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Art by Jason Arias

Contested Convention

Mike Pearl

Mike Pearl

This is what a contested convention will look, sound, and feel like. A work of reported science fiction about the end of the GOP primaries.

Art by Jason Arias

The Republican presidential election has been wild, ugly, and utterly unpredictable. As we head down the home stretch, two words are on every political pundit's lips: contested convention. In today's extra special edition of Terraform, VICE.com political writer Mike Pearl brings us a work of reported speculative fiction, based on extensive research and interviews with top election analysts, about how a contested convention might actually play out. The result is informative, funny, and just a little bit terrifying. Enjoy. -the Ed.


Ever since Ted Cruz won the Wisconsin primary on April 4, political pundits have been excited, unsettled, and/or downright frightened about the idea of a contested (or brokered) 2016 Republican convention. That's a scenario in which no single candidate—not Trump, not Cruz, not Kasich—wins enough delegates to earn the nomination outright at the first convention ballot. And that would lead to the primary results getting thrown out, and the delegates—who represent their states, and are ostensibly bound to vote to reflect the results of the primaries—instead have to work it out themselves.

And that could lead to Republican delegates anointing another contender as their party's candidate for President, despite having fewer wins notched than the leader—which, right now, is Trump. It's a situation that pundits say could result in utter chaos. Now, by most accounts, what's actually going to happen at the GOP Convention in Cleveland is that a large proportion of delegates are simply going to go home disappointed, the leader in the primaries, probably Trump, elected as the Republican candidate.

Still, the Cleveland police are taking Trump seriously when he says a convention that doesn't go his way could result in riots.

In order to better understand how a contested convention could so radically buck, well, convention, I performed hours of research and interviews with election insiders (Josh Putnam of the political science department at the University of Georgia, and creator of the election tracking site Frontloading HQ, and Richard E. Berg-Andersson creator of what might be the original election tracking website, TheGreenPapers.com) to find out how the nightmare scenario Trump proposes could actually come to transpire. What I discovered is that historically, American politics is a violent sport, and it's only been as tranquil as it is for a few short decades. What you're about to read is fiction. It takes place in the not-too-distant future, but the possibilities it contains—while arguably farfetched—are much too real for my story to be called science fiction. This, according to the experts, is a very plausible way that the convention could implode—and implode in a way that the Stop Trump movement could plausibly orchestrate.

Without further ado, we join Derek Marshall, Republican delegate from Fulton County, Georgia as he jots down notes from the floor of the 2016 Republican Convention in Cleveland in July, 2016. -Mike Pearl


Wednesday July 20, 2016. 2:00 PM

Fire the DJ. "Coming to America" by Neil Diamond? Obviously nobody googled the lyrics before they made this playlist.

I'd say at least half this crowd has itself convinced that whether they like it or not, the next president is going to be Donald Trump. I'd say of that second half, a quarter think it'll be Ted Cruz. And a tiny sliver of us think something else. We got an anonymous memo about 11 months ago about an almost-impossible convention scenario, and something called a "White Knight." And here we are.

It's already too crowded here, and media people without floor privileges are forcing their way in. They're looking for someone who knows what's about to happen. Meaning me.

2:36

They're doing the Pledge of Allegiance now. All this emphasis on veterans—and as a veteran myself trust me I hate to say this—has made the convention real annoying so far. The Red Hats have been making such a big show of saluting, saying "thank you for your service," and asking where everyone served. We get it. You "care about veterans," just like Trump himself "cares about veterans." (We call them Red Hats to differentiate them from us White Hats. A couple of us came in white stetsons, but I've never been much of a costume guy.)

They think it's a done deal for Trump—never mind the rumors that the evil fucker handed out trips to his luxurious golf getaway in Southern California in exchange for delegate votes on the floor.

Fox News says he's got 1,240 delegates now, and since he only needs 1,237, that's music to his ears. Our count says he's at 1,236—one short of the nomination—and I happen to know we have better intel about what delegates are thinking. We're the delegates, after all.

3:00

Paul Ryan is up there passing the new rules the White Hats on the convention rules committee put together [01] . He's doing it via roll call vote [02]. Good thinking on Priebus' part. Last time, when they changed the rules via voice vote, it gave the Ron Paul bros a lot of ammo to fire at Romney, and some people think it cost him the last election. This needs to be seen as fair and justified when the smoke clears. Because here's the thing: Most people think this whole thing still works like a straight-up democracy. They've got no fuckin' clue it's way, way more complicated than that.

