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If the presumptive nominee dies during the campaign, who becomes the presidential nominee?

By Curt Anderson
May 1, 2020 4:24 pm
Category: Politics

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Some people wonder why the guy with the second most delegates isn't the automatic nominee if the candidate with the most votes becomes unavailable. Here is why.

Since the inception of political conventions, political parties have deemed that only when one candidate is favored by at least half the delegates he or she will he or she become the nominee. Sometimes the rules have required the nominee to be the choice of two thirds of the delegates. When no candidate has sufficient delegate support going into the convention, the result is brokered convention.

Brokered conventions were more common before the primary election era. For example, both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln entered their respective party conventions with fewer delegate votes than their opponents. But their chief rivals also didn't have the minimum number of delegate votes to secure the nomination on the first ballot. Both the 1860 GOP and 1932 Democratic conventions went through a winnowing process in which the lesser candidates dropped out, usually throwing their support to a former rival who they were most closely politically aligned. The candidates who initially had most delegate votes were not judged to acceptable to the delegates of the departed candidates. Lincoln and FDR eventually became presidential nominees. That was because while they were not the most popular first choice, they were both the most popular alternative choice.

Some conventions in the past eventually settled on dark horse candidates as their party's nominee. A dark horse candidate is a candidate who wasn't seriously considered or barely a consideration at the start of the convention. James K. Polk was a dark horse candidate.

Going into the convention, the most popular candidate might represent the moderate wing of his party. The second most popular candidate might represent the progressive wing of the party. If the most popular candidate dies or drops out for some reason, the second most popular candidate isn't the automatic replacement. That is for good reason; the delegates of the departed front-runner and delegates favoring the other also-ran candidates might collectively prefer somebody closer to their more moderate majority views.

A political convention is not like a beauty pageant in which if the winner can't perform her duties, the runner up wears the crown and sash.

Choosing a presidential nominee is more like a group decision in selecting bottle of wine. If some friends go a wine shop and request a bottle of Riesling, a sweet white wine, but find out the shop is out of Riesling, they don't ask the proprietor which wine is the next most popular. That wine might be Cabernet Sauvignon, a dry red wine. That's not an acceptable alternative to a Riesling. Moscato is another sweet white wine similar to Riesling. Moscato might not have been anybody's first choice, but Moscato has the characteristics or at least most of the characteristics that most of the friends preferred.

So it is with presidential candidates. People, especially the politically astute, aren't selecting a pretty face as much as they are characteristics and qualities found in a candidate's views, proposals and ideas. A presidential nominee should embody the most popular views of the majority of party members.


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