More about who gets to be a Republican delegate
“sestamibi” wrote in a comment:
We are really in uncharted waters if no one gets a majority on the first ballot. There hasn’t been a GOP convention that has gone more than one ballot since 1952 because the Republicans have decided that these things should be dainty affairs culminating in a coronation of whoever’s “turn” it is. This explains putzes like McCain and Romney, and even Dubya (who history will regard far higher than he is now) who won only because Gore and Kerry were even bigger putzes.
Since the outcomes of these events (full disclosure: I have been a delegate or alternate to three GOP conventions myself) are pretty much guaranteed before they begin, that is reflected in the kinds of people who get to become delegates in the first place. The 1880 convention to which you refer was a meeting of a relatively new party, and its participants were (for one thing) all male and the party bosses of their local fiefdoms, so the convention was a deliberative body which could indeed go for 36 ballots before cutting a deal.
In contrast, when the outcome is preordained, the whole thing becomes a big party, like a trip to Disney World, and delegate positions are awarded to innocuous, often politically naïve individuals who have simply knocked on a lot of doors, made a lot of phone calls, and addressed a lot of envelopes: people like 70-year old Mrs. Ida Mae Folderol of Duck Flat, NE, rewarded for her 45+ years of service to the party.
Now I have known a lot of Ida Mae Folderols over the years, and they are for the most part, very sweet and sincere ladies for whom attending a national convention (at her own very considerable expense, and making a big dent in her budget, since all too many of us Republicans are not exactly rich), is the greatest experience of their political lives. However, I question their capability to make judgments affecting our national future, which they would have to make on subsequent ballots after which they are unbound.
This promises to be real interesting.
Another thing to point out is that the delegates are free agents. The only thing they are required to do is to vote for the candidate they are bound to, in the first round of balloting, if their candidate is on the ballot. Under the current rules, candidates don’t get on the ballot unless they have the support of the majority of delegates from eight states.
Rubio or Cruz cannot simply direct their delegates to vote for Trump, or Kasich, or whomever they make a deal with.
Also, delegates bound to Trump, but who don’t personally support him, are free to vote for a rules change that would harm Trump’s interests in winning the nomination, such as changing rule 40(b) to open up the voting to more candidates.
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Note that rule 40(b) is one of those things the Republicans did to prevent those crazy contested conventions in the past like in 1880 which took seven days and 36 rounds of balloting. It’s pretty unlikely that more than two candidates would qualify under 40(b), and if there are only two candidates running, that pretty much assures that the nominee gets decided with one round of voting.
But now, the Republicans WANT a crazy contested convention to stop Trump, and to also stop Cruz if it comes down to Trump v. Cruz.
For starters, they would want to change the rules so everyone, even if they have a single delegate, is on the ballot. That ensures that Trump can’t win the first round, and then all of his delegates become unbound and most of them are not Trump supporters. While they are at it, they may add some changes that allow Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan to swoop in as candidates.