Brokered Convention – A party convention in which many delegates are pledged to favorite sons who use their blocs of votes to bargain with leading candidates who lack a majority of delegate support. — Dictionary.com
Just recently a friend and I were discussing the possibility of a Republican convention that would actually provide some drama to this year’s nomination of the GOP presidential candidate.
When I referred to a “brokered convention,” he replied: “I prefer the term ‘open convention.’ ”
Is there a difference? A “brokered convention” suggests that votes will be traded and deals will be made to ensure a candidate’s nomination. “Open convention” implies that everything is on the up-and-up in the most democratic way possible. A “contested” convention is similar to brokered, but without the “party bosses” stigma.
Regardless of the term, it will make for interesting news. It has been reported, repeatedly, that the smoke-filled rooms no longer exist where political operatives and would-be kingmakers ply their trades. However, my take is that they are still around, but without the smoke.
The Republican convention of 1860 in many ways provides the marquee example of a “brokered convention.” It took Abraham Lincoln three ballots to gain the nomination over the heavily favored William Seward and to a lesser degree, Salmon Chase.
If “brokered” means deal making, a number of historians say Lincoln, or at least his team at the Chicago convention, made promises of cabinet positions in exchange for delegate votes. The shenanigans didn’t stop there. The Lincoln operatives also printed thousands of counterfeit passes to the convention hall so that when Seward’s followers showed up they found that practically all the seats were taken.
Political tricks didn’t start with Richard Nixon.
In her Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin writes that Lincoln’s operatives worked hard to convince delegates that their state would be treated generously if Lincoln received their votes.
CNN recently aired a special on the 1860 convention and Allen Guelzo, author of several books on Lincoln, said his operatives had “worked their way into every nook, cranny and snook-filled hall they could.”
Lincoln relied on his aides to “cut deals, but he was the lead dog,” said David Plouffe, President Barack Obama’s campaign manager in 2008.
And this from Paul Begala, strategist for President Bill Clinton: “Even our greatest president . . . wasn’t above a little dirty politics.”
Which is not to say that Lincoln was a bad man. History shows us otherwise.
However, history also shows us that when it comes to politics, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
May 27, 2016