Some of Cruz's vampires just hovered over to the Georgia delegation to try and convert us [03], but I'm wearing my trusty Cruz pin—my garlic I guess—to keep them at bay. See, I've been pretending I believe in Cruz's stupid fucking abolish-the-IRS plan for 11 months, and it feels great knowing I will finally be able to get back to my real opinions today.

I actually like a lot of Cruz's ideas, to be honest. He'd be OK as president. But he'd lose the general.

And Hillary Rodham Clinton isn't going to beat ISIS. But Trump? I've been to Fallujah. I know Trump's not gonna wheeler-dealer his way out of this shit.

Can the Cruz operatives even see the Florida delegation standing right next to us? That army of white 90-year-olds with a handful of young, latino go-getters thrown in for good measure? The Cruz camp is probably ignoring them because they're bound to Trump for three ballots [04]. If I were them, I wouldn't be so sure this thing isn't going all the way to four ballots. But I'm not about to tell them that.

3:28

The vote on the rules is done, and the old-eight state rule, Rule 40, is officially gone. We didn't get rid of Rule 40, the rule that said the GOP candidate had to have won a majority of the delegation in at least eight states to get on a ballot for the nomination [05], because tossing it outright would have been a dead giveaway to the Trump crew. We just got it tweaked, see. In addition to Trump and Cruz, the nominee could be Rubio or Kasich in theory now, because they've won majorities in at least one contest each.

Whatever. I'd take either guy. It's not my job to figure that part out.

3:35

Fuckin'-A, Sharon.

4:00

They're starting the roll call vote for the presidential nominee. It's showtime. We're kicking things off with a strong showing for Mr. Trump in Alabama.

I feel bad for the Red Hats. They're doing little frat chants. It's almost cute.

4:32

There went Pennsylvania's numbers. For some insane, wonderful reason, Pennsylvania has an incredible 54 unbound delegates, and two undecideds who were expected to go Trump went for Cruz instead—our plan in action.

But their delegation leader must have been a White Hat too, because before he announced the tally, he launched into a five-minute speech about the renewed vibrancy of his state's steel industry, and it put everyone into too much of a coma to notice the double cross. The crowd blinked and missed it.

4:45

They're still counting up West Virginia, with two more states left to go, but it looks like our count was right. Cruz dominates in Wisconsin and Wyoming. Trump can't take this thing.

Thanks Ted. Your work here is done. You can go home now.

4:47

1,236. Trump is one delegate short. We were exactly right. They're going to have another vote at 5 PM [06].

Now it's game on for the campaigns, as over half of us delegates are suddenly free to do whatever we want with our votes. I'm on Cruz's list of definite supporters at this phase, and I have been for months.

But guess what? That vote he's expecting from me? Ain't gonna happen.

Cruz's zombies—I've decided to call them zombies now—swarmed over to newly-freed Arizona as soon as the next vote got announced to make sure as many of those first-round Trump votes are going to instantly become Cruz votes. They even had their phones out with little pictures of potential swing delegates on them [07], so the operatives would know exactly who to look for, and who to try to convince to change allegiances. What are they thinking? Arizona's low-hanging fruit for Cruz. Most of that delegation is about to defect to Cruz anyway. They should be trying to take California ahead of ballot three when they get freed.

I'm not supposed to be on the floor trying to swing people to the White Knight, but I have my eye on Florida over there. They only have two ballots left, and then they become fair game, and I'm sure they're asleep on the job, thinking their only choice is to keep pulling the Trump lever.

I'll start spreading the gospel after the second ballot. I guess we could announce the mass defection from Cruz now, but I'm not looking forward to 3 thousand microphones in my face.

4:50

I'm seeing some irrational exuberance on Twitter. I guess our cover is blown. I think some of the White Hats think we can take the nomination on this first ballot. We don't even know who our candidate is yet. I'm saving my energy for later votes.

4:55

Five minutes till the second ballot, and still waiting for the text that tells me whether it's Rubio or Kasich. [08]

5:05

Done. My ballot is in for Kasich. I know it's a weird time to say this but: I've always hated that guy's face. Oh well. He's the next President of the United States as far as I'm concerned.

5:31

698 for Trump. 923 for Cruz. And now—851 for Kasich.

Well John, you've still never seen these kinds of numbers outside of Ohio. But you will in November.

5:38

Can this possibly be true?

5:42

One of the White Hats from Maine just went up to one of the Trump guys from Maryland and called "Your thinks is Tammany Hall? I'll break your fingers if you wanna see Tammany Hall," and got himself dragged out by security. Stupid prick. His alternate leans Cruz. We have to be cooler about this because we can't afford to lose votes like that.

