Hold on to Your Hats. The Democratic Race Could Get Very Messy.
Published in The Washington Post
on February 13, 2020
Now that as many as six serious Democratic candidates remain in the race, pundits increasingly believe the party is headed for a brokered convention. Hold on to your hats if that happens, because it’s even more complicated than it sounds.
Presidential nominating conventions used to be “brokered” because the delegates were largely appointed by — and loyal to — political bosses. Delegates voted on multiple ballots as rivals vied for the bosses’ favor, making the quadrennial events the political equivalent of reality television. You could never be sure which governor or senator would be voted off the island and which would become the ultimate survivor.
That all went out the window after the Democratic convention of 1968 nominated a person who had not entered a single primary, Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Since then, both parties have adopted rules that award delegates according to the popular vote in either primaries or caucuses. This in turn meant that one candidate emerged with a majority of the delegates committed prior to the convention, making those events the political equivalent of an infomercial. The voters ruled even if the bosses seethed, as was the case when Donald Trump hijacked the Republican Party in 2016.
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Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.