Sunday, July 19, 2015

Can This Happen? The Numbers Of the Republican 2016 Chaos Theory

(Update to the update: oops, had the wrong link to the Mike's Blog Round Up.  Still, if you're visiting, HI THERE!)

I think I've linked before to National Review - more out of spite than anything, if I recall - but it's rare, so I have to note that in doing some digging into how crazy the GOP primaries are going to get I came across an article that was gleeful about the possibility the whole thing goes to the July 2016 convention:

How interesting? Top-tier presidential campaigns are preparing for the still-unlikely scenario that the nomination fight goes all the way to the 2016 Republican National Convention. There hasn’t been a brokered convention since 1976, but the strength of the GOP field (note: Joel Gehrke's words, not mine), when coupled with the proliferation of super PACs, increases the chances that several candidates could show up in Cleveland next July with an army of delegates at their backs.

Now granted, as a student of history, I would be intrigued to watch that most epic of political dog-fights (an intra-party civil war) that a brokered convention would be.  However, I'm a little skeptical about 2016 being divided up between candidates as a good thing for the GOP, due to several factors:

  • There isn't a serious front-runner - I'm talking someone with a double-digit lead over the next candidate - that can steady and solidify his hold on a brokered convention.  That could well mean three or more players fighting over one chair (the Presidency) with the peace offering (Vice Presidency) not even a satisfactory bargaining chip.
  • There are a lot of Active-Negative egos on the campaign trail this year: I cannot imagine any of the top vote getters - Jeb, Walker, Huckabee, Cruz, Trump - subsuming their egos/ids long enough to let a sane deal get hammered out at the convention.  Huckabee could under the circumstances, but if he's thisclose to being the nominee I doubt it.
  • There are no likable "dark horse" possibilities at the moment that could be a "safe" alternative for the party to back (mostly because so many of those possibilities are polling below 5 percent at the moment).
  • Any possible deal getting made would have to satiate - not just mollify, but validate - the Far Right voters who clearly did not give enough support to the Establishment GOP leaders' preferred choice (Bush... or Walker).  That means coming out into the general election with such a hard-core platform - not just anti-Obamacare and anti-taxes, but also anti-immigrant to the point of a declared race war vs. Latinos - that the general election could well drive all the moderate/no-party-affiliate voters screaming into the happy arms of the Democrats (even if Evil Hillary is the candidate and is openly Evil about it).

Let's just look at the scenario, how it might play out.  There's a site I found called Green Papers that goes into more detail about the convention rules and delegation counts, but let's stick to the basics.

  • There are 2470 total delegates planned out for the 2016 Convention in Cleveland.
  • It takes 1236 delegates to clinch the nomination outright.
  • Let's say that none of the major names likely to survive all the way to July 2016 are able to get over 25 percent of all delegates.  That means not only did the top two names not get enough to win, those top two candidates do not have enough to make a deal between themselves to snag the President and Vice-President slots... and that neither of them can even deal with any of the lesser delegate holders to pass the finish line.  This is why I'm thinking the Veep seat won't be a decent bargaining chip when the time comes.

Let's try this: Bush, Walker, Paul, Cruz, Huckabee, Trump and Rubio all survive to the last primary day.  But it plays out like this for the delegate count:
Walker = 568
Huckabee = 494
Bush = 445
Trump = 271
Cruz = 247
Rubio = 247
Paul = 198

You'll notice that Walker and Huckabee together can't break that 1236 count, so there's no team-up possibility there.  All of the possible combos won't work.  In this scenario, the back-room party leaders will have some difficulties: if Jeb Bush had secured the first or second spot on the list, given his family's connections he could easily make enough deals and make the "sensible" argument as the "Establishment" figurehead to control the convention.  But if he's down in third place or lower, he can't make any "sensible" claims in that regards, especially if it's clear the GOP voting base won't trust or accept him.

