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Brokered Convention's Not Going to Happen

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Can we please stop this nonsense before it gets started? The Fix’s Chris Cizzilla looks at the Republican presidential field and breaks out the hackiest of clichés:

The more states vote early-ish in the calendar, the more likely it is that candidates target a state or two where they have the best chance of winning rather than trying to run the table. And, assuming that several different candidates win some of those early states, it will be hard for the party to pressure out someone who can say: "Hey, I've won a state. I have delegates." That could mean a nominating process that drags out well into the spring — and might, under certain scenarios, create at least the specter of a brokered GOP convention.

First of all, the thing that’s not going to happen is a deadlocked convention, not a “brokered” convention. There are no brokers.

But it doesn’t matter, because it won't happen whatever you call it.

This is simple. Winnowing works. Serious candidates who no longer have a realistic chance will drop out; non-serious candidates, under Republican rules, won’t accumulate very many delegates. No more than two or three candidates will survive the invisible primary, plus Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, to get where the actual delegates are. 

After that, no one is going to successfully “target a state or two.” That hasn’t been a winning strategy since before 1972, and it doesn’t even work in the "early-ish" states, as Rudy Giuliani learned in Florida in 2008. Sure, if three candidates remain after South Carolina, they won’t invest equal resources in every state, but they’ll essentially be running national campaigns, or else their support will dry up rapidly and they’ll find themselves running no campaign at all.

What’s more, in the very unlikely event that three candidates emerge from the early contests evenly balanced, party actors will be quick to abandon one of them to prevent the chaos of a deadlocked convention. Which leaves two candidates splitting almost all the delegates and no real chance of a deadlocked convention.

It’s fun to speculate about this stuff, but we have plenty of genuine drama to chew over. It’s not going to happen. The process just doesn’t work that way.

  1. It's hard to see how four candidates could remain viable after South Carolina. Suppose we have, say, Huckabee-Bush-Walker in Iowa and Romney-Bush-Walker in New Hampshire. Would Walker retain the support to pull off a Walker-Bush finish in South Carolina? And if so, would Mitt and Huck remain in the race? And that’s ignoring the good chances that Rand Paul cracks the top three somewhere, or the plausible chance that Ted Cruz or Ben Carson makes it into the top three. Which matters because if Walker (or any other candidate) finishes fifth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire, he’s going to drop out, not rally to win South Carolina.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net