WADDY: A Brokered Convention Seems Possible For 2020 Democrats


Nicholas Waddy Associate Professor of History, SUNY Alfred
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The subdued Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta confirmed that no candidate is on a clear trajectory to the nomination. What is truly shocking, however, is that none of the top contenders seem to believe that the Democratic nomination is even worth breaking a sweat, or throwing a punch, over. They are politely asking for support from voters, yes, but if the answer is “No, thanks” or “Meh,” they are taking it in stride.

Witness the fact that, aside from New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s “I thought you might have been high” dig at former Vice President Joe Biden, and California Sen. Kamala Harris’s vicious but electorally pointless broadside aimed at Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, none of the “big guns” could bestir themselves to fire a shot. How such a flock of sheep might defeat the ultimate alpha male, Donald Trump, is an open question.

A more interesting question in the short-term is whether any of the Democrats currently (or, in the case of Mike Bloomberg, prospectively) running can defeat the rest of the field. The unsettled and inconsistent nature of the public polling in this cycle — which has alternately given the edge to Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and to none of the above — has left pundits and most voters scratching their heads. The candidates’ wariness about attacking one another’s records and policy proposals, and the dearth of negative ads so far have only reinforced the perception of an electoral stalemate.

It is worth recalling that the delegate allotment rules in 2020 on the Democratic side are broadly proportional. That is, any candidate who reaches a 15 percent threshold of support in a given state, or in a state legislative or congressional district, will receive a proportionate share of the delegates.

The only way for one of these Democratic candidates to receive his or her party’s nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention, therefore, is to scale up his or her support between now and March (when the lion’s share of the delegates will be awarded) to greater than 50 percent. At the moment, that seems unlikely to occur. For a moderate to triumph, either Biden or Buttigieg would need to get out of the way. For a progressive to triumph, the same could be said of Warren and Sanders.

The likelihood of a brokered convention, where no one wins the nomination on the first ballot, is high and increasing.

What happens then? Under the current set of rules, the Democrats’ 758 “automatic delegates” — once known as “superdelegates” — only get to vote starting on the second ballot. That means that party bigwigs like governors, congressmen, and senators would suddenly comprise 16 percent of the total pool of delegates.

Could they throw the nomination to an establishment candidate like Biden? Perhaps, but many other scenarios would become plausible. A long, bloody floor fight could emerge between moderates and liberals. The party could embrace a “dark horse” candidate like Hillary Clinton to foster unity. The party could even fracture ideologically and produce an official candidate and an unofficial, independent challenger — a pope and an anti-pope, if you will, as in the Middle Ages. The potential for mischief, betrayal, and self-sabotage is limitless.

Democrats and liberals, who watch much more CNN and MSNBC than is good for them, have a tendency to scoff at the idea that Donald Trump could win reelection in 2020. After all, no one who appears at their sophisticated dinner parties inside the Beltway likes him! Based on that unofficial poll, his goose is cooked.

These Democrats and liberals should get out more. America is a country in which the fundamental strength of the two main parties is in something very close to equilibrium. This simple fact, combined with the Democrats’ listlessness, ideological incompatibilities, self-satisfaction, and complacency, makes it not only possible, but likely, that Donald Trump will be residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for many years to come.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an associate professor of history at SUNY Alfred. He holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Rochester in New York.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.