The Green Papers
The Green Papers

The prospect of "stealth delegates" derailing
Mitt Romney's nomination at the Convention

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson Staff
Sun 29 Apr 2012

The scuttlebutt- "water cooler talk", if you will- is that there will be- where there are not already- those who can only be termed "stealth delegates" (the term is not original with me, by the way) out there who will be on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa late this coming Summer: although bound by Party rules to vote for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on the First Ballot of Roll Call of the States re: Presidential Nomination, these will- instead- abstain on that ballot... if enough abstentions are registered (that is: if there happen to be more abstentions than the number of delegates above the "magic" number 'necessary to nominate' at the Convention [currently 1144- a majority of the current total of 2286 delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention]) on Roll Call, Governor Romney would, thereby, be denied the GOP nomination for President on the First Ballot and, if so... well... anything can then happen on a Second (or, if necessary, a further) Ballot, can't it?

The reason this is even being discussed in the first place is that- even though Presidential Primaries have already been held in many a State, Primaries that have already (by Party rules) bound/pledged National Convention delegates to the Republican presidential contenders- the actual persons who will sit in the seats reserved for said States' delegations in Tampa are determined only after said Primaries.

For example: in Massachusetts-- the Republican Presidential Primary in ye olde Commonwealth on the Bay was held back on Tuesday 6 March 2012: it was a Proportional Primary with a 15 percent threshold (a presidential contender had to get at least 15% of the Primary vote statewide in order to qualify for the pledges of National Convention delegates from that State)-- only Mitt Romney received at least 15% of the vote, thus the 38 GOP National Convention delegates from the Bay State up for grabs in that Primary are bound to vote for Romney on at least the First Ballot of the Convention...

but 27 of these 38 delegates are Congressional District delegates (each of the Commonwealth's 9 Congressional Districts are assigned 3 National Convention delegates [the remaining 11 of the 38 are 'at-large' delegates, representing the State as a whole]) who were physically chosen at Congressional District Conventions held this past Saturday (28 April) and reports indicate that those delegates chosen from more than a few Congressional Districts are, in reality, supporters of Texas Congressman Ron Paul...

and a similar scenario seems to be playing out (or, at least, will play out) in at least a few other States with similar "Convention seats themselves filled after the Primary has already taken place" systems on the Republican side.

The theory under which such "stealth delegates" seem to be operating is that- while Party rules require National Convention delegates, at least on the First Ballot, to vote for the presidential contender to which they are bound and/or pledged based on the results of the votes cast by "rank-and-file" voters in their jurisdiction's Presidential Primary (thus, they cannot vote for any other presidential contender)- their abstentions would still be acceptable because these abstainers would not, in fact, be voting for any presidential contender other than (in the case of Massachusetts, already cited above) Governor Romney...

of course, this is an altogether cockeyed interpretation of the Party rules re: National Convention delegate selection, since abstaining on the First Ballot is also not voting for the presidential contender to which said "stealth delegate" is already bound/pledged (and there are sanctions, within the Party rules, to handle just such contingencies: such as replacing a National Convention delegate who refuses to vote for the presidential candidate to which he/she is bound or pledged with an alternate who will, etc. [keep in mind here that National Convention delegates actually vote in caucus prior to their votes being announced on the floor of the Convention- by the chairman of the jurisdiction's delegation- during Roll Call of the States, so it's not as if any such abstentions would, in reality, be taking place during Roll Call itself... in other words: it is not as if the Roll Call itself is one of delegates casting their votes therein as individuals (such as one might see while watching a vote in the United States Senate on C-SPAN 2)!])

But, if only as the proverbial "hypothetical" here, might such a "stealth delegate" scenario- one denying a seemingly presumptive presidential nominee his/her prize via a plethora of abstentions on the First Ballot by delegates otherwise bound/pledged to support him/her on the First Ballot- be at all allowed to play itself out on the floor of a Major Party's National Convention in any event?

Answer: a resounding No!

Let us just say- if only for sake of this argument- that, as the Roll Call of the States re: Presidential Nomination proceeds, abstentions by delegates otherwise expected to vote for the presumptive presidential nominee begin to become more and more apparent... you don't think the floor managers for the presidential candidate otherwise seemingly about to be nominated would notice?-- you don't think there would also be people on the dais monitoring this as the votes from State after State are being announced and tallied and, thereby, advising the Chair of the Convention as to what now seems to be going on here?

And, if it even were likely that there might be more abstentions by ostensibly Romney delegates (put aside, again, whether such delegates would even be allowed to so abstain [that is: let's here leave out the replacement of delegates who so refuse to go along with Party rules, as already noted in this piece]) than the number of delegates above a majority of same Romney would need to gain the nomination-- that is: let's say, going into the Convention, it appeared that Romney had- say- 1274 delegates (130 more than he would need to be nominated) bound/pledged to him but it is beginning to look- as we get to the middle of this hypothetical Roll Call of the States- as if it is, indeed, possible that some 140 of these will, in fact, be abstaining on Roll Call (the result of which would leave Romney some 10 delegates short of the 1144 he would need to be nominated)-- there would be ever looming the one parliamentary "trump card" to be played by the Romney forces at the Convention which would be the following:

a Romney delegate could, at any time during the Roll Call itself, stand up- be recognized by the Chair- and then move that "the Rules be Suspended and Governor Romney nominated for President by this Convention by Acclamation".

The reason this would be an altogether acceptable motion is Parliamentary Procedure (aka 'Parliamentary Law' or 'Rules of Order') itself and- as I myself have written in previous pieces for this very website- under same:

a body meeting may, by its own vote, change its own rules at any time.

