The Republican Convention: Smooth sailing for Trump?


Anne Shannon Baxter is an American living in London and a recent graduate from SOAS with an MA in International Studies & Diplomacy. 

For nearly twelve months the world looked on in astonishment as fifteen Republican candidates fought a dirty school-yard scrap to win their party’s nomination. Now the dust has settled leaving just one triumphant winner, real estate mogul Donald Trump. With Kasich and Cruz out of the race, Mr. Trump is the presumed Republican nominee, as there are no candidates running against him in the remaining primaries. The result has crushed the possibility of the Republican Convention being brokered, contested, or even open, leaving many political commentators disappointed.


“Brokered”, “contested”, “open”. All of these terms have been thrown around and used interchangeably when talking about the upcoming Republican Convention set to take place in Cleveland, Ohio on 7th July. But what do each of these terms actually mean, and are they indeed interchangeable? When discussed on news programs these terms alluded to some form of impending mayhem, invoking a sense of dread within the Republican Party. Some sympathetic political commentators and pundits have argued that a contested/open/brokered convention must be avoided at all costs, as it may further divide the party and cause irreversible damage. Yet, others believe an open convention was the Republican Party’s Hail Mary attempt at stopping Donald Trump from receiving the nomination.


The terms “brokered”, “contested” and “open” are all used to refer to a scenario in which no candidate has the “magic number” of 1,237 delegates required to receive the Republican nomination at the outset of the Convention. In such a scenario, the delegates must cast their votes on the floor of the convention in a series of ballots, until one candidate receives 1,237 votes and the nominee is chosen. The term “brokered” refers to a time when powerful political brokers made deals in the backrooms of convention halls and told delegates how to vote. A brokered convention was common practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as candidates rarely received the required majority of votes, and multiple rounds of votes took place during the convention itself to choose a nominee. This has changed because delegates are chosen through democratic means and brokers no longer exist in the modern political system. A contested convention is similar to a brokered convention, but without the historical reference to political brokers. The last contested Republican convention was in 1976 when Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford entered the Kansas City convention hall without having secured the nomination. Both candidates then attempted to woo delegates to their side.  After the first ballot, Gerald Ford was announced as the Republican nominee with a majority of delegates. Thus, an open convention broadly refers to both a historically brokered and modern contested convention. If Kasich and Cruz had not dropped out of the race, they could have kept Trump just shy of the 1,237 number and paved the path for an open convention.


That this path was blocked is good news for the Republican Party’s image, as the consequences of an open convention could have been extremely damaging. The primary campaign, so far, has been marred with violence and partisan divisions that would have reached a new high, or low, if faced with an open convention. Despite this, even when Mr. Trump receives his 1,237 delegates, the chances of every Republican at the convention, delegate or otherwise, ‘falling into line’ behind the nominee are slim. There may no longer be brokers on the floor, and the nominee may not be contested, but rest assured, the 2016 Republican Convention starring “The Donald” will go down in history.


Project for Study of the 21st Century is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the author’s own.

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