Contested conventions

by Lorenzo Piccoli

On Wednesday Fivethirtyeight published an article (It’s Still Not Clear That Donald Trump Will Get A Majority Of Delegates) explaining that Donald Trump still has on only a little more than 47 percent of the delegates allocated so far. It is possible that the withdrawal of other candidates from the race will make things increasingly easier for him, making it possible to reach the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. But what happens if he falls short?

Most delegates are pledged to candidates only for the first ballot. After that, they can vote for whoever they please and throw open the convention. So, says the Guardian today, “it would probably be anarchy“. Just like the 1924 Democratic Convention, which had to choose the candidate to challenge the Republican incumbent, President Calvin Coolidge. The Convention turned into a heated contest between a candidate who banked on support from the Ku Klux Klan, William G. McAdoo, and Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York, who was reviled by the Klan for his religion. Neither of them came close to getting two-thirds of the delegates needed for the nomination: it took 16 days to the delegated before they could agree on a compromise candidate, John W. Davis. He then went on to get only 29 percent of the vote when he ran in the general election against President Calvin Coolidge.

Four years later, Governor Smith won the Democratic nomination, but the Klan awaited him as he crossed the country, burning crosses and spreading lies. The Democratic party lost those presidential elections too, the fourth in a row. Such a spectacular streak of electoral defeats resulting from internal splinters sounds familiarly sinister to the G.O.P., which has produced a monster out of its “wild obstructionism”, its demonisation of political institutions, its flirtation with bigotry and its “racially tinged derangement syndrome” over President Barack Obama. Now that monster is strong enough to destroy the party.