Convention Chaos Approaches

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I should not be added to the list of people who think that a Donald Trump nomination would be a bad thing for the party. He is bringing in hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of new voters to the Republican Party and providing energy that we have not seen since the original Tea Party wave of 2010.

He received 49% of the vote in Massachusetts and a record number of Democrats switched their registrations in order to vote for him.  He is winning Independents by overwhelming numbers, and quite possibly puts Northeast states in play that have not been competitive in decades. He is perhaps the most appealing candidate to Reagan Democrats since…..Ronald Reagan.

This does not mean, however, that he has the nomination locked up after Super Tuesday. It isn’t even close.

It has narrowed the race down to two possible outcomes after Super Tuesday: Donald Trump as the nominee, or a contested and chaotic Republican National Convention.

Contrary to media reports, the delegate math after Super Tuesday shows that we are currently on track for the second possibility – the contested convention – and any smart businessman prepares for all potential outcomes.

The myth that candidates and voters uniting behind Marco Rubio was the best chance of defeating Donald Trump was either tremendously flawed strategy by consultants who don’t understand the process, a selfish con job by Marco Rubio to raise more money and come in a stronger second place to set him up for 2020 or 2024, or an astute recognition that Cruz and Kasich might have a better shot than Rubio based on the results of their home state contests and therefore an attempt to push them out before they can gain momentum again. Regardless of motive, there has been no path for Marco Rubio to win the nomination outright ever since he failed in New Hampshire.

Moreover, if Ted Cruz and John Kasich would have followed the advice of the Rubio-bots and dropped from the race to “unite the party around Marco Rubio,”  then Donald Trump would have probably won every state on Super Tuesday with the exception of Virginia. March 15 would look even worse with Trump winning Ohio as well.

Ironically, the party uniting behind Rubio would have been the best outcome for Donald Trump and probably removed the possibility of a contested convention.

Instead we are headed to chaos in Cleveland. The “Rubio Con Job” aside, the reality of the path to defeat Donald Trump is for all candidates to win as many delegates as possible in order to hold Trump under 50% on the first ballot. They were successful in holding Trump under 50% on Super Tuesday, and therefore it is arguable that the anti-Trump effort actually gained some momentum despite Trump’s strong victories and impressive performance.

Cruz won three states and after the final delegate allocations from Texas become public he will have won nearly as many delegates as Donald Trump on Super Tuesday. Marco Rubio will win some delegates despite missing the threshold in a few states, John Kasich did reasonably well and won delegates in Vermont and Massachusetts, and Ben Carson will even win some delegates as well. The delegates of the candidates opposing Trump will exceed the number of Trump delegates and therefore we are still on track for a multi-ballot contested national convention.

The establishment will do everything in their power to try and defeat Donald Trump at the convention. They will use every trick in the book, change the rules, reinterpret the rules, elect SINO’s (Supporters in Name Only) in state conventions across the country as disguised Trump Delegates, team up, and even possibly bring in supposed “game changing” candidates such as Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan.

The fight will soon move to SINOs and the issue of how delegates are ELECTED, rather than how they are ALLOCATED. This will be critical to committee assignments that will determine the rules of the convention, credentials fights that will determine who is seated as delegates, and most importantly the momentum swing that will occur when delegates are freed to vote their hearts and minds without the confines of binding.

I wrote the book CHAOS: The Outsiders Guide to the Republican National Convention to give people who don’t understand the convention process a guidebook to the history of contested conventions, the contests that lead up to where we are today, and ultimately what can be done to help your favorite candidate win a floor fight.

The unedited version is available on Amazon or via

(An earlier version of the book included a section “The Javelin has Landed” that argues that Mitt Romney would ultimately show up in Cleveland to try and defeat Donald Trump at the last minute. That seems more possible today give his recent public statements and probably should have been included in the book)

The following are excerpts from CHAOS:

The prologue to the book was written by Republican National Committeeman Curly Haugland of North Dakota, a long time proponent of a contested convention. He argues that rules changes made in 2012 have set up a hurricane for Cleveland in 2016:

Chaos may be an understatement in describing the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The first indication of rough weather for the Republican Party in 2016 was at the convention in 2012. Thanks to the party’s customary practice of declaring a “presumptive nominee” in advance of the actual convention nomination, the campaign was allowed control of the entire convention; but, it was the mischief in the Convention Rules Committee that began the perfect political storm.

To keep Ron Paul from being nominated and to preclude a challenge to the Romney re-election in 2016, attorney Ben Ginsberg authored an amendment to Rule 40(b) that requires candidates to demonstrate the support of a majority of the permanently seated delegates from eight states prior to having their name placed in nomination at the convention.

