GOP convention rules for first ballots may avoid a contested convention

Revised 6:28 AM EST.

There has been a lot of speculation about what would happen if nobody gets a clear majority of 1,237 or more delegates at the GOP convention this July.  Talk of a “brokered” or “managed” convention, where the “Establishment” foists a nominee on a divided convention strikes me as unlikely.  Such a scenario depends on the assumption that the actual delegates are party faithful who take orders from…well, from someone.  I see no evidence that a majority of delegates fit that description.  It is interesting to speculate, but nobody really knows at this early date.

There is a much more likely scenario during the first ballot itself.  I have not seen this mentioned by the pundits who discuss the possibility of a brokered convention.  The Republican National Committee (RNC) publishes rules concerning delegate selection.  These rules bind delegates who are pledged to a candidate based on a state primary, caucus, or convention for the first ballot.  Some states send some unbound delegates, who are free to vote for anyone even on the first ballot.  The state committees have some power to specify the behavior of their delegates on subsequent ballots, if any.  Generally, the delegates can vote for anyone on ballots after the first.  Curiously, the RNC has no set policy on what is permitted to delegates bound to candidates, such as Ben Carson, who have withdrawn.  I have not checked every single state, but most states seem to permit these delegates to vote freely even on the first ballot.  The candidate they are pledged to can certainly advise them on whom to vote for but does not control them.  As of today, only 20 delegates are unbound or bound to ex-candidates.

In researching this article, I relied on The Green Papers ( for the various state rules.  Now, here is a fact that I never heard before – one I doubt any of the geniuses on TV is aware of (snark).  Pennsylvania has 71 delegates, of which 54 are elected as individuals – 3 for each congressional district.  These 54 delegates are unbound.  Yes, that’s right: up for grabs.  This enhances the chance of first ballot (ahem) negotiations, since there will be at least 74 unbound delegates.

Fast-forward to July.  Imagine a situation where Trump has 1,090 pledged delegates, and another 960 delegates are pledged to candidate Cruz.  Say Rubio has 280 delegates and Kasich has 122, and there are still at least 74 other unbound delegates.  It seems quite likely that a large majority of the 476 delegates who are not bound to Trump or Cruz might well favor one of them over the other.  If, say, 300 of them voted for Cruz on the first ballot, he would be the nominee.  Of course, the 476 would have been subjected to all the persuasive efforts of the Trump and Cruz campaigns, as well as recommendations from Rubio and Kasich.  Might a Cruz-Kasich ticket emerge, with Marco secretly promised a cabinet position?  Would that cause an uproar, or split the party?  Would that be perceived as a brokered convention?  Good question.

How likely is it that the above scenario will play out?  If someo