Montana and Brokered Conventions

Montana’s primary and its small but solid block of 27 votes could be decisive

By Bob Brown

Brokered political conventions are neither good nor bad. Sometimes they are simply necessary. That could be the case with the Republicans this year, as it was in 1952 and 1976.

The Montana delegation were “bitter-enders” at the contested 1952 Republican national convention. The contest for the Republican presidential nomination was between Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, and General Dwight Eisenhower.

Taft, the Republican Senate leader, was fondly known in Republican circles as “Mr. Republican.” He was a prominent member of the party “establishment.” The Ohio senator had opposed most of the New Deal programs. He and his supporters were critical of the “me-too” Republicans who had decided to accept them. Eisenhower, the insurgent candidate, popularly known as Ike, was a newcomer to Republican politics, with no record on the issues.

The Montana delegation went to the national convention in Chicago pledged to Taft. While Taft and Eisenhower had each prevailed in five state primaries, and neither had a majority of the delegates necessary to win the party nomination, Taft had slightly more delegates than Eisenhower when the convention opened. The competition for a majority of delegates was fierce, and the maneuvering intense.

The critical development occurred over the seating of the Georgia and Texas, delegations where the established Republicans had considered only Taft loyalists to be delegates to the national convention. The Eisenhower faction challenged the seating of the Texans and Georgians, making a persuasive case for “fair play” in the convention floor debate. Their challenge prevailed, and with the seating of substitute delegations, Eisenhower pulled ahead of Taft in the delegate count.

On the first ballot, Ike led 595 to 500, with 604 needed to win the nomination.  Before a second ballot could begin, sensing that Eisenhower was the probable winner, numerous delegations began changing their votes to support him. When the dust settled, it was Eisenhower 845, and Taft 280. Among the “bitter enders” for Taft who didn’t get on Ike’s bandwagon was the entire Montana delegation.

In 1976, the Republicans again convened with no majority candidate. Challenger Ronald Reagan slightly trailed President Gerald Ford. The Montana delegation was unanimous for Reagan.

The Reagan supporters suspected that the Ford forces had hinted to several prominent senators and governors that they were likely to be tapped by Ford to be his running mate. Reagan, therefore publically named as his running mate Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker, and proposed a rule to the convention that would require both candidates to reveal their running mate choices before any balloting for president. Reagan hoped that those not chosen by Ford, perhaps feeling deceived, would release their delegations to vote for Reagan. When the rule failed by a slender 51 vote margin, it was clear that Ford had a lock on the votes to win the nomination, which he did, 1,187 to 1,070, with the Montanans sticking with Reagan.

It now appears possible, for the first time since 1976, that no Republican candidate will have a majority of delegates going into the 2016 national convention. Montana Republican primary voters need to know that by new state party rules, at least through the first national convention roll call vote, this year’s delegation must all agree to support the candidate who finishes first in the June 6 primary election.

This is important because, occurring late in the process, Montana’s primary and its small but solid block of 27 votes could be decisive in determining whether there will be a brokered convention. So, in this year’s Republican primary election, cast your ballot carefully.

Bob Brown


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