Convention Rule 40 or Fight

My latest column for The Week is extremely similar to Philip Diehl’s piece at TAC, in that we’re both writing about how Rule 40(b), designed to benefit the candidate who wins with the blessing of the establishment, is blowing up in the GOP’s face in this year of the insurgent. Further, we both think that a brokered convention won’t necessarily work to the party leadership’s advantage, because even if Trump comes to the convention with a mere plurality, Cruz may prefer to strike a deal with Trump to be his Vice President than to hand control of the process back to a leadership that despises him.

But I want to make an additional point about Rule 40(b). The rule, adopted in 2012, reads as follows:

(b) Each candidate for nomination for president of the United States and vice president of the United States shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight or more states, severally, prior to the presentation of the name of that candidate for nomination.

The purpose of the rule, as I understand it, was to forestall a Ron Paul primary challenge against an incumbent President Mitt Romney in 2016, of the sort that President Carter faced from Ted Kennedy in 1980 and that the first President Bush faced from Pat Buchanan in 1992. By raising the bar for having a candidate’s name placed in nomination to outright majorities of eight state delegations, which would be exceedingly unlikely for a challenger to an incumbent President to achieve, the rule removed such a challenger’s leverage at a convention: the leverage to bargain for platform changes and/or speaking time in exchange for support for the nominee.

In other words, Mitt Romney expected to win, but he also expected his presidency either to be enough of a failure to prompt a serious primary challenge, or that there was sufficiently potent opposition to the party establishment that he might face a serious primary challenge even if his presidency was successful. And his team’s first instinct for how to deal with those possibilities was not to consider how to mend relations with the discontented faction, but to amend the rules to make it harder for such a challenge to succeed.

Donald Trump and Ron Paul have almost nothing in common – indeed, a Trump-Clinton contest would leave more room for a libertarian third-party alternative than pretty much any other other possible matchup I can imagine. But it’s very hard to credit exclamations of surprise from the GOP leadership at what’s been happening in their primaries this year, given that they anticipated – and had already implemented plans to stifle – an insurgent campaign back when they believed they would be the incumbents in 2016.

Hoist by their own petard doesn’t do it justice. This is more like, blown up fleeing through a field of anti-personnel mines they laid to defend against a rebellion by their own people.