NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland – The idea of a brokered convention was pitched to conservative activists as everything from a backroom Washington, DC, power coup to a civic alternative to "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" on Friday, as Republicans used the contingency plan to further their bids.
Once thought to be inconceivable, the prospect of a brokered convention -- during which state delegates pick the party’s nominee in a floor feud instead of simply crowning the candidate who has achieved the requisite delegates -- is becoming increasingly possible, perhaps even probable, according to some strategists’ back-of-the-napkin math.
With party elders like Gov. Mitt Romney balking at the prospect of nominating clear front-runner Donald Trump, and supporters of everyone other than Trump encouraging it as their only shot, the brokered convention has gone from the mythological and unrealistic endgame to campaign ammunition.
Friday’s scorekeeper was Sean Hannity, who made it clear he opposed a brokered convention and demanded answers from candidates and party leaders alike: Which side are you on?
The GOP's second-place contender, Ted Cruz, stood firmly against a brokered convention, portraying it as "fevered frenzy" by the Washington elites that would prompt "manifest revolt" -- something that could be avoided if only everyone would just vote for him.
“If you wanna beat Donald Trump, you beat Donald Trump with the voters,” Cruz bellowed to the crowd. “If you don’t want Donald Trump to be the nominee, come join us, we are building a group of followers who are lovers of the Constitution."
Others argued it was a real possibility, and something that might be an awesome civics lesson for kids.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to get [enough delegates],” Ohio Gov. John Kasich told Hannity, before confidently predicting a victory in his home state’s key winner-takes-all primary later this month. “Could you think anything cooler than a convention where we're all gonna learn about how America works, and our kids and school will learn more about American politics than they will than [watching] the Kardashians?”
Despite Kasich's cheerful spin on what is seemingly his lone path to the nomination, a brokered convention sounds an awful lot like Washington dealings to many here: Cruz got big cheers when he condemned it. To be sure, when an electoral process can't be explained clearly in a day-long conservative conference, it's bound to earn some distrust from the thousands boasting "big government sucks" stickers.
Conversely, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus got a frosty response when he spoke in the morning, facing questions about the voter distrust of the GOP establishment that's been credited for fueling Trump's rise. Priebus sought to defend his role at the RNC as one that builds a grassroots operation to boost whomever the nominee is and downplayed the possibility of a contested convention -- putting the odds of even reaching a contested convention at just 10 to 15 percent.
“A lot of this is early talk. Just so you understand, there are 1,237 delegates needed to be the nominee of our party. There are 1,744 delegates left to be distributed -- we are a long way to go,” Priebus said. “There’s no way that the people are not going to decide, there’s no way that the delegates are not going to decide.”