Untangling the Republican Delegate Mess

It is possible that Mitt Romney might not get the requisite number of delegates before the Republican National Convention is held in August, but that's looking more and more unlikely as the primary season grinds on.  Because it could happen, though, here's a review of the "delegate math," as well as a look at how it might be skewed by the tangled web of rules spun by the Republican Party and the flouting of those rules by a couple of key states.

We've had 28 primaries as of March 25.  Here's the delegate math.  Total delegates decided thus far: 1,043.  Delegate Count: Romney 565, Santorum 256, Gingrich 141, Paul 66, according to Real Clear Politics.  Number of delegates left to decide: 1,244 (of a total of 2,287, although because of RNC rules, some counts differ by four votes).  The number of delegates up for grabs should be between 2,429 and 2,433, but there have been penalties levied against Arizona and Florida for holding their winner-take-all primaries before April 1, so the actual number of delegates is down to 2,287, with 1,144 needed to win.

Romney to this point has captured 54% of the delegates (565/1,043 = 54%); Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul together have captured 46% (463/1,043 = 46%).

If Romney grabs 54% of the remaining 1,244, he'll have an additional 672 delegates and his total will be 1,237, well above the 1,144 needed to win.  It's not certain whether Romney will continue to win at a 54% pace, but the odds are that he will.  The delegate math, calculated in this way, indicates that the nomination is his, especially when this delegate math is combined with what I see as a groundswell of Romney support that is broadening throughout the Republican Party and which I think will soon begin to sway more conservative voters.

Enter the Republican National Committee.  In the bizarro world of Republican Party delegate counting as dictated by the RNC, we have to take into account the fact that even though the voters in a number of states might select the nominee of their choice, the delegates that represent them aren't bound to vote as the people who send them to the convention have indicated they want them to.

According to the RNC, the total of so-called "unbound" voters is as follows: Iowa, 28; New Hampshire, 2; Colorado, 36; Minnesota, 40; Missouri, 52; Maine, 24; Wyoming, 29; Washington, 43.  That means that there are 254 fewer voters that can be counted as definite, bringing the total of bound votes down to 759.  Compounding the confusion, the RNC says that the delegate count "as reported by state parties" so far totals only 680.  The RNC's presentation of this important data is among the sloppiest and least dependable I have ever encountered.  It makes Jon Corzine's accounting practices look absolutely beyond reproach.

But wait.  According to ABC News, the actual count of bound voters is 708.  Of these, Romney has 390; the other three combined have 318.  As fate would have it, Romney's total of 390 constitutes almost exactly 55% of the total of 708 unbound votes as ABC counts them, while the three stooges' total of 318 makes up 45% of the total.  At least ABC's bound-delegate count actually adds up.

Compounding the mess, the RNC has issued a number of rules governing what might happen in case none of the primary candidates shows up at the convention with a majority of the primary votes -- that is (I think, though it's impossible to be certain), if no candidate has at least 1,144 votes on the first ballot.  There would ensue the most arcane and potentially corruptible sequence of events imaginable, including the following:

  • A hearing of petitions from eligible voters in Florida and Arizona is held by the nine-member RNC's Committee on Contests -- you heard that right -- which then issues a report that may or may not decide whether additional votes from Florida and Arizona that had been denied because they staged winner-take-all primary elections before the RNC's mandated April 1 deadline, as elucidated above, should be counted.
  • After that, the entire 168-member RNC (three members from each state and territory) considers the petition of "contest" and makes its ruling.
  • After that, an appeal of the RNC ruling can be presented by the losing party to the 112-member (two from each voting state/territory) Committee on Credentials, which would then make a third decision and issue a report.
  • Finally, whatever the hell decision has been arrived at is presented to the convention at large for its approval.  In this stage, amendments can be offered, further complicating the interpretation of what punishment should or should not be meted out to the offending states.

The kicker in all this is that, as much fun as it would be to watch that perverse, self-inflicted three-ring circus unfold, it's not going to happen this way.  Despite the indecipherable tangle of rules and procedures and impediments to a straightforward, clean, no-problems primary election -- one which actually allows voters to decide the candidates -- that the RNC has managed to put forth, Mitt Romney is the overwhelming favorite to capture the nomination.  Pressure on Santorum and Gingrich to withdraw is going to escalate dramatically over the next several weeks, despite Santorum's sub-majority victory in Louisiana.

People following the primaries closely are going to look for their primary election results -- not to the RNC's morass of rules and rulings and numbers that simply don't -- can't -- add up, but to sources such as Real Clear Politics.  If the RNC should suddenly pull a fast one on the eve of the convention and declare that Romney, with more than the 1,200-plus votes I'm confident he'll have accumulated by that time, is not the winner, all hell will break loose, and the Republicans would risk becoming the laughingstock of the political world, possibly throwing away their chances of even fielding a viable candidate by the time the November elections roll around.

Finally, though, the RNC and the influential conservative politicians and kingmakers in Washington, D.C. are coalescing behind Romney.  He'll be the consensus candidate before June 1, obviating the need for the RNC to defend the indefensible.