WILL CALIFORNIA CONTROL GOP NOMINATION?

Three weeks ago I hopefully predicted that the nomination for president by the Republican Party would be decided at the GOP convention in Cleveland in July. As the states’ primaries and caucuses clocked in, it looked more likely that Donald Trump would not capture enough delegates to be automatically nominated on the first ballot.

Why is it important that the convention be open to other alternatives? The insider leadership of the Republican Party waited too long to head off the Trump campaign and suddenly found that he might be the nominee. Their only alternative was to throw support behind second runner up Ted Cruz to keep Trump from winning the 1237 delegates before the convention.

The problem is, the GOP leadership does not like either candidate, but they don’t have a substitute that qualifies from the voting in the primaries to offer as a compromise in the second or third ballot if neither Trump nor Cruz can get the votes.

The balloting procedure at the convention is complicated. Basically, the delegates are chosen by state leaders to vote for the candidate winning the votes from the primaries or caucuses. Many states allow the delegate to vote for any candidate if it goes to a second ballot. That means that if Trump fails to secure the nomination on the first ballot, the delegates pledged to him are released to vote as they please.

That’s why Cruz is swooping down on delegates from several states to capture their votes on a second ballot. The political gurus are certain that Trump will be out of the running if he fails on the first ballot. At least, that is what the GOP leadership is banking on.

So how can that happen? The upcoming New York primary might keep Trump short of delegates, but California with 172 delegates may be the deciding primary. This will be the first time since 1976 that the largest state will have a say in the nomination of a presidential candidate.

For those of you who followed the nomination process in the mid-20th century, the usual balloting process at the convention was a convoluted dog fight. Delegates from the larger states, like New York and Ohio, voted for their “favorite son” candidate that could spread the votes over five or six candidates and require second and third or more ballots to clear the field.

This is when the back-room negotiations began with the party leaders seeking delegate votes for a compromise candidate in exchange for political favors. This year’s GOP convention might be in gridlock if the party leaders can’t accept either of the two top candidates. That’s when the dark horse comes on the scene. It has happened before.

To digress, wordsmith Richard Lederer revealed that the term “dark horse” was an old political term used to identify a compromise candidate. There have been five presidents elected who were dark-horse nominees at convention. While I’m borrowing Lederer’s political trivia, here is his story behind the animal mascots of the two parties – the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant.

Andrew Jackson was labeled a jackass during his campaign, so he used a donkey in his campaign literature to his advantage. A political cartoonist picked up the image of a donkey to represent the Democratic Party. Another cartoon n Harper’s Weekly of 1884 showed the donkey in a lion’s skin to scare off candidates depicted as animals, including an elephant labeled “The Republican Vote.” The elephant image stuck to represent the Republican Party.

A scorecard of prominent columnists reveals that they believe that the nomination will go to balloting at the GOP convention. That could produce a dark-horse nominee. Who are these prospects?

John Kasich is the most obvious, but Paul Ryan could be if party leaders can break through his adamant refusal to be a compromise nominee. Of course, he did this before when he was drafted to be Speaker of the House. He only agreed to that post after extracting major concessions from party leaders to help break the Congressional gridlock. He could do that again but with even heavier assurances of cooperation from the fragmented GOP groups.

The Economist always cuts through the political rhetoric when reporting on the American system with lessons from history. The GOP party has held 10 contested conventions and only nominated three candidates who initially had the most delegates. In 1880 there were 36 ballots that left the early favorites by the wayside. It took three ballots to nominate Lincoln.

The last contested convention was in 1976 when Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford squared off. At that time rotary telephones were still in use while Apples’ Steve Jobs had just formed his company in a garage in Los Altos. The advent of the digital world completely changed the election process in America with instant voting results and 1.6 billion monthly users of Facebook.

Donald Trump threatens a massive protest if he is not awarded the nomination in the first ballot at the convention. He claims party leaders are trying to steal his fair-and-square choice by voters.

A petition signed by 50,000 citizens called for guns to be allowed in the convention hall. Fortunately, the Secret Service prohibited the petition prompting Ted Cruz to denounce gun-free zones that turn unarmed delegates into targets for lunatics. This kind of public response is one of the reasons the Republican party leaders are not very keen on nominating Cruz but depend on him to stop the Trump avalanche.

Columnist David Brooks wrote in The New York Times that after the first ballot, the delegates have the power. Candidates must woo them for votes in the next ballots. It takes away control by Washington politicos and into the hands of citizens.That’s the way it should be.