Could Rule 40 For GOP Into Brokered Convention In 2016?

A brokered political convention, one where there is no clear nominee heading into a political party’s national convention, is something political wonks like to talk about but which hasn’t been a reality for decades (Adlai Stevenson’s nomination by Democrats in 1952 was the last truly brokered convention). But North Dakota Republican National Committeeman Curly Haugland says a GOP rule adopted in the last presidential cycle to protect Mitt Romney’s nomination from insurgent Ron Paul supporters could backfire on the party, leading to a brokered convention in 2016.

Dave Catanese reports:

Officially, it’s Rule 40 in the RNC handbook and it states that any candidate for president “shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight (8) or more states” before their name is presented for nomination at the national convention.

In a scenario with a commanding front-runner, this doesn’t seem like a high threshold to cross. But with the absence of an heir apparent standard-bearer and the most wide open nomination battle in decades looming, some RNC members think Rule 40 could crack open the door to the possibility of a convention floor fight. The theory: If no one candidate has secured eight states, it invites a free-for-all without a reason to get out. Conversely, if multiple candidates garner eight victories and accrue hundreds of delegates, each could claim a right to soldier on.  For instance, it isn’t inconceivable to think that Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., could dominate the Northeast, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. performing well in the South and Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wisc,, racking up victories in the Midwest.

“Every primary, every caucus, will essentially be a beauty contest,” Catanese quotes Haugland as saying. “Now, those results will be persuasive to delegates that go to the convention. But the delegates to the Republican convention are going to choose the next presidential nominee. Nobody will have the majority of delegates from eight states before the convention.”

According to Haugland, the RNC has to follow these rules until they convene again to make new rules in 2016. And, as I mentioned before the rules are in place because of some maneuvering by the Mitt Romney campaign:

The irony is that the origination of the new Rule 40 came from the epitome of the establishment: Super Republican lawyer and lobbyist Ben Ginsberg, who served as Mitt Romney’s counsel in 2012 and guided the successful Florida recount on behalf of the GOP in 2000 that made George W. Bush president.

Ginsberg, seated two rows behind Haugland at that Tampa meeting, spearheaded many of the rule changes in order to protect Romney’s 2012 convention and what was assumed to be his re-election campaign in 2016. He proposed increasing the amount of states required for an aspiring nominee from five to eight. He also changed the requirement from a simple plurality — any leading percentage of the vote under 50 percent — to a harder-to-attain majority. It was all meant to insulate Romney from an intraparty threat. As pugilistic as he is savvy, Ginsberg got almost everything he wanted.

Reached by phone, Ginsberg declined to comment on the record for this story, but multiple committee members cited him as the driver of most of the amendments to the rules. Not all blame him for his maneuvers – his primary and rightful concern at that time was protecting Romney – but now several think Rule 40 should be revisited, even if they see Haugland’s scenario as unlikely to materialize.

How unlikely is all this? Catanese quotes other RNC members as saying that some candidate will emerge in time for the convention with majority support in the requisite eight states, especially with many states moving to winner-take-all. But even in winner-take-all situations,  RNC rules state that a candidate can only be given all of a state’s delegates if he or she gets more than 50 percent.

With the GOP facing deep divides within the base, and with no clear candidate for 2016, can any one candidate hope to get a majority (not, mind you, a plurality) in eight states before the convention? The GOP better hope so.

But wouldn’t it have been easier to just let Ron Paul compete and lose at the national convention instead of the rule changes to lock his supporters out? Romney was going to win there anyway, and now that maneuvering may have consequences.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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