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Beware the Brokered Convention

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Editors' note: this column is co-authored by Bob Morrison

Politico is a journal subscribed to by none but political junkies, and most of those are liberal. So, when this serious publication starts talking about a brokered convention for the GOP in Tampa next August, beware!

General Dwight D. Eisenhower won a first-ballot nomination in 1952. But there had been a prolonged and bitter floor fight over convention rules. Supporters of conservative Sen. Robert A. Taft (“Mr. Republican”) charged that they had been unfairly denied delegates by Ike’s manipulative Eastern Establishment backers. Had Ike not been the odds-on favorite to sweep the nation after twenty years of Democratic Party rule, the Republicans might well have remained angrier at each other than at their rivals.

Even so, Ike felt he needed to smooth ruffled feathers of the party’s conservative base. So he named then-Sen. Richard M. Nixon of California as his vice presidential running mate. Nixon was offered to conservatives because he had made a name for himself going after Communists in the State Department. He pursued New Dealer Alger Hiss, against whom ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers had so heroically testified. Denying all, Hiss went to prison for perjury.

That Richard Nixon would go on to become president and to betray Taiwan in his famous “Opening Up” of Communist China could not have been imagined in any of those 1952 Republican delegates’ wildest dreams. That he would be forced to resign in the face of impeachment stuns us even now.

The consequences for the nation of that 1952 “brokered” convention have been vast. When Nixon went down in 1974, thousands of “Watergate babies” were swept into office. These very liberal Democrats left a record of radical social and economic policies that still haunts us.

A more recent example of a brokered convention might be the Republican National Convention of 1980, in Detroit . Former Gov. Ronald Reagan had swept the primaries and caucuses that year and his nomination for president, after New Hampshire , was never in doubt.

But who would be his running mate? Reagan was then the oldest man ever nominated for president, so Number Two could easily have become Number One.

With no mystery in the presidential nomination to chew over, the national media—liberal then as now—began their own mini-campaign. With the collusion of former Sec. of State Henry Kissinger, the media began floating the idea of a Reagan-Ford ticket.

Like a beach ball at a rock concert, one reporter after another asked delegates what they thought of pairing the conservative Californian with the moderate ex-President. The idea began to gain real traction, stoked as it was by media boredom, the mother of mischief. Liberals snickered at the thought of the supposedly inexperienced Reagan ceding foreign policy and defense to Ford. It would be, one wag said, “a presidency with training wheels.”

To conservatives, who had denounced Nixon-Kissinger-Ford détente as an immoral concession to Soviet imperialism, the very idea was anathema. Ford had erased a 30-point deficit in the polls in 1976, only to impale himself by saying Eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination during a presidential debate with Jimmy Carter. And this was the man whom the party Establishment and their cohorts in the media hoped would restrain Ronald Reagan.

To prevent being forced into such a misalliance, Gov. Reagan moved and quickly to spike all such talk. He named his defeated rival, former UN Ambassador George H.W. Bush as his running mate.

With that, the fate of the Republican Party and, to an extent, the nation, was sealed for twenty years after Bush 41 won the White House in 1988. Columnist George F. Will spoke for many conservatives after the senior Bush was trounced by Bill Clinton, following a single term: He turned the silk purse of the Reagan coalition into a sow’s ear.

If we think the products of such brokered conventions were good for America , good for good for the conservative cause, or even good for the Republican Party, we should think again. A brokered convention could only leave us all, well, broker.

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