The talk among the Commentariat in the past forty-eight hours is all about the possibility of a "brokered Convention" when the Republicans meet in Cleveland next July to select a Presidential nominee. Inasmuch as they are politics junkies desperate for something to talk about, the TV bloviators are excited at the prospect, since it would mean boosted ratings and lots of gossip. It occurred to me that I might take just a moment to explain, to my younger readers and foreign friends, just what a brokered convention is and why it will almost certainly not happen.
Before the modern system of primaries and caucuses was put in place, more than forty years ago, the political conventions were controlled by political bosses, who had the power to command, and hence to deliver, blocs of delegates in the negotiations that sometimes determined the choice of a candidate. The power of the bosses derived from their ability to hand out local city and state jobs and other perks to loyal party members. The jobs were typically lower-middle-class jobs -- clerkships in city or state offices, so-called ward heelers who walked the city streets looking after the needs of the faithful -- a waiver of a fee here, permission to put up a sign outside a barroom there, that sort of thing. The famous bosses, like Richard Daley of Chicago, wielded very considerable political power, which enabled them to arrange for Federal budget allocations for projects in their districts and other payoffs. One of the little rewards the bosses doled out to their troops was a ticket to the quadrennial convention as a delegate. Indeed, so desirable was this perk that some states split their delegate votes into fractions, so that a state with, say twenty-two votes at the convention might have a delegation of forty-four or even sixty-six members, each with a half or a third of a vote. This could create a bit of chaos when someone on the delegation challenged the report of the delegation leader during a roll call and forced the presiding officer to call the name of each and every holder of a fractional vote, who then got to come to the delegation's microphone and announce, to the assembled multitudes, "John J. Hickenlooper proudly casts one-third vote for the next president of the United States, Robert Taft" [cheers from the crowd.] Since the boss controlled the jobs and other perks of the delegates, they would do whatever he told them to, thereby making it possible for him to "deliver" their votes.
The post-war rise of the newly affluent Middle Class and the demographic move to the suburbs eroded the power of the bosses. The incorporation of those local jobs into the Civil Service, and the introduction of the Primary System, pretty well killed the power of the bosses. Let me explain.
Under the present Primary System, each candidate must, by the deadline set by the State Committee, submit a slate of names for the delegate slots to be decided by the votes in the primary. If the candidate has any sense at all [and this much sense they tend to have], that slate will consist of dedicated supporters who can be counted on to stand by their man [or woman.] A candidate who cannot even find enough true believers to fill the slate in each primary obviously is going nowhere. The people who control the state party machinery -- i.e., the people who would have been bosses under the old system -- play no role in choosing the various slates, and the people who are chosen owe them nothing.
All of which means that should no candidate arrive at the Convention having the 1243 votes needed for nomination, there is no roomful of bosses, smoke-filled or otherwise, who have bunches of delegates in their pockets with which they can negotiate. Indeed, it is not even clear that the candidates have that power. The rules stipulate that a delegate must vote for the candidate on whose slate he or she was elected as a delegate, but only on the first ballot. After that, they are on their own. Since they were originally included in a candidate's primary slate presumably because they were true believers in that candidate, we may assume they will be influenced by what the candidate wants them to do. But they may not be, and in any case the candidate is not empowered to deliver them en bloc on subsequent ballots.
So, there may well be chaos at the Republican Convention in July, but there will not be a brokered convention, because there are no longer any brokers. All of which is giving the few remaining marginally sane people in the Republican Party a major case of indigestion.