Republican officials and leading figures in the party's establishment are preparing for the possibility of a brokered convention as businessman Donald Trump continues to sit atop the polls in the GOP presidential race. More than 20 of them convened Monday near the Capitol for a dinner held by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, and the prospect of Trump nearing next year's nominating convention in Cleveland with a significant number of delegates dominated the discussion, according to five people familiar with the meeting.
We're still 51 days away from Iowa Republicans participating in the first presidential nominating contest of the cycle, but party insiders are already weighing the possibility of convention chaos in July. The Washington Post reported late yesterday.
The article explained that "several longtime Republican power brokers" have begun to see a convention floor fight as "a real possibility," and they're urging party officials to begin "laying the groundwork" now for an effort to derail Trump in the summer.
Upon leaving the gathering, the Post added, "several attendees said they would share memos about delegate allocation in each state as well as research about the 1976 convention, the last time the GOP gathered without a clear nominee."
Let's unpack this a bit, in part because it's important, and also because we're likely to hear quite a bit more about this in the coming weeks and months.
It's worth pausing at the outset to review some of the basics. Republican candidates will compete in a series of primaries and caucuses, picking up delegates along the way. If a candidate wins a majority of the delegates, he or she becomes the party's presidential nominee. If one candidate dominates as voters cast their ballots, he or she can wrap up the process pretty quickly. If a handful of candidates split the series of contests, the primary fight can drag on.
But there's also the possibility that no candidate will win a majority of the available delegates before the convention, which would create a political reporter's dream: a contested convention where anything can happen. (This is sometimes called a "brokered convention," but the label is a bit of a misnomer -- there are no actual "brokers" anymore. Others use "deadlocked convention," which describes the state of the race as one enters the convention until the convention resolves it.)
Such a scenario would create all kinds of drama and unpredictable outcomes, and evidently, GOP insiders are concerned about the possibility. But how likely is it to actually happen?
The truth is, chatter like this seems to pop up every four years, and it's nearly always pointless. At this point, no one can say with confidence who'll win any of the upcoming primaries and caucuses, so gaming out a scenario in which no candidate wins a majority of the delegates may make for fun scuttlebutt, but it's premature -- by several months.
What's more, the fact that the conversations are happening at all may have an unintended effect on the race. Remember, Trump, the current frontrunner, has said he'll abandon the process and run as an independent if Republican officials treat him "unfairly." When Trump sees an article on the front page of the Washington Post about GOP insiders plotting to derail him at the party's convention, it makes it that much easier for the New York developer to look for an off-ramp and take his supporters with him.