Brokering the Brokered

We all woke up this morning with a delegate hangover—and it’s not going away anytime soon. The Feb. 5 delegate count is a mess , superdelegate questions abound , and whispers of a brokered convention persist . But there may be a cure-all on the horizon: Michigan and Florida.  

The two states were punished because they moved their primaries too early in the calendar. Now, Hillary Clinton wants Michigan’s and Florida’s delegates to count because she won the states. The conventional wisdom says Clinton is playing dirty and only wants to seat the delegates because it would help her win the nomination. That’s true only if we end up with a brokered convention.

According to my calculations, Clinton would earn about 220 delegates if the two states were seated. Obama would earn about 130—if he picked up all of the uncommitted slate in Michigan. That’s a plus-90 margin for Clinton, which appears to be a relative behemoth in a race that is separated by as few as a dozen delegates . But in a nonbrokered convention, those delegates are never going to get seated unless they’re totally inconsequential.  

Since the DNC stripped the states of their delegates, the only ruling body that can reinstate them is the strangely named “credential committee.” The committee mimics the pledged delegate percentages, so whoever has more delegates controls the committee.

This is where things get screwy. Assuming we’re not in a brokered convention, the person who has more delegates will be the nominee. So, if it’s Barack Obama, and he has more than a 90-delegate lead, he’ll seat the states out of good will. If his lead is less than 90 delegates, then he’ll stop them from being seated. Clinton will cry foul, but rules are rules. Obama will still win because he had control of the committee. If Clinton is ahead in delegates, she’ll have control of the committee and seat the delegates. But by then she won’t need their final push—she’ll do it out of the kindness of her heart.  

Now, all of this goes to hell if there’s a brokered convention . Then whoever had the lead in delegates wouldn’t have the majority needed to ensure a nomination, but they would have control of the credential committee. In that case, Obama wouldn’t seat the delegations and Clinton would. This becomes especially dramatic if the totals are so close to a majority that the extra 220 delegates would push Clinton above the threshold needed for the nomination.

Yes, we realize we’re dealing in the hypothetical here. So, for good measure, here’s one last scenario: Michigan and Florida could vote again. Since the beginning of this fiasco, the DNC has implored both states to hold a second contest within the sanctioned primary and caucus window (early February through June). That would mean the first results wouldn’t count toward delegate allocations, which won’t make Clinton happy. Furthermore, rumor has it that the contests would be caucuses—not primaries. That’s even worse news for Clinton—Obama won every caucus state on Feb. 5.

So, to review, our options are:

1. Nonbrokered convention – Michigan and Florida don’t matter. Maybe seated, maybe not.

2. Brokered convention – Michigan and Florida might matter, if Clinton is close to the majority threshold needed for the nomination. Maybe seated, maybe not, depending on who controls the committtee.

3. New contests – Michigan and Florida might matter, definitely seated.

How’s that hangover feeling?