What Are the Odds of a Tension Convention?

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A Broadway revival of Gore Vidal’s drama, The Best Man, begins previews early next month. The play’s about a nail biter of a political convention in which two candidates duke it out while each desperately seeks the endorsement of a Trumanesque former president.

The new production stars James Earl Jones, John Larroquette, Candice Bergen and Angela Lansbury, among others — it’s quite a cast. But if you’re not planning a New York City visit, keep your eye out for the 1964 movie version, with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson.

In the real world of presidential politics, there hasn’t been such a brokered Republican convention — one in which going in, none of the candidates has enough delegates to hold the upper hand — since 1948, when the Republicans ultimately chose Thomas Dewey. And lost.

Delegates with posters and state signs crowd down the center aisle at Convention Hall in Philadelphia during a demonstration for Gov. Thomas E. Dewey. June 1948. (AP Photo)
Delegates with posters and state signs crowd down the center aisle at Convention Hall in Philadelphia during a demonstration for Gov. Thomas E. Dewey after his name was placed in nomination during the Republican National Convention on June 23, 1948. Philadelphia has hosted eight presidential conventions, but none since that steamy summer a half-century ago, when not one, but three came to town in the span of a month. (AP Photo)

(That was, by the way, the last presidential race covered by legendary journalist H.L. Mencken. A number of years ago, The New Republic gathered his 1948 reportage into a book, Mencken’s Last Campaign. Fascinating. Check your local library or Amazon.)

But this year, with new primary and caucus rules, all that super PAC cash and the GOP race still in such turmoil, many political junkies are beginning to daydream about the kind of brokered convention of decades past — the fantasy stuff of novels, movies and plays.

As ABC News reported, “In order to win the nomination, a candidate will have to secure the votes of 1,144 delegates at the August convention — a majority of the total pool of 2,286 delegates. If Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul combine for more than half of the GOP’s total delegates, Romney will not be able to win the nomination before August.

“In that deadlock scenario, campaigns would lobby more than 400 ‘unbound’ delegates for support. Much like Democratic ‘superdelegates’ in 2008, the ‘unbound’ Republican delegate votes would become very consequential. Some states only ‘bind’ their delegates through the first round of voting at the Republican National Convention, and after that first round of voting, a delegate-battle-royale would ensue on the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

“In other words: Delegate Apocalypse.”

If the GOP nomination’s not resolved by the Tampa convention, Benjy Sarlin, Capitol Hill reporter for Talking Points Memo, has a rundown of what the rules would be at one of the most remarkable political events in decades.

Republican National Committee communications director Sean Spicer thinks the whole idea’s preposterous. He told Kerry Picket of The Washington Times, “I get that it’s the buzz, but I literally spend as much time worrying if some space alien attack happens.”

Watch the skies, Mr. Spicer. Keep watching the skies…

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