If you know anything about Parliamentary Procedure, you know it is all about 'Precedence of Motions'- a hierarchy of procedure under which motions are ranked, meaning: while a given motion is being considered by a body operating under such Parliamentary Procedure (whether we're talking about a Party's National Convention, a meeting of a Ladies' Auxiliary or one of the two houses of the Congress of the United States) any motion higher in rank than the motion then being considered is "in order", while any motion lower in rank than that being considered is "not in order" or "out of order" (and it is the Chair of the meeting in question that so rules).

There are four kinds of motions in basic Parliamentary Procedure:

1. the Main Motion (aka the Main Question): this being the principal issue of moment generally under discussion- and being considered- by the body so meeting (this could be, say, a bill- having already been introduced and reported out of committee- now being debated on the floor of the United States Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives or either house of a State Legislature; it could also be the Ladies' Auxiliary deciding whether or not to set up a gardening club; or it could be a Party nominating its candidate in the General Election for President of the United States!);

2. Subsidiary Motions: subsidiary because these are directly related to the Main Question itself-- these would be (in order from lowest rank to highest [but these all rank above the Main Question itself, thus any and all of these are "in order" during debate/discussion on the Main Question per se]): to Postpone Indefinitely; to Amend; to Commit; to Postpone to a Set Time; to move the Previous Question; to Table [or Take from the Table])...

for example: let's say that, during debate on the Main Question, a motion is made (and seconded) to Commit (that is: to refer the Main Question of moment to a committee [the motion to Commit being the source of the very term "committee"] for further consideration off the floor of the body meeting itself)-- such a motion would be "in order" because it ranks above the Main Question itself...

now, let's also say that, during debate on this motion to Commit, a motion is then made from the floor to Amend the Main Motion-- such a motion to Amend would be (or, at least, should be) ruled "out of order" by the Chair because a motion to Amend ranks lower than a motion to Commit (even though, were the Main Question being debated at that time, such a motion to Amend would certainly be "in order");

3. Incidental Motions: incidental because these are not necessarily related to the Main Question itself-- these would be (again: in order from lowest rank to highest [all of these, again, ranking above the Main Question itself]): to Withdraw a Motion; to Read Papers (that is: to read a paper not already entered into the record of the meeting or to have a paper re-read); to Suspend the Rules; to Object to Consideration; to Appeal to the Chair (usually to "rise to a Point of Order");

and, finally, 4. Privileged Motions: privileged because they are considered of such import as to stop all other business at the meeting in question pretty much in its tracks-- these are: Orders of the Day (fixing or changing the Calendar of the meeting); a Question of Privilege (aka a "Point of Personal Privilege"); to Adjourn or Recess; to Fix a Time to Which to Adjourn.

It can be seen, from the above list, that a Motion to Suspend the Rules is a fairly high-ranking Incidental Motion...

and it has also already been used- quite recently, in fact- during a Major Party's National Convention to formally nominate that Party's presidential candidate, too!:

back in 2008- at the Democratic National Convention in Denver that year- the Roll Call of the States re: Presidential Nomination was suspended (on motion by then-Senator Hillary Clinton herself) so that then-Senator Barack Obama could be nominated by Acclamation: and this motion was made before the number of delegates necessary to nominate a candidate for President had been cast for Obama...

yes, we all know that this was all "choreographed", if you will, beforehand in an attempt to defuse tensions between all too many of the respective supporters of Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama still in evidence at the Convention (tension that is still, at least somewhat, in evidence today, by the way!: for I personally know at least a few persons who favored now-Secretary of State Clinton's nomination for President who are still- in late April 2012, mind you!- rather pissed off that now-President Obama had gained that nomination instead of Mrs. Clinton) and, thereby, better unite the Democrats behind Mr. Obama's candidacy that Fall... but this does illustrate that such a Suspension of the Rules, even right smack dab in the middle of the conducting of the Roll Call of the States re: Presidential Nomination itself, is acceptable under basic Parliamentary Procedure.

So, back to our "hypothetical" 2012 Republican National Convention for purposes of this particular piece (one in which Romney is seemingly on the verge of failing to gain the presidential nomination because just enough of those delegates bound to vote for him are, instead, abstaining during Roll Call [here assuming, of course, that such a thing would even get to that point in the first place!]):

a motion would, at some point during said Roll Call, be made to Suspend the Rules and Nominate by Acclamation-- it would almost surely be seconded (by many a Romney delegate not so abstaining [and also not all that happy just then])-- the Chair (presumably Speaker of the House John Boehner- who, by the way, has already endorsed Mitt Romney) would ask for a vote viva voce (that is: it would be a vote by voice) by declaiming "All those in favor signify by saying 'Aye'... All those opposed say 'No'... In the Opinion of the Chair, the 'Aye's have it and the motion is agreed to: Governor Romney is hereby nominated by this Convention by Acclamation!" (bang gavel once dramatically-- cue the balloons).

Point is- and the hypothetical scenario above is, indeed, "worst case" (highly unlikely to even take place [again: if only because any such otherwise ostensibly Romney delegates really behind, say, Ron Paul would have had to have already "shown their hand" in caucus before Roll Call])- there is no way a Republican National Convention at which Mitt Romney is the consensus presidential nominee is going to permit such "stealth delegates" to deny the former Massachusetts Governor that very nomination... no way!... and there are, indeed, plenty of parliamentary maneuvers available deep within the pages of, say, Robert's Rules of Order and the like well short of the 'worst case' "hypothetical" I have posited above to make damn sure of same!

Nice try, though! (More than a little bit of good ol' "Texas Hold 'em" there, mayhaps? [;-)])

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