It has been many moons since there was a genuinely brokered convention. I’ve seen the 1976 GOP Ford-Reagan duel called that but it all came down to one rule vote and one delegation: Mississippi. The 1960 Democratic convention was technically open but the Kennedy forces were able to convince most of the bosses to jump on the JFK bandwagon. The key word is bosses. They were actually power brokers in those days to decide the nomination. In 2016, nobody in either party has the clout to deliver an entire delegation in the manner of Chicago’s Dick Daley or Frank Costello’s pal, Tammany Hall’s Carmine DiSapio. For good or ill, there are no power brokers any more. What happens, if as expected, Trump falls short of the magic number of 1,237?
It’s a tantalizing question for which history offers only unsatisfactory answers. The last conventions to qualify as brokered happened way back in 1952. The Republican convention was more of a rout because Tom Dewey was the man behind Ike and his allies had controlled the national party machinery since 1944. Dewey may not have been able to win a general election against the Democrats but he knew how to wield power in his own party. On the down side, he was the one who urged Richard Nixon on Ike.
The 1952 Democratic convention is of more interest to 2016. Here’s Jeff Greenfield’s take on it:
A different kind of “king making” happened in Chicago 32 years later, at the 1952 Democratic Convention. Once again, a progressive insurgent had taken the primary route: Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver had indeed beaten President Truman in New Hampshire, which may or may not have influence Truman’s decision not to run again). All through Spring and summer, Kefauver won primary after primary, but the party leaders wanted no part of the candidate who’d become famous by holding hearings—televised, no less—that exposed ties between organized crime and big city political machines. Georgia Senator Richard Russell was a Southern segregationist—anathema to a party that four years earlier had finally taken a strong civil rights stand. Averell Harriman was a diplomat with no political experience.
Outgoing President Truman knew who he wanted, In January, he’d invited Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson to the White House and urged him to run; but Stevenson declined; but suggested he might be amenable to a “draft movement.” Stevenson “reluctantly” let Chicago political boss Jake Arvey put his name forth. Crucially, Stevenson had wowed delegates with a witty and compelling welcome speech. (“What counts now is not just what we are against, but what we are for. Who leads us is less important than what leads us.”) Organized labor signed on. On the first ballot, Kefauver was the front-runner with 340 delegates, with Stevenson and Russell close behind. But the push by Truman, labor, and power brokers like Pittsburgh mayor (and future governor) David Lawrence was too strong, and by the third ballot, Stevenson had prevailed—the last time any presidential ballot went past the first round.
There are no comparable power brokers to put the fix in today in either party. The days of the bosses are long gone. The primaries have been around for quite some time, but first became crucial in 1960 and 1964. Does anyone really think Barry Goldwater would have been nominated in 1964 if he could have been stopped by the so-called establishment? Republican Governors were horrified by the hard right’s takeover of the party but not even Rockefeller, Scranton of Pennsylvania, Romney of Michigan or Jim Rhodes of Ohio could stop Goldwater. Why? He won the primaries and caucuses. That was the year primaries became dispositive on the GOP side. It happened in 1972 for the Democrats. This is the system we still have in place.
There are a lot of delusional “establishment” Republicans out there. It is highly unlikely, perhaps even impossible, that the nominee will be someone who hasn’t run in the primaries and done well. Sorry Gov. Kasich that rules you out. It’s going to be either Trump or Cruz. If not, there may not be the riots predicted by the Insult Comedian, but there will be thousands of unhappy Republican primary voters who will sit on their hands. If Paul Ryan thinks the same “white knight/savior” strategy that elected him Speaker will secure him the GOP Presidential nod, I want some of the shit he’s smoking, man. Never gonna happen.
Despite some bleating from Sanders’ over-matched campaign manager, John Weaver, there will not be a brokered convention on the Democratic side. The only reason the topic has surfaced is Team Bernie’s recent string of caucus (and one primary) wins. The math is the math is the math. I also loathe caucuses, ain’t nothing small-d democratic or small-p progressive about them. I remain mystified as to why Bernie’s red state caucus wins are morally superior to Hillary’s red state primary wins. The only explanation seems to be: Because it’s Bernie. Whatever, dude…
Back to the fog of history, undeclared candidates who emerged from a brokered convention have had a horrendous track record since the dawn of the 20th Century. I would be remiss in not mentioning the 1924 Democratic convention, which we history buffs call the Klanbake. There was an epic 103 ballot death dance between the liberal, wet (anti-prohibition) Irish Catholic Governor of New York Al Smith and the pro-Klan, dry , former Treasury secretary William Gibbs McAdoo. The convention turned to Wall Street lawyer John W. Davis (later Thurgood Marshal’s SCOTUS opponent in Brown v. Board of Education) who got his ass kicked by Calvin Coolidge and his pet raccoon.
The aforementioned 1952 Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson was a two-time loser, but even he liked Ike so what can ya do?
As to the infamous smoke-filled room that picked Warren Harding in 1920, Gamaliel was on the ballot as Ohio’s favorite son candidate. There’s no succor to be had for his fellow Ohioan John Kasich. Besides, who wants to be compared to Gamaliel?
In the end, Trump’s hiring of Paul Manafort shows that they’re not going down without a fight. In this case, a knife fight. Manafort is a seasoned Republican operative with a reputation for ruthless efficiency. If nothing else, it will make it entertaining in a “people who get off on ratfucking” sort of way.
I’m just glad that this is their problem. It will make it hard for the GOP to win the White House BUT reports of their demise are clearly premature. Remember: they control a majority of leges and goobers. It’s something that White House obsessed Democrats would be wise to remember.