The Republican National Convention

Republican_National_Convention_1912It is easy, but wrong, to imagine all the delegates attending the Republican National Convention as being members of distinct teams (e.g. Team Trump or Establishment). Rather, a vast majority of the delegates, no doubt having a preferred candidate, will care more about party unity than anything else. It’s easier, but even more wildly incorrect, to think that party bosses have control over what happens on the floor of a contested convention. Sure, they can postpone votes until the next day if they fear a swell in an unfavorable direction, they can lie to members of their state delegation about the rules, they can enforce those rules with bias, they can filibuster with roll call votes, but nominating fights are goat rodeos, not smoke filled rooms. So, you might ask, what will a contested GOP convention look like?

Phase I: The Delegate Counts.

To start, there isn’t really any such thing as a real delegate count or even a set number of delegates. Most delegates are bound, meaning they must vote on the first ballot for the candidate they claimed during the primaries / caucuses to support or else… nothing. Nothing happens to them if they vote for someone else, either out of incompetence, indifference, or ulterior motive. Some state delegations will be controlled by bosses that know how to manage their delegates, such as making sure no one is whispering in their ears or divulging information into the twitter-sphere, but most will be impotent and inaccurately state their own influence to campaigns seeking their support. Don’t get me wrong, most delegates will faithfully execute their service to the party, but with 2,472 of them it is safe to assume that the first ballot delegate counts floating around before the convention will have a standard deviation of about 100 delegates.

Phase II: The Rules Committee

Paul Ryan will likely chair the convention per recent tradition, but has nothing to do with the Rules Committee, which will determine how a candidate is chosen and who can vote as a delegate. That’s right, the rules haven’t officially even been set as of yet. That committee meets this week in Florida to determine the arcane, but incredibly important, parliamentarian mechanisms of the convention. The first major decision of the Rules Committee will be to determine who is eligible to be nominated. In 2012, primary victories in a minimum of 8 states was required, a rule egregiously introduced to spite Ron Paul supporters. This will likely be removed by old guard Republicans, unless they are outflanked by the Cruz and Trump campaigns seeking to keep that rule in place.

Having tendered a Shermanesque statement and being chair of the convention, you might reasonably think that Paul Ryan would be unable or maybe disqualified from receiving the nomination. No. Horatio Seymour was all of these, but despite pleading with the convention until exhaustion not to do it, he was nominated from the chair by the Democratic Party in 1868. In fact, members of the RNC Rules Committee are considering reducing Ryan’s power at the convention in order to insulate him from any decisions that would lead to a clear conflict of interest if he were drafted.

Next, they will seat contested delegates. There will likely be 2,472 delegates at the opening of the convention, but there will be many more than that who feel they should rightly be seated. Legal teams from the campaigns will argue the intricacies of each of state’s delegate allocation rules in an attempt to load the deck. In particular, local party leaders throughout the country will screw the Trump campaign as specific delegates are chosen with the second and third ballots in mind. Trump, with a campaign foundation of airwaves and hairspray rather than ground game, will be out maneuvered at every stage and will likely have legitimate concerns that the Rules Committee will flagrantly ignore. Headed into Cleveland, Trump will no doubt be simultaneously screaming bloody murder and guaranteeing a first ballot victory.

Phase III: Opening the Convention

The convention will open with a failed attempt to adopt the rules. It will likely fail because either the Cruz and Trump campaigns will want to test whether they can sit additional delegates. Campaigns can sit additional delegates out of nowhere? Yep. Teddy Roosevelt brought an extra 300 odd delegates to the Chicago Coliseum in 1912, but was stonewalled by his former friend and Secretary of State who thought Roosevelt as mature as a six year old, then more recently thought him completely mad. So, more than 2,472 self-proclaimed delegates will be massing in Cleveland.

Well, more precisely they will try. The Temporary Chairman will be running the show at this point, which may very well be Mitch McConnell (that guy Ted Cruz called a “liar” last year), and before delegates can vote for a chair, they must first be sat. The way this works is simple and will serve as the first real vote that tests Trump’s support on the floor of the convention. The official delegates, even those whose seats are under contention, vote on the validity of each contested delegation. If Trump wants to sit 12 delegates from Colorado, Trump delegates on the floor will agree and vote to sit them. These vote totals in early afternoon of the second day of the convention will indicate Trumps strength and likelihood of a first ballot victory that evening.

