Saturday, April 23, 2016

Revisiting Rule 40

This past Thursday night my Twitter feed began filling up with links to Alexandra Jaffe's story on the impact of Rule 40(b) on John Kasich's chances at the Republican nomination in a contested convention. The heart of story is a three paragraph section:
But top RNC strategists confirmed to reporters Thursday at the committee's Spring Meeting that the 40b requirement amounts to little more than a technciality. Having your name put into nomination affords candidates a number of advantages, like space in the convention hall and a nominating speech. But it's not required to ultimately win the nomination. 
Under the current rules, even those candidates who don't meet the 8-state threshold can continue to amass delegate votes. And if they're able to cobble together the support of a majority of delegates — the magic 1237 number — they win, even if it's spread across all 50 states. 
Typical interpretations of Rule 40 assumed Kasich's campaign would somehow have to rewrite the convention rules to get the governor into contention for the nomination. That's a tall order for the campaign, as they'd have to pack the committee finalizing the convention rules with supporters, and both Cruz and Trump already have an advantage in that effort. Still, Rule 40b isn't final — the Convention Rules Committee will meet the week before the convention to finalize changes to the rules.
FHQ does not really see the news in this, and I certainly don't get the bit about the "typical interpretations of Rule 40".1

The truth of the matter is that the RNC has all along viewed the process as a resetting after every vote at the convention (should it progress beyond a first ballot vote). That would theoretically give candidates the chance to 1) qualify anew, 2) qualify for the first time or 3) even fail to qualify under the provisions of Rule 40(b) on subsequent ballots. Candidates like Kasich -- likely to fall short of the majority of delegates from at least eight states threshold on the first ballot -- have that opportunity because the number of unbound delegates increases as the number of ballots increase.2

Those free agent delegates, bound on the first or second or third ballot, can move away from the candidate to whom they were bound for a candidate such a delegate 1) preferred in going through the delegate selection process to become a national convention delegate (a sincere delegate), 2) supports for strategic reasons to prevent another candidate from claiming the nomination or 3) prefers because one candidate is viewed as more electable in the general election.

Combining those two factors -- a nomination reset and a growing number of unbound delegates over time -- means that Rule 40(b) was always less prohibitive than many have cast it. Unbound delegates can shift to candidates -- white knights, John Kasichs or otherwise -- and help them to form coalitions that not only qualify them under (a current or altered) Rule 40, but ideally surpass the 1237 threshold.

Kasich does not need rules changes. His campaign needs time at the convention; time measured in terms of the number of ballots cast. He will not qualify under the current Rule 40(b) and will not have 1237 delegates behind him.

Not on the first ballot anyway.

Rule 40(b) being in place or not does not change that reality. If Donald Trump gets to 1237, then there is little Kasich or anyone else can do on that first ballot. Should Trump fall short of that mark on the first ballot, then Ted Cruz seems well positioned to increase his number of delegates on a second vote and Kasich could potentially qualify (if enough unbound delegates come his way). Things moving down that path then puts a premium on the delegate selection process going on now. Those efforts affect how a second or third vote or beyond goes. When the bond disappears, those delegates are free to fit into the three categories described above (or others). The decision-making calculus changes for them.

But the bottom line here is Kasich's roadblock is not Rule 40(b). His roadblocks are the delegates he is not being allocated now and the selection process in which the Cruz campaign has jumped out to a lead. But if, as delegates become unbound at a hypothetical contested convention, Kasich amasses 1237 delegates, then yes, he, too, can become the Republican nominee.

That is a pretty steep climb though.

Previous Post:
The Real Import of Rule 40 in 2016

1 And this idea that someone can have the support of 1237 delegates distributed 50 states and not qualify under Rule 40(b). That seems quite far-fetched. Mathematically, it is possible, but it is not at all probable.

That RNC interpretation of Rule 40 is not shared by all. There are those who say the rule is silent to the matter of renomination (or second/second chance nominations) and others who take a harder line that the rule would limit the voting to just those who qualified under the provisions of Rule 40 before the first vote.

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