What is going to have to happen is that the top guys - Walker, Huckabee and Bush - are going to try and grab as many delegates from the bottom four as best as possible.  But you can't offer the VP spot to all four, so that's a no-go.  It's interesting to note that the lower four names have three of the furthest wingnut candidates - Trump, Cruz and Paul - more interested in pandering to the base than the top three (who are all pretty well-versed in pandering already, which should be telling).

That means a lot of horse-trading and a ton of concessions - giving into extremist positions that won't play well to a moderate/independent audience - from whomever makes the best offers.  Which is not a good thing for a political party already stuck in a dogmatic mindset: the Republicans can well end up with a set of agenda policies so Far Right than they already are it would unpalatable to the general electorate.  I'm talking platform policies that are openly hostile - rather than just dog-whistling - against Latinos, women, college students, even families that do not fit the purity worldview of the Far Right.

Of course, the counter to that scenario is "can that even happen?"

It depends on if delegation wins by state are Winner-Take-All or Proportional.  Some states do seem to be WTA (Florida and California) and so a winning primary candidate could well get hundreds of delegates rather than piecemeal.  But Texas seems to use a Proportional, and they're one of the bigger delegate-holding states for the GOP (esp. thanks to their bonus counts).  A lot of toss-up states like Ohio and Virginia are Proportionals as well.

There's also the factor that one candidate will do better in one state's primary and not another.  Trump may play well in North Carolina but I guarantee you he's going to get stomped in Latino-heavy states like Florida and California (he may God help us win enough anti-immigrant votes in Texas to snag proportional delegates from there).  Jeb Bush may get Florida as its his support base, but may not get anything from Wisconsin or Tennessee (or 40 other states).  Walker could well clean up in the Midwest where his brand of politicking may work, but could well crash in California or the Northeast.

That factor is now in play because the earlier primary method of weeding out weaker candidates can no longer work.  In this post-Citizens United world, a candidate can garner the love of a Sugar Daddy SuperPAC and stay in all 50 states without fear of campaign debts.  That means a candidate that would normally fail in the early rounds - Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina have been the Filter states since the 1970s - can power through to the states where they could thrive and garner enough delegates to earn a seat at the convention dealer's table.

The Republicans are going to have to pray for three things:

  1. That there's a clear front-runner - especially Jeb, maybe Walker - even if he doesn't win enough delegate counts
  2. That the top delegate winner has just enough - I'd say over 1000 delegates, enough to assert a lead but not enough to win outright - to secure the nomination by making a VP deal with a relatively sane lower-tier delegate holder
  3. That... aw, who am I kidding? I want the Republicans to suffer bwhahahahahaha

...except for the fact that given the nature of the Two-Party dominance in Presidential elections, I dread the likelihood of a wingnut convention winner coming out with a wingnut platform.  No matter how repulsive that platform could get, we run the risk of a close election - damn you, Debacle 2000! - that could haunt us for decades.

Unless Trump does well enough in the primaries to convince himself he can branch out as a third-party candidate.  His Id - more powerful than his already outsized Ego - could well go that impulsive route.  Instead of 2000 we'd be replaying 1992, when a rich egotist in Ross Perot split votes away from Bush the Elder's GOP to allow Clinton to win a minority popular vote / majority Electoral count.  I do imagine a number of Republican operatives are losing sleep over THAT possibility...


dinthebeast said...

Yes, several Serious Republicans are proclaiming that the McCain fiasco is the final turning point in Bill the Cat, I mean Trump's campaign, although I seem to be detecting a note of desperation in their voices as they do so...

-Doug in Oakland

Paul said...

the serious party people are saying Trump is done, but we all need to see the polling because I get the feeling the base voters never liked McCain and would react against the "establishment" instead of Trump. Just note, Trump is not walking his insult back.

dinthebeast said...

Steve M. at Crooks and Liars is saying pretty much the same thing. "Don't you love it don't you hate it, there it is the way you made it..."

-Doug in Oakland