Next there will be attempts to amend the rules. The Rules Committee only makes suggestions, and the convention itself holds the real power for rule making. If the statue that limits the nominee to someone that won at least 8 states is removed by the Rules Committee, an attempt by Cruz and Trump will be made to reinsert it here. Together they will have a clear a majority to effectively do so, but they will be in a parliamentary fight with the leader of the United States Senate. Chances are, any amendment that tries to limit a dark horse / white knight candidate will never come up for a vote on the floor because of rules that govern minority candidate protection (e.g. John Kasich). No one cared when this happened to Ron Paul in 2012.

Finally, Paul Ryan, the self-described non-candidate and speaker of the house, will be elected chair of the convention by a huge majority and with great fanfare.

Phase IV: The First Ballot

After the convention chair is seated and the rules adopted, a series of roll calls and speeches will lead up to the first ballot. This will test the civility of the delegations. Cruz, Trump, and Kasich will each be given a slot for a surrogate or two to speak on their behalf. The Cruz campaign will seek to make the Trump delegation look like an unruly mob in an attempt to get them to act as such. Trump, who doesn’t care for traditions, may address the convention directly, will name all the states he won and all the polls he is leading, and then call Ted Cruz a liar. Kasich will look very appealing.

The first ballot will come after a series of roll calls and procedural speeches designed to suck the energy out of the room. Then, a majority of bound delegates will cast a vote for the person they promised they would, a small minority of bound delegates will utterly break the rules and vote for whomever they want, and a substantial number of unbound delegates will make the outcome very unknowable. It’s not clear if this favors or hurts Trump, but it guarantees a degree of uncertainty that governs delegate behavior. Even though delegates are bound by rules to act a certain way, infrequently but predictably some will pass right through the rules undetected, as if the rules were never there.

Phase V: The Inevitable Trump Collapse.

If Trump fails on the first ballot, he will hemorrhage delegates like a piñata dealt a fatal blow. But that’s a big if. Something that hasn’t got much attention is that many uncommitted delegates will actually vote for Trump. I think it’s a reasonable question to ask why an otherwise conscious, self-aware, and unbound individual who is knowledgeable of politics would choose to vote for a human Hindenburg to lead their Party into battle. Because he’s going to explode, and the party will be there to scream “oh, the humanity” and then pick up the pieces for the next election. There is a legitimate fear that if the convention egregiously steals the nomination from Trump, there won’t be a Republican Party left to save.

If, in fact, there is no first ballot winner, support will initially swell in Cruz’s direction. A majority of bound delegates are released for the second ballot, and then virtually all delegates are unbound after that. Cruz will need to seize a majority before Trump’s corpse hits the convention floor. However, this will be very difficult with the cerebral Paul Ryan controlling the pace of the balloting. It would be a shocking occurrence if the convention is not called to recess for at least one night, in an attempt to build a consensus for an alternative name to float to the surface. Cruz only has a handful of ballots before his momentum falters and his candidacy breaks for the rear, so he will press on all fronts. Calls to draft Ryan or Romney will be deafening, but a lack of cohesion may fracture any dark horse effort. It will be the greatest American political show of the 21st century.

Phase VI: The Nomination, the Vice Presidency, and Conquering a Peace.

Whoever wins the nomination will probably have to sell the VP spot, State, and Defense to do it. This without the proper vetting protocols, now commonplace in the post-Gary Hart era. Therefore, expect powerhouse Republican names on the short lists: McCain, Graham, Portman, Perry, etc. If Trump loses, only he knows how he will handle it. There will be viable options for him to bolt and take the nomination of some other already established third party. His supporters will beg him to do it, under the theory Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressives deluded themselves with in 1912: that Democrats will swing to them in large numbers. They won’t.

