Contested Convention Likely For GOP
Here is the state of the GOP presidential race. Donald Trump is still the leader but has begun to fade badly, including losing just about all of Colorado’s delegates because he simply did not abide by (or know) the caucus rules. Ted Cruz is surging, but is hated by the party more than Trump is. John Kasich is still running and helping both candidates get delegates and take away delegates from one another. It is a foregone conclusion that they will reach the convention in Cleveland with no candidate having amassed 1237 delegates. A contested convention is great for media because fireworks normally ensue.
Garland S. Tucker III writes how, in a democratic republic like America, a majority vote is the norm as both parties have always required at least a majority vote to secure their nomination. While it has been several decades since we last saw a contested convention, it is definitely not uncharted waters.
The most contested convention of all time was without question the Democratic Convention of 1924. By the time convention delegates convened in New York City on June 24, there was ample evidence that the Democratic party was deeply divided.
Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law (and Treasury secretary), William Gibbs McAdoo, and the governor of New York, Al Smith, were opposed both on the issues as well as personally. Prohibition, immigration, League of Nations and the KKK were the issues, and there appeared to be no room for compromise.
At that time the Democratic party labored under the requirement of a two-thirds nominating majority, and it was clear neither Smith nor McAdoo could achieve it. The convention opened with an explosive floor fight over the party’s platform. Smith was anti-prohibition while McAdoo was in favor. Catholic delegates support Smith and the Klan delegates support McAdoo. That’s how big the Klan was in both the Democratic Party and the country less than 100 years ago. The party staggered to the adoption of a platform that was noteworthy only for its failure to confront the big issues. Nothing of substance was said about prohibition, immigration, the League of Nations or the KKK.
Al Smith packed Madison Square Garden with his supporters and practically blew off the roof with what newspapers called “terrifying pandemonium.” Other nominations, of McAdoo and a string of favorite-son candidates, followed until after 4:00 a.m. The following day, June 30, the balloting began.
The first roll call vote had McAdoo with 431, Smith with 241 and the rest far behind. The total number of delegates was 1,089, meaning that 726 were needed to secure the nomination. By July 1, fifteen ballots had been cast with hardly any movement among the candidates: McAdoo 479, Smith 305. By July 3, the convention sailed past the old Democratic record of 57 ballots, set in the calamitous year of 1860, and on the 70th ballot it was still McAdoo 415, Smith 323. Finally, on July 9, Smith and McAdoo released their delegates (the latter very grudgingly), and a compromise candidate, John W. Davis, of West Virginia, won the nomination on the 103rd ballot.
The party was badly damaged. Though Davis was a solid candidate, the split party had little chance of unseating Calvin Coolidge, who had been serving as President since Warren Harding died in office.
America does indeed have a history of contested conventions. While we haven’t had one in a while, it’s nothing new — and the Republic and the parties have survived them. It’s possible in the midst of bitter acrimony and division for a party to nominate a good candidate, but general-election prospects are normally ruined by these conventions. It should be noted that in 1952, both Adlai Stevenson of the Democratic Party and Dwight D. Eisenhower of the Republican Party were nominees out of brokered conventions. Eisenhower would win the general in 1952.