What Is A Contested Convention? Why Donald Trump Doesn’t Want One, But Bernie Sanders Does

A Contested Convention is a very unusual occurrence since the institution of primary elections. From 1844 to 1936, all conventions were brokered, because the primary system was not in place. Since the inception of primaries it is rarely necessary. Not since 1952 has there been an actual contested or brokered convention. About half a dozen situations came close in the last 64 years, but a convention hasn’t gone past the first vote since 1952.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, being extremely successful candidates and outsiders to their parties, may have evoked just such an unusual event. Both were underestimated by their parties. Now, Donald Trump has a substantial lead in the Republican primaries. Bernie Sanders held his own against the establishment favorite and front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in the Democratic race. Both races are very close now, and it is possible that no one candidate in either race will get the number of delegates required to win the nomination without a contest. If that should happen in either party, that party will have a brokered convention. It is quite possible to have two brokered or contested conventions in the same election year.


A Contested Convention Is Necessary For Republicans If None Of The Candidates Has At Least 1,237 Delegates

Each party requires a certain number of delegates in order to win the nomination. There are 2.472 Republican delegates. The Republican party requires 1,237 delegate votes to win the Republican nomination. That is one more than half. The first vote is based on pledged delegates, honor bound to vote as their state’s voters determined. Therefore, the first vote only represents the primary or caucus votes. There are a few wild cards, as some states send uncommitted delegates. Those committed to candidates no longer in the race can be released if the candidate chooses. If no one has enough votes to win the nomination on the first vote, it becomes a contested convention.

Donald Trump currently has 743 delegates. According to Real Clear Politics, he needs 494 more. Cruz has 517 and needs 720 more. Kasich has 143. There are 16 state primaries left. Those represent 769 delegates left to be pledged based on primary votes. It may be difficult for any one candidate to get enough votes to prevent a contested or brokered convention, but Donald Trump clearly has the best chance.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton(photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]
A Contested Convention Is Necessary For Democrats If None of The Candidates Has At Least 2,351 Delegates

The Democratic Convention is more complex. There are 4,763 Democrat delegates, including 4,051 who base their allegiance on primary votes, at least in the first vote, and 712 superdelegates. Superdelegates are party insiders, and they can vote any way they choose. In order to gain the Democratic nomination before the convention, a candidate must have 2,382 pledged delegates, not superdelegates. Superdelegates are not committed until they vote, and thus do not count prior to it.

If Bernie Sanders contests Hillary Clinton, and he plans to, the only way she can prevent being contested, is to win 1,102 more pledged delegates, not superdelegates. According to Real Clear Politics, she has only 1,280 of the necessary 2,382 she needs. In other words, she needs to nearly double her number of pledged delegates. There are 21 Democrat primaries and 1,535 Democrat delegates remaining. If Bernie Sanders can win more than 433 of those, in the remaining states, he claims he can force a contested convention according to The Slate. Further, if Bernie Sanders absolutely refuses to concede, he could still attempt to contest Hillary.

Donald Trump needs to avoid a contested convention in order to win the nomination. Even though he is the front-runner, he is not the Republican party’s favored candidate.

Bernie Sanders may have to contest in order to stand a chance. He isn’t the party’s first choice, either, but he believes he can sway party leaders if he has the opportunity to speak. Bernie Sanders also wants a voice in the party platform and he believes his phenomenal support among younger voters has earned him that. He wants an opportunity to at least express his views. In that way, he can enact real changes in the Democratic Party’s values, even if he doesn’t get the nomination.

Contested Convention Rules And Practices

Before the initial voting takes place, the 110 delegates in the rules committee create new rules. Then, the rest of the delegates vote to either approve or reject the new rules. These rules can have a substantial impact on the outcome.

Donald Trump supporters, for example, might try to create rules for the Republican convention that favor the candidate with the most delegates, while others might make rules that give more power to the Republican establishment.

Bernie Sanders supporters might try to create rules that would limit the powers of superdelegates in the Democratic convention, while Clinton supporters would try to strengthen that power.

Donald Trump Rally by Jeff Swensen c
Donald Trump Rally [Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images]
In a contested convention, after the initial vote, delegates are free to vote as they see fit. They vote, listen to speeches and then vote again until someone gets enough votes to win the nomination. Other candidates who had previously dropped out of the running can be considered. Even people who did not run at all can be placed on the ballot for consideration in a contested or brokered convention. There can be an unlimited number of votes taken. In 1924, there were 103 rounds of voting before John Davis was selected.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are not party insiders, and a contested or brokered convention could go badly for them. It would also go badly for the parties, because any decision that goes against the popular vote could anger voters and further divide the party.

A Contested Convention can be risky for political parties, but Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have supporters who are passionate. Both parties are concerned with the reaction of voters if their candidate loses out in the convention, especially if by that time, these outsiders have the majority of votes according to VOX.

A Contested Convention including Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders could change the focus of both parties.

[Photos by Mark Wilson and Ty Wright/Getty Images]

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