That provision alone is, at best, a tropical depression. Add an open race with a large field of well qualified candidates and the storm intensifies. Add a self-funding billionaire to the candidate mix and a general mood of unrest among the electorate and you have a political hurricane.

Chapter One:

Come July, thousands of politicians, party elders, campaign consultants, activists, and reporters will descend on Cleveland for a suspenseful, dramatic, and chaotic Republican National Convention.

As a rule, conventions are not supposed to be dramatic; they’re carefully choreographed by the presidential nominee and his or her political team to have said exactly what they believe should be said to set the stage for the general election. That’s not going to happen in 2016. All those activists and politicos won’t be attending the same old dog and pony show that they can usually expect at a convention. Instead, they will arrive spoiling for a fight – a fight to pick the Republican nominee for president, and maybe a fight for the future of the GOP itself.

The rise of the Tea Party in 2010 was a seminal moment in American politics. To regard the leaders of the Tea Party as astroturf puppeteers is to malign them with their own success and ignore the circumstances that made it possible. Jim DeMint was a little-known backbencher before he founded SCF. David Koch’s Libertarian Party vice presidential bid went nowhere in 1980. Ron Paul’s success could not be predicted by his abortive 1988 campaign. But the failures of the Bush administration and the overreach of the Obama team conditioned a broad swath of the American voting public to be receptive to the fusion of libertarian and conservative ideals that has always characterized the Republican Party at its strongest. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to his credit, kept Republicans united against Obamacare at a time when many liberal Republican lawmakers wanted to cooperate with Obama. That set the stage for the Tea Party to channel its energy into the GOP and sweep Nancy Pelosi out of the House Speaker’s office.

Don’t believe the revisionist history: You can’t fake a wave election.

However, the failures by the establishment in recent years have also handicapped the party at large. In 2008, the RNC failed to match the technology of the Obama campaign, and the Romney campaign of 2012 made every attempt not to make that mistake again. But instead, they failed much more spectacularly and ultimately lost the confidence of grassroots Republican activists. The volunteers who worked hard to help Mitt Romney get elected were frustrated on election night in 2012 by the failures of Project ORCA.

Project ORCA was a relatively secret project by the Romney campaign that used technology to track voter turnout on Election Day and give the campaign an opportunity to move resources where needed. Conceptually it was a good idea that many campaigns have attempted over the years as technology has improved.  But it froze on Election Day probably because it had not been properly stress tested.

Grassroots Republicans were outraged by what they learned in the news reports and headlines that followed the losses in 2012.

Romney’s fail whale: ORCA the vote-tracker left team ‘flying blind’

  • Politico 11/08/12

Romney’s ORCA program sank

  • Politico 11/09/12

Inside Team Romney’s whale of an IT meltdown

  • Arstechnica 11/9/12

Inside Orca: How the Romney Campaign Suppressed Its Own Vote

  • Breitbart 11/8/12

The Romney Campaign’s Ground Game Fiasco

  • The Daily Beast 11/9/12

Why Romney’s Orca killer app beached on Election Day

ORCA is probably the most spectacular failure in campaign management in the modern era of Republican campaigns.

Cause 4: The New Spectrum

The disruption of open-source campaigns, rise of the Tea Party, and libertarian participation have led to the dominance of a new outsider spectrum.

It was once easy to predict who a person supported for a particular office by estimating where the person was on the ideological spectrum relative to the candidate. The ideological spectrum as taught in Political Science 101 classes at universities across the country was a two-dimensional spectrum that has liberal on the left and conservative on the right Libertarians argue that the spectrum should be three dimensional, with liberty also represented.



The capabilities of open-source campaigns and rise of the Tea Party have evolved the the two-dimensional or three-dimensional ideological spectrums.  A new and more dominant spectrum has emerged in the decision-making of donors, activists, voters, and candidates across the country: The outsider spectrum.

The outsider spectrum is based on where someone is on the the outsider vs. establishment divide.  It is largely a self-classification and based on rhetoric, however it is unique in that whether or not you were previously elected is a dominant variable in your placement on the spectrum.

It is hard for someone who hasn’t been elected to be establishment, and even harder for someone who has already been elected to be an outsider.


The outsider has won the vast majority of highly contested primary contests over the last six years since campaigns went open-source and the Tea Party movement emerged. Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin, Ben Sasse, Ted Cruz, Rick Snyder, Curt Clawson, Mike Lee, and numerous others defeated establishment backed candidates in tough primaries across the country. There were a few establishment wins such as Mitch McConnell, but the very notion that the establishment has to mention the Senate Majority leader winning a primary is testament enough to the strength of the outsider band of the spectrum.

