- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Brokered conventions, Florida primaries, rude opponents and anything that goes bump in the night unhinges the two men and a woman who would be president. (One of them cries a lot.)

If a rude opponent renders a candidate weak in the knees and soft in the spine, what would any one of them make of an angry mullah waving a Koran and a bloody scimitar, or that guy in Pyongyang with the goofy haircut?

The prospect of a brokered convention is the current wraith in the shadows. You can understand why John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary want coronation ceremonies, but the rest of us are entitled to a little entertainment. We’ve put up with a lot over these past few months. Brokered conventions or backroom compromising can produce both great entertainment and great candidates — Jackson, Jefferson, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison and James K. Polk in the 19th century and Woodrow Wilson, the Roosevelts and Harry S. Truman in the century following.

The coronations have produced the likes of George McGovern, Michael Dukakis, SpongeBob SquarePants, Al Gore, John Kerry and Bob Dole. Some nice guys, but forgettable all.

At a brokered convention, the wise men repair to rumpled hotel suites after a succession of inconclusive roll calls to puff on their cigars, sip aged bourbon (Perrier or Mountain Valley water with a twist of meyer lemon for the San Francisco Democrats) and settle on a candidate with likely prospects. Brokered conventions are not ice cream socials. Abraham Lincoln’s men threw their opponents off the trains to Chicago, leaving them bruised and broken along the Illinois Central right of way. Surprises make brokered conventions eminently worth watching. Warren Harding was the most astonished man in Chicago in 1920 when his name emerged from the smoke-filled room, and he slipped off to take a streetcar to the rooming house on the South Side to give the bad news to his mistress. Four years later, the Democrats went through 103 ballots before even a smoke-filled room could produce John W. Davis. But an interesting time was had by all.

The idea of overturning primary results is regarded today as dirty pool, but in politics that’s often the only pool available. Mike Huckabee, who refuses to go home to Little Rock, is eager to turn it over to the brokers. “A few weeks ago,” he told his supporters in a St. Valentine’s Day e-mail, “I … said that Texas would be the place where the dynamics of this race change dramatically in our favor. Since then, after winning [caucuses and primaries in seven states] we have positioned ourselves to do just that. Remember the Republican nominee must have 1,191 votes … or else there will be a brokered convention… . Before we get to a brokered convention, however, we will need to win Texas and seize the momentum.”

Conventions make their own rules and anything goes. In a brokered convention even Dennis Kucinich might get a second chance when candidates long since out of it get to speak up again. Hillary could cry again. Barack Obama could sprinkle new speeches with stolen phrases from Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King and even Ronald Reagan, without credit. Bill Clinton could copyright “a,” “and” and “the,” and maybe even “is,” and declaim against Obama as the most shameless speech-stealer since Joe Biden swiped a transcript from a British pol and told a weepy story of how his daddy was a poor Welsh coal miner. Brokered conventions make all things possible.

Of course the wiseheads all say it can never happen, but “the brokered convention” might be unfolding before us already. This time the squalid pol with a handful of cheap cigars in his vest and a half-pint of rye in his back pocket is a superdelegate armed with piety if not necessarily wit, eager to wheel and deal. The first fistfight would be over whether to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida, won by Hillary after Barack Obama skipped those primaries to punish rowdy Democrats who voted early despite warnings from their national committee. Democrats and Republicans alike once reveled in being rowdy, independent and ornery. They could do it again. We can always hope.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.

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