Floor Fight: Protecting the Presidential Nomination Process from Last-Minute Manipulation of the Rules for National Party Conventions
The Best Candidate: Presidential Nomination in Polarized Times (2020, Forthcoming).
43 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 10, 2019
The Democratic and Republican parties select their presidential nominees through a complex process stitched together from various disparate components that coalesce in a national party convention. Delegates to each party's national convention are typically chosen at state and local conventions or through other intra-party mechanisms. Most of those delegates are bound or pledged to a particular presidential candidate, at least for the initial rounds of voting at the national convention, based on the results of presidential preference primaries and caucuses throughout the nation.
The rules of the national convention, however, are not determined until after all the delegates are selected and the presidential preference contests concluded. The delegates themselves have ultimate power to decide potentially dispositive issues such as how their votes will be counted, whether their binding or pledges are enforceable, and even the percentage of votes a candidate must receive to win.
Allowing national convention delegates to adopt, amend, or suspend the rules governing the convention allows them to effectively nullify the millions of votes cast in presidential preference contests, undermining the legitimacy of the nomination process. Fundamental fairness and due process dictate that the rules governing the presidential nomination process should be determined at the outset, and not subject to change based on the political preferences of the delegates or which presidential candidates will benefit. Allowing such last-minute manipulation of the rules also fosters discord and intrigue within a political party at the very time it should be coalescing around a presidential candidate.
This piece is a chapter of a forthcoming book on reforming the presidential nomination process. It begins by explaining the various components of the process. It then analyzes the national convention rules most susceptible to last-minute manipulation that could directly impact the party's nomination, such as the unit rule and two-thirds rule. Finally, it concludes by exploring case studies of conventions in which delegates and other party leaders engaged in eleventh hour machinations to swing the nomination to their preferred candidate. It focuses on the nominations of James K. Polk at the Democratic National Convention of 1844, James Garfield at the Republican National Convention of 1880, Hubert Humphrey at the Democratic National Convention of 1968, and Jimmy Carter at the Democratic National Convention of 1980.
Keywords: presidential nomination, nominee, political party, dark horse, rules, national convention, delegate, binding, unit rule, two-third rule, Democratic Party, Republican Party, candidate
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