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How The Divided GOP Field Could Lead To A Contested Convention


So Kelly, did you catch the magic number the congressman mentioned?


I did - 1,237 - that's the number of delegates a Republican candidate needs to win the nomination - a simple majority, right?

CORNISH: Right. So before our next conversation, a quick civics lesson.

MCEVERS: Let's do it.


MCEVERS: If the primary season ends and no one holds that majority, the Republican convention this summer would be contested.

CORNISH: Now, this last happened with President Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976. Once the convention started, Ford picked up the delegates he needed before the first round of voting.

MCEVERS: A brokered convention means multiple rounds of voting with backroom deals. And the last time that happened was 1948. New York Governor Thomas Dewey eventually became the nominee.

CORNISH: Got all that? Well, now we turn to Ben Ginsberg. He's an elections law attorney with Jones Day. He served as national council to the Bush-Cheney campaigns and Romney presidential campaign. Ben Ginsberg, welcome to the program.

BEN GINSBERG: Thank you - nice to be with you.

CORNISH: So we just broke down some of the math there, some of the scenarios. Is this where things are headed, to, potentially, a contested convention, or will Donald Trump be the nominee?

GINSBERG: There is a way with an unusually crowded field and a higher-than-usual number of candidates collecting delegates that this goes to a contested convention. But you would not call it a probability at this point by any means.

CORNISH: Does the prospect of a contested convention mean we're likely to see Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich basically hang in there until the convention despite how they're performing in the primaries?

GINSBERG: In this particular instance where the frontrunner has just barely more than 50 percent of the votes so far, there's a plausible scenario for all of them hanging in there. Ted Cruz won his home state of Texas. Marco Rubio and John Kasich will have contests in their home states on March 15. And the outcomes on the 15th will go a long way to determining the answer of whether there really is a contested convention or not.

CORNISH: So when it comes down to the person-to-person contact in terms of how this plays out at a convention, what does that look like?

GINSBERG: It looks like a situation where the individual delegates who have been elected by processes in their states need to make some tough decisions. If a convention goes more than one ballot, then all those delegates become free agents. It would require a whip operation to keep track of the individual delegates, and to understand who and how to influence them and to get their votes will be something really unprecedented.

CORNISH: We've talked about the math here and about rules. What do you think this could do to the party itself? Could this essentially create a schism? Is this a situation where the convention could be used to heal the divisions?

GINSBERG: You can see where it would cause a schism in the party, but you can also see Cleveland as a time for the party to come together and to sort of heal the wounds that may have developed over the primary process. That's the rule of thumb for what happens at conventions, and I think all the Republican Party leaders would be hopeful that that happens once again. It will depend in large part about the vote totals of the candidates going in and how the Republican primary electorate has reacted.

One of the things about Donald Trump is that he's managed to expand the number of voters who are coming into the Republican primaries. That's a big plus for the party and all its candidates. On the other hand, if the method for getting there is, in fact, a divisive message of not being able to repudiate the Ku Klux Klan when you need to, that's a problem.

CORNISH: Ben Ginsberg is an elections law attorney with Jones Day. Thanks so much for explaining all this to us.

GINSBERG: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.