Friday, February 10, 2012

Brokered Conventions in History

Republicans are talking about the chances of a brokered convention, where their nominee is chosen in smoked filled back rooms. The betting site Intrade currently has the odds at 5 to 1.

For the over 30 years the Republican convention has been a coronation. With the nominations wrapped up early the conventions could be choreographed affairs with all the drama of a wet dishrag drying in the sun. In 1976 there was something of a competition between Jerry Ford and Ronald Reagan but there was no real brokering. Incumbent Ford was the establishment candidate and was always assured the bulk of the uncommitted, professional politician delegates.

1952 - Eisenhower and Taft
Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft were neck and neck coming into the convention. Neither had a majority thanks to feisty California Governor Earl Warren. Ike then proceeded to prove that he was more ruthless as a politician than he had been a general. Ike manipulated convention rules to take the Texas delegation away from Taft (who had initially manipulated the state delegate selection) and with it the nomination.

1920 - Warren Harding
This year had a surfeit of candidates. Leading was Gen. Leonard Wood, hand picked by the Roosevelt clan after Teddy died, he was a Medal of Honor winner and a political neophyte. Frank Lowden led the Prohibition wing of the party and had the vibrant personality of dried toast. Hiram Johnson was the radical founder of the Progressive Party, he didn't belong in the Republican Party but he was popular. Way down in sixth place was the insignificant Harding. Ballot after ballot saw no movement. There was no compromising between the two leaders -- Lowden hated Wood as an evil sinner while Wood saw Lowden as a priggish weasel.

Party leaders started meeting to find some third choice, some pleasant fellow that nobody hated. They settled on Harding. Everybody liked him. Lowden's backers liked him because, while he was a randy drunk, he supported Prohibition for everyone else. After ten ballots they finally picked the dumbest man to every hold the office, before George Bush.

1880 - Garfield (not the cat)
This is the closest to the situation today. There was the hated Establishment Candidate (U.S. Grant), the career politician with the shady background (James Blaine), and the uncharismatic sap who only got support because he wasn't the other guys (John Sherman).

Grant is not a perfect match from Romney. Grant (Stalwart faction) was not rich, he need a third term as president to steal some funds for his retirement. Blaine (Half Breed faction) is a good copy of Gingrich. Both were Speakers of the House, excellent public speakers, and both were tainted by corruption. While Sherman did author the Sherman Anti-Trust Act he otherwise, like Santorum, accomplished mostly nothing during his career.

The convention got stuck, Grant's people would never vote for Blaine (and vice versa) while Sherman's supporter couldn't stomach voting for either of those two jerks. Ballot after ballot was cast with no decision. Finally, the Half Breeds decided to offer up a Sherman supporter as a compromise candidate. After 35 ballots over two days the convention finally chose James Garfield and to heal the party they picked Grant supporter Chester Arthur as Vice President.

A note to Chris Christy here is offered. Garfield was assassinated after four months in office by a member of the Stalwart faction.

1924 - Democratic Convention
The Democrats had the longest convention on record. It took 103 ballots over ten days. The chief competitors was William McAdoo, supported by the Ku Klux Klan, and New York Catholic Al Smith. Slowly over the course of the days, McAdoo's supporters migrated to a more moderate Southern lawyer, John Davis.


Anonymous said...

Grant in no way compares with Romney. Grant was an accomplished general who pretty much saved the Union. He was immensely popular after the war. He was extremely well-meaning and signed many civil rights mesures into law during his presidency. He supported reconstruction in the south and worked hard to achieve it in the face of bitter political opposition. He associated with dishonest people, which was a big failing, but he was not dishonest himself. He had more integrity in his little finger and accomplished more in a few years than Romney could dream of, if Romney really dreamt of doing something for the people instead of for himself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interesting survey, and insight into people I knew and many I didn't.