NICK ON POLITICS: Open Convention for the Republicans in 2012?

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NICK ON POLITICS: Open Convention for the Republicans in 2012?

3/30/2012

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By Nick Garrett

What if Republicans end up with a nominee presidential candidate other then the four individuals are running right now? How is it possible and is it even legal? Believe it or not it has happened before. 

I will never forget how ignorant I felt about my past voting habits when I finally learned about how the president is elected and my task as a voter to also vote for and send delegates to attend my party’s convention. 
Admittedly I never knew how it really worked until my mid twenties. Without even knowing it one can vote for a candidate for president and then vote for delegates pledging to support someone else at the convention. It’s an easy thing to do, first scanning the list underneath of the presidential candidates’ names on the ballot, not really knowing why these individuals are on the touch screen. We want to be good citizens so we rack our brains for something to remind who these “delegates” could be or why we vote for them in the first place. So we proceed and look for the names of individuals we might recognize and then finish up by randomly selecting names to meet the “choose five” requirement. Sub consciously we are looking at the names and thinking about what these people might be like. We try to stereotype our way through the process because we just don’t know.
Importantly, these are the people campaigning to represent our region at the party’s national convention to nominate the presidential candidate for our party. While the precedent has been that these delegates pledge support for the candidate who won the popular vote in that particular delegates region, they are not obligated to. If the delegate gets a vibe, hunch, or personal intuition that another candidate is desirable, he or she can cast a vote for that individual. This can have a large impact at the convention because each state has a certain number of electors. Once one individual casts a ballot for someone, it’s easy for others from that state to do the same. Once at the convention, these delegates’ decisions can very easily influence who ends up being the nominee for president.
One can’t help but notice some uncanny similarities in the current Republican primary and the one that occurred in 1880. Well… ok, only nerds who know about the1880 Republican Primary and Convention would notice, but it is interesting nonetheless. 
Excitement surrounds the idea that we may go to the Republican Convention with an open convention. This can occur when the candidates campaigning to be the party’s nominee are so close to each other in delegate numbers that until the balloting begins at the convention there is no clear answer as to a winner and nominee.
Right now Mit Romney is in the lead and it is hard to envision a realistic scenario in which he does not reach the winning number of approximately 1,144 pledge delegates before the other candidates. When he does though, Rick Santorum will likely have over 800, which is a large enough number that his presence at the convention cannot be ignored and his candidacy still realistically considered. If Santorum wins a state like Texas and continues to win the rural mid west it could be so close the convention could get even more interesting. Newt Gingrich, who really has no chance of winning, has won Georgia and South Carolina as well as coming in with good numbers in two other states. Even if he does not win another, he is going to the convention with enough pledge delegates to make noise and influence support behind one of the two front-runners.  Ron Paul has ranked fairly consistently in the teens and up to twenty or thirty percent in some states, giving some the hope of a viable third party somewhere down the line.
All of this sets the stage for the candidates to go to the convention with enough delegates to warrant up to 40 ballots before a decision is made on a nominee. If it comes to Santorum and Romney being deadlocked, the addition of another name such as a Sara Palin or Chris Christie, the popular Republican Governor from New Jersey is not that far fetched.
During the1880 Republican Convention James Blaine and Ulysses Grant, were balloting so close to each other that selecting a winner was not possible. One faction of the party, the “half breeds”, as they were unofficially referred to at the time, wanted to see change in the Country and to their Republican Party which had been burdened with deep corruption due to a “spoil system” surrounding political appointments and rewards without merit and favors for those assisting victorious candidates. The other faction, the “Stalwarts” wanted the system to work as it always had. After all, Republicans had been in the Executive Mansion since Lincoln and they wanted to keep it that way. Grant was being nominated for an unprecedented third term and was supported by the stalwarts. James Blaine was supported by the other half of the party, largely alluding to their opposition of the machine politics. John Sherman of Ohio, the brother of war hero and General, William Tecumsah Sherman, was also running. He had a block of support from what would today be considered the independent type. After days and days, and roughly 25 ballots, Blaine and Grant’s numbers were still making it near impossible to decide. 
Today looks very similar. Mit Romney and Rick Santorum representing different factions of the party and Ron Paul holding a small but influential block. All of a sudden against his own verbal opposition, James Garfield, who was a very intelligent and successful public servant and war hero, had his name put in by a lone delegate from Pennsylvania and support spread like wildfire along with other ballots. Garfield had no interest in running and voiced his opposition to being a candidate, much like New Jersey’s current Governor Chris Christie, who is widely respected for turning the New Jersey establishment upside down. 
As his running mate the Republican Party selected Chester A. Arthur, a machine politician from New York whose only previous political experience had been as the Collector for the Port in New York, ironically, an appointment secured by word from Ulysses Grant years earlier. Much like Alaska Governor Sara Palin brought an important block of the Republican party for the McCain campaign in 2008 Sara Palin has retained her popularity to the extent that she is “not closing any doors” when it comes to her name being put in as a nominee.
So it is not against the law for the delegates to go to the convention and nominate whomever they wish. Further, at a time where the Republicans are eager to take the fight to incumbent Democrat Barack Obama, one can see the need to have a candidate that can unite the party, create a national buzz and actually win.
In a great ironic twist, Garfield, who never wanted to be president was shot by a lunatic and died two months later after infections from poor medical care surrounding the wound. Some have concluded from primary source material that his running mate, Chester A. Arthur did not want to be president either. He simply wanted the power the title brought. When Garfield died and Arthur, the stalwart, took over, he ended the spoil system and shocked everyone by leading the way on civil service reform and leaving office well respected for the efforts he made as president. 
So, while an open convention is speculation it is interesting to consider what happened in 1880 and think about how it could occur in 2012. If nor no other reason then to ensure a Republican victory.
In 1880 Maryland voted for the Democrat Union General Hancock of civil war fame. Even though the Democratic Party at the time had shed its label as the party of Southern Racists, the general election of 1880 was one of the closest in presidential history. 


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