The election of 2016 is shaping up to be quite momentous. Regardless of the final outcome, the election will be of historic nature. One attribute that is contributing to the uniqueness of the election is the current primary races. On the Democratic side, after Hillary Clinton’s wins on March 15th, looks like her path is paved going forward. On the Republican side, John Kasich’s win in his home state has made the possibility of a contested or brokered convention a stronger likelihood for the G.O.P. convention in June.
A brokered or contested convention occurs when no primary candidate arrives with the required amount of delegates to win on the first ballot. If this happens, delegates are released from voting in response to the primary results in their home states. This means, until a candidate is selected for nomination, ballots will continue and delegates are freed to redistribute their votes. This creates an opportunity for bargaining and pitching by candidates and candidates teams. The idea of a brokered election comes from an era in United States history where political bosses could control the votes. Historically, the most notorious brokered convention was the Democratic National Convention of 1924. During that convention, ballots for the nominee were cast 103 times, making it the longest convention in United States history. Ultimately, John Davis was the nominee and would go on to lose to Calvin Coolidge.
Historically, the primary season is a relatively new feature of American politics. Prior to the 1930s, most conventions happened without official primaries, making almost all the conventions brokered. Following the Progressive Movement, the people wanted to take control of the nomination process, removing the power from the party leaders. Thus, primaries became a part of the electoral process in the mid-1930s. The most recent brokered conventions happened in 1948 for the Republicans, in which Thomas Dewey was the candidate. Dewey would go on to be defeated in the national election by Harry Truman. In 1952, it was the Democrats chance to broker a convention, with Adlai Stevenson becoming the nominee. Neither of the recent brokered convention candidates went on to win the general election. In fact, the last president elected from a brokered convention was Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As we approach the end of primary season in June, it is important that we pay attention to what is happening. Just last night, Marco Rubio effectively ended his campaign. Up to this point,
candidates in the Republican primary have been split among four candidates. It will be interesting to see how shrinking to three candidates will impact Cruz, Kasich, and Trump. Regardless, the popularity of Trump has the G.O.P. top brass nervous. Later this week, leaders of the party will be coming together to discuss the option of running a third party candidate in the general election this fall.
The idea of running a third party is something that is not new. One of the most famous examples of a viable third party in United States history is the Bull Moose Party. In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt did not want to run for another term in the White House, citing the fact that he had nearly served two whole terms (although he was only elected once) and he handpicked his successor for the Republican party, Howard Taft. Ultimately, Taft did not live up to the expectations and follow the precedents that Roosevelt had set for “his” administration. The two became openly hostile, causing Roosevelt to ask for the Republican nomination for president in 1912 (at this point, it was not unconstitutional to serve more than two terms as president). When the Republican party and Taft refused to back down, Roosevelt pledged to form a new political party. Ultimately, the schism created between Taft and Roosevelt would end up splitting the Republican vote and allowing Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic nominee, to become president. This would mark the second time that a Democrat had been president since the Civil War (given the fact that Grover Cleveland was a two-term non-sequential president).
As the primary season continues to march on in press coverage, television ads, and general interest, the election in November will be a momentous one for many reasons. It is important that we take a moment and use the lessons of history as to what may come of the general election this fall.