How the Rules of Party Conventions Matter

The 1948 Republican Convention in Philadelphia

When it comes down to the Republican Presidential nominee for 2016 it may come down to the rules of procedure. Parliamentary savvy can reveal modern U.S. politics to be a lot like its historical precedents (think: 1924 Democratic convention). But the existing (or even yet-to-be-enacted rules) reveal something about their party–as they shape the outcome in potentially surprising ways.

We don’t yet know how we’ll remember 2016, as a statistical outlier, a sideshow, or perhaps the year of the rise of the non-state (Establishment) actor.

Republican leadership is unhappy, and used to be able to call the shots. Here is how Trump could be removed (and mayhem orchestrated), assuming he enters the convention as the frontrunner but without the requisite threshold of votes:

  • Delegates become “unbound” and vote as they wish
  • Rules can change, aka, the “nuclear option” (see below)

“When you’re trying to bust up a convention, you can’t just take the risk on the nomination vote,” says Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the book Primary Politics. “Because if you lose, then he’s the nominee. There’s always a test vote beforehand. And it would probably be about the rules.”Now, fights over rules may seem arcane, but they actually present great opportunities for mischief. That’s because the delegates get to make their own rules and can change them however they like.

So supporters of one candidate are perfectly free to propose a last-minute rules change meant to hurt another candidate — and if a majority of delegates approves it, there’s no higher body that can overrule the decision

Source: Contested conventions, explained – Vox

As Chris Baylor writes, Trump may be a one-trick pony; future Republican contenders may not be able to replicate his success, and he may fail to even have the so-called “transformative” impact that some are suggesting. In that case, it will be all left up to the rules.

Rules Matter in the Vatican Synod

If the process is stacked against you, what can you do? In the case of a high-level Vatican conference involving 300 bishops, delegates and observes, a leaked letter from a few cardinals has caused a firestorm. Some see this as a procedural maneuver–but it could just be a journalistic scoop.

At the Vatican, some conservative cardinals are complaining about a three-week meeting, a synod to discuss challenges to the modern family. In a letter to Pope Francis leaked to the media, 13 of them say new rules for that meeting leave them at a disadvantage and could lead to what they describe as predetermined results on disputed issues. As NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports, the Vatican has denounced the leak.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: The letter was leaked Monday, a week after the Pope got it. Five of the 13 Cardinals have since denied they signed the letter. And today, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi tried to put the controversy to rest.

FEDERICO LOMBARDI: (Through interpreter) It’s not surprising. Observations and doubts were expressed about the new synod rules. But once they’ve been established, the synod fathers must apply them in the best possible way.

Source: Vatican Denounces Letter Criticizing Pope Francis On Family : NPR

Underlying disagreements already exist among social lines–with African representatives emerging as the “standard-bearers” for “traditional Catholic teaching on family issues.”

Voting Blocks and the Academic Career

Understanding voting dynamics can play a key role in an academic career. After all, the decision to hire you and grant that all-powerful tenure status is made by a group of faculty consisting of various blocs and interest groups.  David D. Perlmutter, dean of the college of media and communications at Texas Tech breaks down the key groups: by-the-bookers, collegians, in-my-dayers, politicals/hobby horsers:

In this series about the players who can affect your career, I focused first on the chair and then on the head of the department’s promotion-and-tenure committee. Now I’d like to turn to the role played by tenured faculty members. How they vote is rarely idiosyncratic or random. There tend to be constituencies of like feeling and opinion. Understanding those constituencies early in your career and identifying which faculty members fall into which category will give you some sense of who will decide your fate, why, and what you might do to win them over

via Know the Vital Players in Your Career: The Tenured Factions – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Making Sense of the Filibuster

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made a powerful case (at least for journalists and those that follow these issues) for understanding  parliamentary procedure with his change of a time-honored rule known as the filibuster. This is the modern rule that 60 votes are required to pass a bill in the Senate.

Why make the change? Some have cheered it, others jeered the denigration of the institution of the Senate, invoking no less than Thomas Jefferson.  Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) observed that “It became clear even to reluctant members that their strategy of gridlock helped them more than us because we are the party that believes government to be a force for good.”

Growth of the Filibuster

The filibuster is a contemporary parliamentary maneuver that was rarely used for “the first 190 years of the country’s operation” according to James Fallows in probably the most useful blog post around. (He cites informative blog posts on the Monkey Cage, Yglesias, and David Mayhew’s APSA James Madison Lecture.)   Its use exploded in the 1970s and reached a peak in 2007-08.