In 1912, Elihu Root, Robert Bacon, and many of his old friends (save Henry Cabot) sank Teddy’s nomination not because they thought Taft could beat whomever the Democrats were going to nominate the following month, in fact they knew he would lose, but because they were more afraid of Roosevelt taking the Party in a direction their conservative principles were unwilling to follow. It split the GOP, but only for 4 years, and more importantly kept economic conservatism its foundation for another hundred. The Republican Party is different now than it was then, more southern and in a strictly relative sense less educated, but it seems difficult to imagine that the GOP comes out of the 2016 convention looking like it has for the last 8 years. It will either look like the Tea Party or like your father’s GOP, but no longer can both occupy the same location in the spacetime continuum.


Pre-Iowa Predictions

State of the Mugwumps

When Trump first announced he was running for President I realized I was in trouble. I was caught in a cycle of shame that started every morning by erasing my internet browser’s history and ended every night alone in bed with the lights off and the volume on my computer turned way down, watching videos of him saying crazy things to a crowd of crazy people. It was all I thought about at work. I no longer found normal candidates entertaining, perfectly good candidates that any average guy should be totally happy with and attracted to.

Trump challenged John McCain’s military record, he promised to ban entire races and religious groups, and he blamed Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle in response to her calling out his sexism. All of this led to even greater plaudits by a sliver of the population being ever more whipped into a white geriatric froth. It wasn’t until mid-September that I realized he wasn’t going away, and that was a dark moment in my life.

Is Trump’s support real? There are three camps:

The simplest answer is “Yes.” The GOP has been using the rural south and west to win elections for half a century and the base is tired of playing second fiddle. They’re ripping power away from the northeastern Republican elites and nominating whom they want for a change, a soulless businessman from New York that lives in a gold-plated Manhattan apartment.

An alternative explanation is “Yes, but they aren’t people who vote.” Polls suggest Trump has the support of about 30% of Republicans, who make up about 30% of the electorate, for a total 10% of the country, which is about the same number of people who think the moon landings were faked.Venn

The final answer is “Yes, and much more than polls suggest.” The basic argument is that because Trump and his supporters are openly mocked by the Blame Stream Media and closet-communist academics, people lie about not liking what Trump is saying. Polls, under this scenario, would be underestimating his strength in what is effectively an inverse Bradley effect. This may also explain why Trump does so much better in online polls than over the phone or in-person interviews.

Iowa will of course be the first test of these theories, where Trump faces a head-to-head battle with Ted Cruz. You know the Republican establishment hates Ted Cruz when Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and the Governor of Iowa (Republican Terry Branstad) are openly rooting for Trump to beat him.

And who thought that Hillary Clinton would be in a serious fight with a socialist in Iowa, let alone New Hampshire? The pre-primary environment appears more hostile to mutual understanding and measured principles than anytime since the Progressive Era.


Likelihood of NominationThe Mugwumps aren’t much concerned with Sanders or Trump. The overwhelming consensus is that Bernie Sanders is not Barack Obama and Donald Trump is not Ronald Reagan. Despite the anti-establishment rhetoric, Ted Cruz going as far as referring to his senate colleagues (and himself?) as the Washington Cartel, the Republican Party generally falls in line with the Party leaders, who will in the end pick the nominee from a voter picked list of final candidates. This favors well for Marco Rubio and, to a lesser extent at this point, Jeb Bush, who collectively the Mugwumps give a 57% chance of procuring the nomination.

But what if neither Rubio or Bush can win enough states to legitimately (or at least with the pretense of legitimacy) get the nomination at the convention? We see two possibilities: The Party learns to live with Cruz (31%) / Trump (3%) or the Republican National Committee engineers a brokered convention using arcane parliamentary tricks (circa 1912) to re-nominate Mitt Romney (8%). Admittedly, they may need to unearth Elihu Root to pull off the latter.

On the Democratic side, despite Bernie’s predictable rise in Iowa and New Hampshire polls, Hillary Clinton is closer to the nomination than a year ago. Maybe if Joe Biden was around to split the stalwart vote Bernie would have a chance, but it’s increasingly unlikely he will capture a majority of national democratic support, even if he wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, which is also unlikely. Of course, all of this assumes a Clinton collapse due to scandal is unlikely. We’re not saying a Clinton scandal is unlikely, they will come in considerable number, but that Clinton will, as Clintons do, survive them only to come back stronger than before.

