When South Dakota’s Republican activists convened in Pierre to pick their delegates to the Republican National Convention, they got an unexpected visitor. Merle Madrid, senior aide to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, had flown in from Columbus to make an appeal: If the convention fails to elect front-runner Donald Trump on the first ballot, consider Kasich on the second — even if the state’s Republican voters sent them there to back Trump or Ted Cruz. Madrid was polite and earnest, but, according to interviews with 17 of the state’s 29 delegates, he came up empty. “Kasich will not get my vote no matter what he does. That ain’t gonna happen,” said delegate Allen Unruh, a Sioux Falls chiropractor and tea party activist.
In the industrial Midwest, after multiple ballots, the Republican convention finally chooses its nominee. Operatives for the frontrunner—a nationally known, polarizing figure who has infuriated Democrats with his abrasive rhetoric on the most divisive, racially-charged issue of the day—flood the city “with money to corrupt, with bullies to intimidate and with houries to seduce.” As for his principal opponent, rumors persist that the candidate’s coalition is forged on promises of cabinet appointments in exchange for votes. A journalist rails:
The lesson to the Nation … is the necessity for the abolition of the Caucus System, which, in whatever party organization operative, is a system of swindling, by which the people are defrauded out of the effective exercise of the right of suffrage. There is no honesty in caucuses … The revenues of King Caucus are corruption funds … If a Republican form of government is to be preserved … the people must make a bonfire of his throne.
Mysterious outside groups are asking state parties for personal data on potential delegates, Republican campaigns are drawing up plans to send loyal representatives to obscure local conventions, and party officials are dusting off rule books to brush up on a process that hasn’t mattered for decades. As Donald Trump and Ted Cruz divide up the first primaries and center-right Republicans tear one another apart in a race to be the mainstream alternative, Republicans are waging a shadow primary for control of delegates in anticipation of what one senior party official called “the white whale of politics”: a contested national convention. The endgame for the most sophisticated campaigns is an inconclusive first ballot leading to a free-for-all power struggle on the floor in Cleveland.
Reports of Republican officials convening a closed-door session over the possibility of a deadlocked convention are feeding speculation over what happens if 19 weeks of primaries, caucuses and conventions leave a muddled picture. The past nine Republican conventions began with a presumptive nominee. And the chances of delegates arriving at the convention in Cleveland next July with no clear nominee remain small. But the odds are no longer infinitesimal thanks to the multicandidate field, required early proportional voting, and the fact that only 16.2% of the delegates will have been chosen in decisive, winner-take-all contests. Three convention scenarios can emerge after 56 states and territories choose their delegates between Feb. 1 and June 7: There will be a clear winner, a bunched up field of several candidates, or a leader who can’t get a majority of delegates on the first ballot. The latter two scenarios would make Cleveland uncharted territory.
Republican officials and leading figures in the party’s establishment are preparing for the possibility of a brokered convention as businessman Donald Trump continues to sit atop the polls in the GOP presidential race. More than 20 of them convened Monday near the Capitol for a dinner held by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, and the prospect of Trump nearing next year’s nominating convention in Cleveland with a significant number of delegates dominated the discussion, according to five people familiar with the meeting. Weighing in on that scenario as Priebus and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) listened, several longtime Republican power brokers argued that if the controversial billionaire storms through the primaries, the party’s establishment must lay the groundwork for a floor fight in which the GOP’s mainstream wing could coalesce around an alternative, the people said.