Poachable Delegates Could Make the GOP Convention Extremely Entertaining

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Being an "uncommitted delegate" in the chaos of a "brokered convention" could be exciting — unless you've got something to hide.

The basic idea behind the remote but increasingly plausible possibility of a brokered (or "contested") Republican National Convention this year is that most states only bind delegates to primary or caucus results for a single ballot or so. At that point they become free agents, and it could in theory become a whole new ball game. In some states candidates pick their own slates and have at least some influence (if not, legally speaking, control) over "their" delegates. But in others there’s no real relationship between the delegate and the candidate once the first- or early-ballot commitment expires.

On the one hand, this scenario could lead some putative delegates to nourish fantasies of playing a role in breaking a convention deadlock, as a "broker" or simply as part of a successful bandwagon. And if being in the right place at the right time means moving up the list for preferment by the next president of the United States, well, that’s just coalition politics, right? 

But ambitious would-be power brokers should be aware the squeeze play can work both ways, per this ominous little note in a “brokered convention” piece by Politico’s Ben Schreckinger:

Mysterious outside groups are asking state parties for personal data on potential delegates, Republican campaigns are drawing up plans to send loyal representatives to obscure local conventions, and party officials are dusting off rule books to brush up on a process that hasn’t mattered for decades ...

One Southern state party chairman said that the calls from campaigns seeking data — such as contact information on eligible delegates and the names of people who have served as delegates in past years — began in late 2015. The chairman said calls have also come from third-party vendors who declined to identify which campaigns are their clients. “There’s a bit of skuldugerry. … I suspect some super PACs are behind some of this.”

Now, I’m sure much of this intel collection is innocent and may go no further than convention sponsors wanting to make sure delegates get that "welcome to Cleveland" fruit basket in their hotel rooms. But if the nomination is still on the line in July, and a relative handful of eventually uncommitted delegates hold the balance of power, then it would be surprising if a little background-investigation info didn’t wind up in the files of campaigns hunting this very valuable quarry. Aficionados of this sort of thing may remember Hunter S. Thompson’s dark fictional account in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 of an uncommitted delegate arriving at a convention hoping to secure a federal district judgeship and instead getting caught in a sex-and-drugs sting and watching his "price drop to zero."

So prospective delegates might want to take a good look at their lives and make sure they want to run the risk of some really serious scrutiny by people whose tongues are lolling out in lust for the last few votes needed to launch their favored candidate down the road to ultimate power. It would be a shame to be broken by a brokered convention.