Still, if there's anything to this vote-buying rumor we have to put a stop to it.

5:45

945 for Trump. 887 for Cruz. 640 for Kasich.

Christ, it's true. How would his support be climbing like this?

They're giving us a recess [09]. Next vote isn't till 7 PM.

I'm trying not to let the pressure get to me. I just snuck over to Florida and told some lady delegates, Mona and Angela, that I'm a "veteran for Kasich." Mona's pushing back, saying "It's my duty to do what my state sent me to do." That is, vote for Trump. Angela's dad is a veteran and she's warming to me. We're talking.

But my pocket's vibrating like crazy.

5:50

Angela came with me on my covert op in the locker room. It required the special forces tactic known as "telling the security guys my wife is having female problems."

Some low level Trump campaign people are back here, but there's no bribery machine. Not that I can see. I'm taking some phone pics and sending them around to the other White Hats.

I'm kind of relieved. I don't know what we were planning to do if we had found a smoking gun. I'd like to say I wouldn't have gotten physical with a 70-year-old billionaire if I caught him greasing palms for votes. I'd like to say that.

5:55

A bunch of Red Hats who look like they're in their twenties followed us back here. They must be on their periods too. I'll try and calm them down.

6:08

Well, the Red Hats were a little more worked up than I thought they would be. And, to be perfectly honest, I was a little more worked up than I thought I would be. I called Trump a used car salesman, and said "Better get back to your beer pong game," so one of them shoved me up against a mirror. Not hard, but the back of my head spiderwebbed it. I was bleeding a little.

Angela was taking photos of the whole thing on her phone. That got rid of the Red Hats.

I told her to hold off on tweeting it—not a good look for the convention.

She said "People have to see this."

6:25

Even if this is true, I'm not so sure we should even be doing this pitchfork mob shit.

6:40

Back on the floor now and everyone's really worked up about this Trump bribery thing. They're getting fragmented versions of what happened in that locker room. Arthur, the Georgia delegation leader just asked me if I really "found Trump's campaign manager arranging bribes," and then a whole gang of Red Hats "held me down and stomped on my face"? It feels like everyone on this floor is gawking at me.

But there's this other rumor going around: a group of White Hats still aren't back after they stupidly ran next door to the Ritz to try and find Trump. I guess running past the barricades and through the crowd of protesters wasn't the best idea. There was a mob of Red Hats chasing after them, and those idiots got distracted from the idiots they were chasing, and started arguing with the protester idiots. It's an idiot clusterfuck out there.

But we need those White Hat idiots on the floor for the vote. I'm texting everyone whose number I have, trying to make sure they're here by 7:00.

6:45

It's looking good. We've got a good turnout for Kasich now.

Angela showed her friend Mona the locker room photo—which looks bad, but I barely felt it—and she seemed genuinely shaken. Trump's supporters don't usually turn on other Republicans like that, did they, she said.

I asked her if she was still voting for him and she paused for about 10 seconds before she said, "yes I am."

6:50

Trump tweeted about me. I'm famous.

6:55

One of the Red Hats is screaming, "Point of fucking order Mr. Fucking Chairman!" at Paul Ryan, and Ryan's pretending not to listen. They're furious that he's going ahead with the vote with all this shit going on in the media. I would be too if I were them, but I'm not them!

There's no way Ryan's gonna stop the vote. Now's his chance. Let's do this, Paul. Now's our moment.

7:01

It's funny how much faster these delegations have gotten at announcing their tallies. No more speeches about the dairy industry from California. All business.

7:15

Trump's fallen way behind, but the tally is not looking ideal for Kasich. He's on Track to get 1,235 tops. If this keeps going until tomorrow, we risk losing this momentum.

Fuck.

7:24

After the tally, the secretary always asks if any states want to change their votes [10], and they always say no. But this time someone said yes: Florida. Mona and Angela just looked over here—I hope this means what I think it means.

7:31

Kasich. 1,239.

This. Is. incredible.

We've got the only nominee who can win. Our guy will beat Clinton, and then he will beat ISIS, thank God. I feel like I can finally breathe after almost a year of this Trump shitshow.

If the Red Hats weren't a bunch of babies, they'd be thanking us for saving this country. Instead it looks like they're deciding to walk out of the Quicken Loans Arena. If I didn't have so much contempt for them, I'd be asking if somebody was planning to stop them from going out there.

Because guys, that's not a good place to be right now.

7:35

No one's stopping those morons. But I guess the DJ's got a message for them. He's playing Celine Dion's "That's the Way It Is."

For once I agree with him.