How does this change the actual path of deliberation and debate in the Senate?

As Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political scientist who researches the filibuster, told me: “Over the last 50 years, we have added a new veto point in American politics. It used to be the House, the Senate and the president, and now it’s the House, the president, the Senate majority and the Senate minority. Now you need to get past four veto points to pass legislation. That’s a huge change of constitutional priorities. But it’s been done, almost unintentionally, through procedural strategies of party leaders.

via Nine reasons the filibuster change is a huge deal.

This might be the time to go back and reread VP Jefferson’s time-honored classic of procedure, A Manual of Parliamentary Practice: for the use of the Senate of the United States and see why Martin Longman makes the case that the filibuster “had to go.”

Mutiny Halts Italian Gambit by Berlusconi –

Berlusconi’s parliamentary move doesn’t seem to have worked as he may have hoped:

For all the Shakespearean elements of pride, betrayal and hubris displayed on Wednesday during the political theatrics, the government survived a confidence vote with unexpected ease. The more significant news was that moderates promising deep reforms scored an unusually decisive victory in the most unstable of the euro zone’s big economies.

At a time when several major countries, notably including the United States, are paralyzed by partisan political warfare, the defeat for Mr. Berlusconi was greeted by many as a welcome, if still tentative, sign that Italy could carry out long-delayed changes to its political system and take steps to revive its sclerotic economy. “We are seeing the long twilight of the Berlusconi era,” said Roberto D’Alimonte, a political analyst in Rome.

via Mutiny Halts Italian Gambit by Berlusconi –

Did the Senate Breaks Procedural Rules?

Misleading headline by Josh Rogin?  It doesn’t sound like the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee procedure was “broken” but rather that there was some inherent flexibility–e.g., discretion of the chair.

According to Senate rules, hearings should be notified seven days in advance, business meetings should be notified at least three days in advance, and members should have 24 hours to consider legislative text before having to vote on it. A spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) pointed out that the chairman and ranking member of the committee have the discretion to call a business meeting earlier if they both agree.

“This has been an open process under a shortened timeline where senators’ views from across the spectrum have been solicited and welcomed. With an agreement between the chairman and ranking member to proceed after hours of hearings, briefings, and meetings, the committee pursuant to the rules is proceeding with the business meeting,” said spokesman Adam Sharon.

via Senate Breaks Own Rules in Rush to Vote on Syria War – The Daily Beast.

The role of chairperson has its privileges.

Inside the Curia: Voting Procedure on Papal Selection

Reports reveal the politicking and voting procedure that resulted in the selection of the first non-European pontiff.  Of the 114 cardinals only 47–an odd number–voted, with informal guidelines suggesting that a “runner up” would not be selected. Two MCs (non-cardinals) pass out the ballots, and a very detailed system entails

The most authoritative accounts of that election suggest Cardinal Bergoglio garnered the second most votes to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the penultimate round. Then, at lunch, he was said to have thrown his votes to Cardinal Ratzinger, who was quickly elected Benedict XVI. Some accounts suggest he did not want to be pope; others, that he knew he did not have a chance of winning.Renunciation is not unheard-of. “People say, ‘Don’t consider me,’ ” said Chicago’s archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, in an interview, and that was the case this time as well. “Some people were very disturbed by the idea” that they might be considered for pope, he said.

via New Pope’s Piety and Humility Aided His Surprise Selection –

More details via globalpost on the exact process, which includes ceremony as much as voting dynamics–much of the latter occurring before and after, in ‘caucusing’:

  • Lots are drawn to select nine of the cardinals, three of whom will serve as “scrutineers”, three “infirmarii” to collect the votes of cardinals who fall ill, and three “revisers” who check the ballot counting down by the scrutineers.
  • Cardinals are given rectangular ballots inscribed at the top with the words Eligo in Summum Pontificem (“I elect as supreme pontiff”) with a blank space underneath.
  • After all non-cardinals have left the chapel, they write down the name of their choice for future pope, preferably in handwriting which cannot be identified as their own, and fold the ballot paper twice.
  • Each cardinal takes it in turns to walk to the altar, carrying his vote in the air so that it can be clearly seen, and says aloud the following oath:
  • “I call as my witness Christ the Lord, who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.”

A longer discussion on the implications with professor John M. Hunt are worth watching–available from the @BYUKennedyCtr.