The Path to Chaos: The Lessons of These Examples

There are many lessons to be learned from these examples and they naturally vary based on your perspective.  However, there are some that are worth pointing out again:

  • Failed candidates set back the Tea Party movement substantially, but the establishment response to those failed candidates was arguably even more damaging to the future of the party.
  • Establishment incompetence breeds distrust among grassroots conservatives in much the same way failed Tea Party campaigns bother the establishment.
  • The outsider spectrum may very well be the more dominant variable in the equation of primary electability than the ideological spectrum, but it is still possible to reach out to Tea Party voters on ideological grounds
  • The evolution of the party, losing campaigns, and establishment response to losing campaigns, has placed greater emphasis on nominating good candidates.
  • Convention fights can define the party for subsequent years or decades and bringing the team back together after a contested convention can be determinative of the future success of the party and its candidates.
  • Using the power of the establishment to change the rules can easily backfire and can lead to momentum against those in power. It is easy to win the battle yet lose the war.

The most important concept at play in 2016 is the likely surge in the number of people who are bound by rules to vote for a candidate at the national convention that they don’t truly support. CHAOS coins the name Supporters in Name Only (SINOs) to define these people.

SINOs have been around for a long time but they previously didn’t live in the shadows. The 2000 Michigan delegates, for example, didn’t hide the fact that they didn’t support John McCain. The Bush people stole them, and they were proud of it.

The RNC passed a rule binding the delegates to the results of the preference poll.  These rules still need to be approved by the convention Rules Committee and the convention as a whole.  Assuming they are approved, there will be a number of delegates who are elected across the country who don’t actually support the candidate that they are bound to support on the ballot.

Delegate Selection

How are each respective states’ delegates elected and what does that say about their motives on the convention floor?

Most analysis of state delegations at a national convention is based on the date of each state’s primary or caucus, the size of the delegation, or the power of the individuals within a delegation. But this does not say anything about the number of SINOs in a delegation, the motives of a delegation, or the freedom of the delegation to make deals on the floor.

The system that is used to elect national convention delegates in each state becomes a dominant variable in a contested convention and are window to see which candidates over perform at a national convention relative to their performance in the primaries.

This book is the first to classify the delegations on the basis of how their delegates were elected. The states can be broken up into four segments in terms of importance to the nomination at the Republican National Convention:

  1. Early States – The early states are always going to be very important because of their placement on the calendar. From a strict delegate perspective, South Carolina is the most important of the early states because it is the only state that uses a modified Winner-take-all m Regardless, we classify early states as their own segment because of their importance on the calendar.
  1. Free Agents – The states and territories that have delegates who are not committed to any particular presidential nominee are by far the most important delegations to a contested 2016 Republican National Convention, especially in the early stages such as committee assignments, ballot access, and early ballots. In some cases- such as North Dakota- all the delegates are likely to be free In others like the Virgin Islands, some of the delegates could be unaffiliated and some could be bound as a result of their stated preference on their delegate filing application.
  1. State Conventions – The states and territories that elect their delegates through a state convention process are the next most important delegations to the Republican National Convention. These delegations will be less loyal to the campaign that they are bound to vote for because they are largely individually elected, and not necessarily supporters of the candidate that they are bound to vote for by rule. There will be many SINO’s in state convention states.
  1. Balloted – The states and territories that elect their delegates directly on the ballot will have the least amount of freedom on the convention floor because they were generally asked to be put on the ballot by the presidential campaign that won their state or congressional district. Therefore, convention delegates from balloted states will be the most loyal delegates on the convention floor and therefore aren’t as important in terms of swinging votes. Included in this category are states such as California that allow the campaigns to select the delegates. There will be few SINO’s in balloted states.

Donald Trump is also the one candidate that most of the establishment and campaign consulting tribes will team up to work against. You can bet that when the chips are down the establishment tribes will unite. Donors, operatives, and supporters of the establishment candidates will at some point unite to try to defeat Trump, and he will be somewhat at a disadvantage because of the tribal connections.

Simply put, they will try to screw him over big time in Cleveland.

As of this writing, we have a split decision between Iowa and New Hampshire. I am not going to predict winners and losers of future contests, but I will predict this: if we were going to have a contested convention in Cleveland, it would look exactly like what we see happening right now–no clear frontrunner, a split decision in the early states, outsider candidates buoyed by a base that is fed up with the establishment, candidates that can survive much longer than ever before because they have super PACs with tens of millions in the bank, a process that now means delegates are bound to vote for the candidate who won their state, and a number of rules questions that are uncertain at best. All of it points to the Republican Party heading into Cleveland unsure of who will emerge as the nominee and utter chaos for the national media to see.

John Yob consulted for outsiders including Rand Paul, Rick Snyder, Ben Sasse, Curt Clawson, and several others across the country. He was the National Political Director for John McCain 2008, National Convention Delegate Director for Rick Santorum 2012, and National Political Director for Rand Paul 2016. 


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