The ‘establishment’ might not like Cruz, but the delegates likely will.
It’s like something out of an Aaron Sorkin script. After their bitterly divisive primary, the Republican delegates come together to nominate John Kasich on the fourth ballot at a contested convention in Cleveland, despite his having won only his home state of Ohio. Or they choose House Speaker Paul Ryan, despite his not having run in the primaries at all. Balloons descend from the ceiling, celestial choirs sing and everything is right again with the Republican Party, which goes on to beat Hillary Clinton in a landslide in November.
As I said, it’s like something out of a TV show. In other words: probably fiction. It’s not that hard to imagine a contested convention. In fact, with Donald Trump’s path to 1,237 delegates looking tenuous, especially after his loss in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, it’s a real possibility. And it’s not hard to see how Republicans might think of Kasich or Ryan as good nominees. If Republicans were starting from scratch, both might be pretty good picks, especially from the perspective of the party “establishment” in Washington.
But Republicans won’t be starting from scratch, and the “establishment” won’t pick the party’s nominee. The 2,472 delegates in Cleveland will. And most of them will be chosen at state or local party conventions a long way from Washington. Few will be household names, having quietly attended party gatherings in Fargo, North Dakota, or Cheyenne, Wyoming, for years with little remuneration or recognition. Although the proverbial Acela-riding insiders might dream of Ryan or Kasich, there are indications that the rank-and-file delegates are into Ted Cruz — and they’re the ones who will have votes in Cleveland.
To recap a bit, the Republican presidential voting process is separate from the delegate selection process in most states. In South Carolina, for instance, most delegates are selected through a series of county, congressional district and state conventions. Although those delegates are bound to Trump (who won the state’s primary on Feb. 20) on the first ballot, they could peel off and vote for another candidate after that.1
There are some states where delegates are selected directly on the ballot (as in Maryland, for instance) and others where slates are submitted by the candidates (as in New Hampshire) — these are a fairly small minority.