The rules are complicated

160226113315-gop-stage-large-169We are really starting to get to know the rules for the Republican Convention this year. This is how it typically happens. The early states eliminate all but two or three candidates; one of them triumphs on Super-Tuesday; others start to drop out, and soon the front-runner has an insuperable lead. By the convention itself, the front-runner has more than half – usually far more – and the convention is just a rally. Four years ago, Mitt Romney changed the rules so that only candidates with more than half the delegates from at least eight states could be nominated, thus denying the volatile Ron Paul a speech at the convention. 

This year it is different. There are still three candidates in the race and it is not likely that Donald Trump will have a majority wrapped up before the convention. It is extremely improbable that Ted Cruz will, and mathematically impossible in the case of John Kasich. 

If the rule that Romney introduced last time stays in place – and many people want to change it – only Trump and Cruz will be nominated on the first ballot, but it is still possible that neither will secure a majority, since you need a majority of the convention not just of those voting, and delegates supporting other candidates will be able to abstain. 

On the second ballot, if there is one, many delegates will be “unbound”. For the first ballot most are obligated to support the candidate they were elected to support, if that candidate has been nominated. Some are automatically released for the second ballot, others at a later stage. Still others remain bound to their candidate until that candidate chooses to release them. 

It is not clear what happens if a candidate and some of the delegates supporting that candidate walk out. Does the threshold for choosing a nominee then drop? That someone will walk out seems like a real possibility. Donald Trump has already taken to complaining that the rules have been rigged against him.

Actually the rules have, if anything, been rigged to his benefit. Plenty of states award all of their delegates to a candidate who wins a plurality of the vote. Trump has not exceeded 50% in any state so far, yet there are several states in which he has won 100% of the delegates, sometimes on around a third of the vote. 

Where Trump is right is that the rules are complicated and one could argue are therefore “rigged” against lazy, incompetent, candidates who are unwilling to do the necessary homework.

In some states, such as California, candidates choose who their delegates will be. In others they are chosen by voters, or by conventions, or by party leaders. Ted Cruz has been focused like a laser on this process. In Louisiana, for example, he got his people to the convention and they chose the delegates. Since Trump won the state, some of those delegates are Trump delegates. They have to support Trump on the first ballot, but they are loyal to Cruz and will switch to him as soon as they can. 

Yep, running for president is a tough job. If you are running as an exercise in narcissism and are unwilling to put in the effort to learn the rules, study policy options, or put in the necessary groundwork, you might not win. Good. 



Quentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at

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