by a girl. That’s a win win for everybody.

Including, the women of America, who make up more than half of the country’s constituents and also hold the margin of error. And it is those series of facts that will win the general election for Hillary Clinton. You can likely and literally bank on the fact that she is laughing at all of this right now.

Since early in the season, Trump has been behind in the polls.

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