2016 Pre-Iowa General Election Model

Without knowing the party nominees, the health of the economy 9 months from now, or even the major issues of the campaign, can we accurately predict the outcome of the 2016 November election? No, but let’s try anyway. The Mugwumps predict a map not dissimilar to 2012, where the Democratic Party holds the interior lines and the added advantage of the GOP having to play defense in Appalachia with a Clinton on the ticket.

2016 MapIntegrating these individual state probabilities into a stochastic Electoral College model yields an 85% predicted chance of the Democratic Party retaining control of the White House for another four years. The most likely outcome is a Democratic Electoral Vote (EV) total of 297, notably winning the swing states Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada, while losing ground from 2012 by losing Florida and Iowa. The old adage that the road to the White House for Republicans requires Ohio appears to be the case, and a Democratic win there seems sufficient to keep the White House blue. However, Ohio is not enough for the GOP. The most likely Republican victory is a narrow one that goes through Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and Iowa, which on the surface does seem doable.

2016 ModelOne might think, and would be wrong, that the White House predictably swings to the opposition party after two terms of single party control. In fact that can and does happen, but requires either an economic downturn or the opposition party to shift its ideology to, ideally, novel and, at minimum, more centrist positions. Opposition populism and extremism almost always fail, with the notable exceptions of Jefferson and Jackson, and their elections marked radical changes to the party system. Does the GOP appear poised to make novel and centrist legislative proposals? Maybe, and certainly Rubio has potential, but probably NObama.

Regardless of your party identity or political ideology (unless that happens to be anarchy), we should all hope for a landslide winner. There’s only a 1.02% chance of a 269-269 tie, in which case every close state would be recounted and the House of Representatives would caucus by state delegations to pick the next President. Then the Senate would name the Vice President, presided over by Joe Biden. Maybe. Or maybe they would wait for the new congress to be sworn into office. The Supreme Court would definitely have to get involved. The fact is the rules are vague and everyone who agreed to them has been dead for almost 200 years.


This analysis assumes the likelihood of a major third party candidate, such as Trump or Bloomberg, to be very small. If either entered the race outside the two party system, it would dramatically alter the map and model.


The Mugwumps were polled on the likelihood of each state or district (DC and the congressional districts of Nebraska and Maine) going Democratic or Republican in November. A ten thousand iteration stochastic model was generated based on these individual state outcomes and EV appropriation. If a state or district was predicted to be won with >90% probability it was called Solid, between 90% and 75% was called Leaning, and <75% by either party was called Toss Up.

A previous version of this article stated that the the 12th Amendment gives the power of picking the President and Vice President to the newly-elected congress, rather than the lame-duck congress, where there is no majority winner of the Electoral College.  Precedence states that the lame-duck congress can act immediately.

Elizabeth Warren: A Progressive’s Call to Arms

No Escape

Elizabeth Warren Bull MooseIf you watch the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, you know he’s been hard on Democrats since the 2014 midterms with pieces like “Obama and the Pussy’crats.” It cleverly lays out the fundamental frustration progressives have with Obama and the Democratic Party in general: they’re too timid to speak up for what they really believe in the face of elections. This weakness among Democrats is a common critique of the party and one the GOP has exploited over the past decade and a half by running on more united and streamlined platforms (though their message has become much more fractured in recent years).

At the turn of the 20th century, machine politics and the spoils system dominated public life. White conservatives ran unopposed in the south with single party domination. Republicans and Democrats gerrymandered into safe congressional districts and city wards ruled Congress and city halls unthreatened by public disgust. A small number of large organizations squeezed out competition and dominated banking, energy, and journalism. Voters eager for reform swung wildly from Democrat to Republican back to Democrat in statewide and national elections, looking for something other than what was available. Can you imagine such a scene today? Their answer, the tonic for their political delirium, was a reform movement championed by an unlikely elitist, who always needed a villain to be on the receiving end of his unquenchable energy. .