The term "Brokered Convention" is literary short-hand for a meeting of a political party where the nominee has not been selected by a combination of caucuses, straw votes, non-binding "beauty contests," winner take all primaries, proportional representation (split tally) primaries and Super Delegates. The relative weakness of the GOP's clear leader in delegate count (Mr. Romney) causes many campaign watchers to believe the GOP convention in muggy Tampa in hot August will come down to a "Brokered Convention," where various party big-wigs determine the nominee after (perhaps) a series of ballots cast in the open air of a stuffy convention hall.
A "Brokered Convention" implies the use of personal prestige and resources by a few persons who hash out a ticket in a back room over beef steak and whiskey. The unnatural twin of a Brokered Convention may be a Balloted Convention, where the candidates are voted on repeatedly until a clear winner emerges by vote of the state delegations.
So, for the purpose of this article, I will refer to Brokered/Balloted Conventions of delegates with this small explanation I offer above. Will we see a Brokered/Balloted GOP convention in Tampa in August?
I don't think so. The result would be riveting political theater but such an event would probably be bad for democracy.
How is voting bad for democracy?
Please remember, gentle reader, American national politics featured brokered conventions for many, many years. In fact, we decided Presidential nominees at the actual convention meetings (this is what they were for) for many more years than we have used the systems mentioned above. There are several good reasons we moved to the current systems of selecting delegates in the two party system.
- Brokered, or balloted, conventions close the voting system to anyone not in attendance. If there are 1,000 voting delegates at the actual convention, 501 can carry the day, if there is no super majority rule. Regardless, you get the idea. In place of millions of votes spread across states from Maine to Alaska, you get the nominee decided by a relatively small number of persons who are present to voice and vote their agenda.
- The persons who get to show up as representative delegates is limited by those who get to select the delegates. Amazingly, people who agree with the (even smaller) leadership elite tend to be selected for voting seats.
- Any person who might ask an embarrassing question or vote against the party line is more easily marked. If your state delegation has twenty people in it you have little difficulty marking the two mavericks in the group. They will not return.
- A helpful chair person can decide things in favor of a particular group. I once watched a well meaning minister at a religious convention move a motion of
"No Confidence" in a particular board. His motion was tabled until the parliamentarians could huddle and find a way to make certain his motion would be not be debated, let alone voted upon. They elitists proved successful in using a hand-picked parrot to make a counter motion he probably did not even understand. The plant's counter motion prevailed, without debate, and to some applause. Yes, I said applause. The people sent to represent the interests of the churches they attended applauded the use of a cheap, arcane parlor trick to prevent debate and discussion. Democracy suffered as a result. Attendance at these meetings, already dwindling, took an even sharper plunge and has not, to this date, come close to reclaiming its prior prominence. The Chair, plentifully biased and skillfully supported, is a powerful tool. The chair that day was later promoted to a high position in the religious apparatus. The message came across with digital clarity.
- Those who do not toe the party line in a Brokered or Balloted Convention are often left to vote only with their feet and their wallet. This takes courage and self-sacrifice. Many do push away from the table, with the concomitant result of lost leverage against the opposing party. This is happening to the GOP, year after year, as their assured regional base has now shrunk up to various states in the South and Southwest.
Overall, Brokered or Balloted Conventions are easily manipulated affairs with negative implications for democracy. We will probably not see one this year, for either party, and that may be a good thing.
However, if the two major parties, particularly the GOP, heed the lessons of the 2012 Primary race, there is the possibility that the threat of a Brokered/Balloted Convention might be the best thing to happen to American democracy in awhile. The GOP must stop promoting as their candidates the losers of the prior contest, endorsed and packaged by the fellow to whom he lost.The GOP is hierarchical in this way. Those who are not part of the hierarchy, or, worse, know they will never have a place of prominence within the hierarchy, have no real impetus to work vigorously for the ticket.
Return to the image of the religious convention I mentioned previously. The ruling elite kept its spot, elected its candidates, crowed about its "victory." Three years later, in the same arena, before a much reduced crowd, the same religious convention approved a budget that would have been considered embarrassingly small by earlier standards. They had scant hope they would be able to reach even that reduced budget.
Even worse, the leadership of various institutions associated with that religious convention, had to announce the sad fact that they could not fill out their trustee boards without using members of churches representing a rival state convention. In short, the group that squashed democratic debate could no longer ignore the fact that their actions had back-fired, to the deteriment of their own institutions. The institutional leaders had to take their case to the convention hall. In so doing, they were humiliated almost beyond human endurance by the persons who had created the mess in the first place.
The two elitist national parties should learn a lesson from this squalid tale.
Opinions expressed here are mine alone.