As the race for the Democratic presidential nomination grinds on, party insiders are starting to wonder, what happens if no one goes to the 2020 convention with at least 50 percent plus one delegate, thus assuring a win on the first ballot, according to Politico.
In times past, the Democratic Party had made several elected officials and other movers and shakers “super delegates” with the ability to rally behind a candidate thought to have the best chance of winning,
However, because of the stench created by superdelegates supporting Hillary Clinton in 2016, with Bernie Sanders supporters crying out that their guy was robbed, those party insiders have been stripped of much of their powers. They are still allowed to vote on the second ballot if no one wins the nomination on the first.
The problem is that the winnowing out process that usually starts before Iowa does not seem to be happening with the Democrats for the 2020 cycle. Indeed, according to some analysts, the field of top tier candidates seems to be growing, not shrinking. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has gotten a second look and has joined Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders as candidates thought to have a shot at the nomination.
In the meantime, second-tier candidates such as Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke are stubbornly refusing to throw in the towel, sustained by grassroots donations. And, of course, Tom Steyer is rich enough to stay in regardless of a lack of popular support.
The situation has led some party insiders such as former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and DNC member James Zogby to suggest that the 2020 Democratic election will be “contested.” That is the polite term for something more ominous and, in the modern age, more unseemly: a brokered convention.
The way a brokered convention works, according to Teagan Goddard’s Political Dictionary:
“A brokered convention occurs when there are not enough delegates ‘won’ during the presidential primaries for a single candidate to have a majority during the first official vote at a party’s nominating convention. The nomination is then decided through political deals between candidates, party bosses and subsequent votes until one candidate receives a majority.”
Before candidates run against one another in presidential primaries, conventions were routinely brokered. The last time political conventions were brokered was, for the Republicans, 1948 when Thomas Dewey was chosen and for the Democrats, 1952 when Adlai Stevenson was picked.
Anyone interested in getting the flavor of what a brokered convention would be like should watch “The Best Man,” a film based on the stage play by Gore Vidal which starred Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson.
Periodically, since the early 1950s, political reporters anticipated that a party convention might wind up brokered. The Democrats came close in 1968 but were sparred by the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy. The reason that political reporters would love to cover a brokered convention is obvious.
They are more interesting than the modern political convention, which tends to be coronations are already selected, nominees. The best one can expect these days are fights over meaningless party platform planks and the occasional vice presidential running mate intrigue.
Democratic Party insiders, understandably, view the prospect of the 2020 convention being brokered with dread.
“William Owen, a Democratic National Committee member and Biden supporter from Tennessee, said he fears that if the nomination remains unsettled by the time of the national convention, ‘we will look like a dystopian Hunger Games auction,’ with delegates trading support for appointments and other political favors.”
Political offices, including ambassadorships, judgeships, cabinet positions, and even the vice presidency would be up for grabs, with people who control large numbers of delegates with the hands out to be paid for their support.
In times past, these things were done out of public view, in the stereotypical smoke-filled rooms. However, a modern brokered convention would take place in full view. The players would not even have to leak to the media. They could stick the shiv in the backs of their enemies on Twitter.
The possibility of an establishment wing vs progressive wing schism exists. According to Politico:
“Jeff Cohen, co-founder of RootsAction.org, an online activist group that supports Sanders, said he has been speaking with other progressives about the possibility that Warren or Sanders enters the convention ahead of ‘a more corporate candidate’ such as Biden ‘and the superdelegates go behind the corporate-oriented candidate who is in second place.’”
Cohen added that would not stand. What the progressives would do in that scenario is anyone’s guess.