The “process” story is the worst. Most reporters never want to write it and if you are a staffer, you know it would take far too long to explain anyway. Yet, somehow, the “process” story is the one that has dominated the 2016 presidential election coverage.
All of these have been major topics of discussion among the media and even reporters who have covered politics for several decades have had to brush up on complicated campaign terms and rules. This makes sense. The most recent “brokered convention” was in 1952, and the most recent “contested convention” took place in 1976, when ultimately Ford beat out Reagan for the nomination after the first ballot of voting. For the most part, anyone who covered those elections in depth is likely not covering the 2016 campaign, hence the major education happening today.
(Process note: a “brokered convention” would occur if after the first round of voting at convention we still do not have a nominee, until then, if we go into the convention without a nominee with 1,237 delegate votes, it is a “contested convention.”)
The terms “brokered convention,” “delegates,” and “bound delegates” recently spiked in Google trends.
Why is this process story different? Why is it getting so much attention?
This story is about much more than the campaign process. It’s about where the candidates, campaigns, parties and our political system stand.
On the Republican side, the story has been whether Trump will secure the coveted 1,237 delegates to win in Cleveland without drama. As the prospect for that has become increasingly difficult, the question has turned to how close Trump has to get to call it a win? If he is within 50 or 100 delegates, will the party give him the nomination? If not, what happens?
Enter, the media process story. Next, enter Trump complaining about the rules.
Donald Trump is new to the national political game (heck, his kids did not even register early enough to vote for him in the primary). He’s done remarkable things without a traditional political campaign structure (in fact, it may be that he’s done remarkably well because of this). However, Ted Cruz, is a seasoned campaign strategist and Washington, D.C., insider. He knows how the system works. He understands and appreciates what it takes, within the confines of the rules, to win.
This upsets Donald Trump. Cruz is not cheating; he is just playing this particular game better than Trump. That said, Trump has played many other games better than Cruz.
Delegate counting and brokered convention rules are ultimate inside-baseball. These topics are only of issue this year because the Republican (and Democratic to a slightly lesser degree) Party in Washington faces an identity crisis.
Trump has inspired an incredible showing at the polls. His unconventional approach to the campaign took down some of the most talented candidates and staff on either side of the aisle. This is his greatest strength and weakness. Assuming Trump does win the nomination, this unpredictable approach could pose a real threat to a candidate like Hillary Clinton.
The Clinton machine was built to take down traditional candidates and if Bernie Sanders’ strong showing has said anything about her it is that she is not able to adapt quickly or smoothly to any obstacles that the traditional campaign could not have predicted.
How the 2016 presidential campaign has played out speaks to how frustrated the American people are with our political system.
Nevertheless, what the voters are getting is a major dose of system and process news, but what this election has told us is that what the American people really care about is results.
I am neither a Trump nor a Cruz nor a Clinton nor a Sanders supporter, but I am fascinated by what is happening and simultaneously concerned about what I will do come November. So rather than deal with that reality, I will join everyone in talking about the process.