What are the national political conventions?At the most basic level, the conventions are gatherings where the Democratic and Republican parties select their presidential nominees and adopt a political platform. The quadrennial meetings are a fairly new convention in American politics — the first one happened in the 1830s, and candidates themselves didn't start appearing for another 100 years, when Franklin D. Roosevelt showed up in Chicago to accept the Democratic nomination in person, as the History Channel notes. Another important element: The multi-day meetings are organized and run by the parties — not required by federal law or the Constitution (more later on why that matters). This year, the Republican Party will hold its convention in Cleveland from July 18 to 21, while the Democrats plan to convene a week later in Philadelphia.
This year, the Republican Party will hold its convention in Cleveland, while the Democrats plan to convene in Philadelphia.
What goes down?The main event is the selection of the party's nominee for president. Yes, there is actually a vote, state-by-state roll call and all. In many recent elections, that vote has been largely a formality, as the front-runner enters the convention with the delegates needed to secure the nomination. But this year's ballot could be a barn burner, especially on the GOP side. Once selected, the party's nominee gives a prime time acceptance speech. The convention is also a chance for campaign surrogates, major party figures, and up-and-coming politicians to get face time on the national stage. Sometimes this goes better than others (think Barack Obama's stirring remarks in Boston back in 2004 vs. Clint Eastwood's empty chair debacle in Tampa circa 2012). Activists, candidates, interest groups, issue-based caucuses, and more hold meetings, events, protests, and lots of parties. Attending a convention can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Elaine Knight, a California delegate who has attended every Democratic National Convention since 1984, described the experience as "four days of just high energy, late nights, and lots of excitement." "Pace yourself. And totally wear comfortable shoes," she said. “You learn a lot, especially if you go to the different caucuses and you listen to the speeches and you see what the new ideas are on different subjects.”
So how does a brokered convention work?As we explained above, a brokered or contested convention means no candidate has the votes to win the party's nomination in the first round of voting by delegates. Back in the day, that meant the party bosses would wheel and deal until a candidate emerged. Now, while there's plenty of negotiating and deal-making to be had, the action to watch will be in how the actual delegates vote. Most convention delegates are bound to vote for a specific candidate in the first round of balloting (that mandate is typically based on who won their state or district). But if no candidate hits the threshold to win the nomination on the first ballot, the rules allow some of those previously "bound" delegates to vote for whomever they choose. Even more are freed if there's a third round of voting. “All of a sudden, it's going to be this question of who are the delegates, and who do they actually support, not who were they selected to support," Brown said. "That’s a very interesting question because, in a lot of states, delegates become delegates by being appointed by their party or elected by their party, not necessarily [by] being nominated by the candidate.” There are some existing rules governing who can emerge as the nominee. "Rule 40" on the Republican side, for example, includes a provision saying a candidate needs to win eight states to be eligible for the nomination. But as Brown explains, the party can change the rules essentially up until the last minute. And, on the Democratic side, superdelegates, who are not bound to vote for a specific candidate based on primary and caucus results, could offer up a candidate of their own in the first round to keep one candidate from winning the nomination outright.
"This is what politics is made of — there’s a reason why it's called the art of the possible," Brown said. "Politics is the only game where you play the game, you make the rules, and you adjudicate the results. You’re the player, the referee, and the governing body."
But will it actually happen? And who will be the nominee?Many observers — and campaigns — think the answer is yes, at least for Republicans. Both Trump and his adversaries are preparing for the possibility. And the political winds don't seem to be blowing as strongly in the front-runner's favor. "The super PACs, and the other candidates, and the many Republicans out there that are basically saying we cannot allow the party to be taken over by Trump are finally having a cumulative effect," Brown said. Ted Cruz's win in Wisconsin, for example, further complicated the math for Trump. And Marco Rubio, who suspended his campaign in March, recently informed the party that he wants to hold onto the delegates he won heading into the convention, instead of releasing them to vote for Trump or another candidate. Even Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus acknowledges that a contested convention could happen. “I think it’s possible and we’re preparing for that possibility,” he said on ABC News' This Week.
The super PACs, and the other candidates, and the many Republicans out there that are basically saying we cannot allow the party to be taken over by Trump are finally having a cumulative effect.