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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Results from the March 15 Primaries: Impact on Party Nominations

Brian Crowley, editor of the CrowleyPolitcalReport
Washington, DC
March 17, 2016

Date: 03/17/2016 Location: Washington DC Description: Foreign Press Center teleconference with Brian Crowley - State Dept Image

2:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome from the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Press Center.  Thank you for dialing in today.  Today we’re joined by Brian Crowley, who is the editor of the Crowley Political Report.  Brian is based in Florida.  He has been covering Florida and nation – elections nationwide since 1980.  He’s going to be discussing the results of the primaries from this past Tuesday, including winner-take-all states of Florida and Ohio, and then he’s also going to look forward to the path to the nomination, including the possibility of a contested convention on the Republican side.  So we will begin with remarks from Brian and then we will open it up to your questions.  Please press *1 on your phone to join the question queue.  Thank you.

MR CROWLEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I promise to be brief because I’m very eager to hear your questions, so I’m just going to speak for a couple of minutes.  I think Florida turned out to be a good microcosm of what we can expect going forward.  As you probably already know, there was an unusually high number of Republicans who voted in the Florida primary.  The Florida primary, of course, is a closed primary: only Republicans can vote on the Republican side and only Democrats could vote on the Democratic side. 

Interestingly, there were 2.3 million voters in the Republican primary, over 50 percent turnout, and the Democrats only had 1.7 million vote.  Part of what makes that interesting is that the Democrats, which – who had 500,000 fewer voters turn out on primary day actually have 300,000 more registered voters than the Republicans do.  They have been the number one party in the state for – throughout the state’s history.  There are 4.6 million Democrats to 4.3 million Republicans.  I think part of the difference was that the Trump voters are not just angry, but they’re very, very energized.  They wanted to vote.  They wanted to turn out at the polls and they wanted to have their opinion heard.

I think it was much quieter in Florida on the Democratic side.  I think Bernie Sanders knew he wasn’t going to win the state, so he didn’t campaign here in any significant way, so that may have helped to push down turnout on the Democratic side.  But I think it is significant that there was a very high turnout – a record-breaking turnout – on the Republican side.  It suggests going forward, as we go through the next couple of months of elections, that Republicans in other states will continue to be as energized as they were here in Florida.

There’s been a lot of talk about a contested convention, and one of the interesting things that I’ve seen coming out of Florida since the election and that I think we’ll see spread in other states is that you have this notion of Trump versus the establishment.  And that’s certainly true.  There is a significant chunk of the establishment that feels strongly that Trump could hurt the Republican Party should he win the nomination.  The problem, however, for the establishment is not just the potential that Trump voters would bolt or the fact that Trump has suggested that they would riot.  The problem for the establishment is actually largely internal.  There’s one faction of the establishment, which you could see in Florida Governor Rick Scott; the elected attorney general of Florida, Pam Bondi; and some other elected officials around the country who have endorsed Trump who are part of the establishment.  So not everybody in the establishment is opposing Trump.

And then you have another faction of the establishment that is so outraged, is so angry at the Trump – at Trump’s successes so far that they have said to me – and these are prominent people who have been in the party for decades – that they’re ready to, and I quote, “burn down the party” rather than allow Trump to win the general election.  This faction believes that destroying the party is better than going forward.  But again, that divides up the establishment wing.  So while there’s a lot of talk about the establishment versus Trump, the establishment itself could be divided into two or three factions, and I don’t see any indication that down the road they’re going to unite.

And I’ll talk briefly about the Democratic side.  I think Hillary Clinton is the nominee.  I think there’s very little that Bernie Clinton – Bernie Sanders can do to stop her.  And I think that we’re likely to see sometime over the next month or so where Bernie Sanders will endorse Hillary Clinton, and the campaign on the Democratic side will unite.

And with that, I’ll be happy to open it up to any questions.

OPERATOR:  Thank you very much.  And ladies and gentlemen, if you’d like to place yourselves in queue, you may press * followed by 1.  You will hear a tone indicating that you have been placed in queue, and you may remove yourself at any time by pressing the pound key.  So once again, for your questions, you may queue up by pressing * followed by 1.

The first question will come from Jeremy Au Yong with Straits Times.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi, Brian.  Thank you so much for doing this call.  I just have one quick question.  I was wondering, apart from the contested convention, how else – is there any other way that the Republican Party can actually stop Trump from getting the nomination?

MR CROWLEY:  I don’t think so.  I don’t see any other path other than the contested convention.  I’ve been sort of fiddling in my head with the idea that – what would happen if Kasich and, say, Rubio got together and next week Kasich announced that he and Rubio were a ticket?  That would be interesting.  Would that change the dynamics at all?  I don’t know.  This is one of those election years where, as one TV show says, expect the unexpected.  And every day we get the unexpected from this campaign. 

But I just don’t see any path other than a brokered convention unless – there has been some suggestion that the rules committee could suddenly make all sorts of changes before the convention that would put thing – put – make it much harder for Trump to win.  Even under any circumstance, I just can’t imagine them doing something that disruptive.

QUESTION:  Do you see a possibility of a third-party candidate?  Is that a possibility?  Or even – or Ted Cruz somehow winning outright?  Are those possibilities?

MR CROWLEY:  I don’t see Ted Cruz winning.  I don’t see any path for Ted Cruz to get the nomination before the convention.  I don’t see the Republican establishment going to Ted Cruz in a brokered convention unless he is the only option that they have.  And I – there’s even been some talk about somehow reviving Jeb Bush at a brokered convention.  I don’t think the establishment has figured out how to deal with this yet.

QUESTION:  All right, thank you.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Once again, to place yourselves in queue, you may press * followed by 1.  Again, *1 for your questions.  And we do have a question from Ines Trams with German Television ZDF.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, hi.  I really appreciate that you are trying to explain this chaotic election time to us.  Could you – going down back to the basics again, could you explain again the terms “brokered” and “contested” convention?  Are we talking about a contested convention when we still do have voting on those candidates who have been in the race before?  And a brokered convention we call a convention when the talks go into the back offices?  And when someone – the established party – the establishment of the party brings up a new candidate who has not been in the race, like Mr. Romney, for example?

MR CROWLEY:  Well, I can – all – when you have – I mean, it’s been since 1960 – ’76 since we’ve had a contested convention.  The contested portion of the convention is essentially the first ballot.

QUESTION:  Oh, okay.

MR CROWLEY:  Because if you don’t have anybody who’s won all of the delegates necessary – the 1237 – then that, by its nature, makes the first ballot contested.  The brokered aspect – and additional ballots are contested.  The brokered convention suggests the – that by the time you get to the second, third, fourth ballots if it – however many it takes – people are cutting deals.  People are working really hard to win the votes of these delegates, and that’s the nature of a brokered convention because everything is up for grabs.  All of the delegates after the – after – there’s a – by the second ballot, you have – there’s a – there are more delegates that are released from their obligation.  And on third ballots, still more, and on and on.  And once you release the delegates, anything – they’re all up for grabs.

QUESTION:  One follow-up question, if I may:  Who would decide to and who would have the right to decide if a new candidate should join the ballot – for example, Mr. Romney, or if Jeb Bush should come back?  Is it the RNC?  Is it, like, the big shots of the party, John McCain and Mr. Dole?  Who would have the right to do that?

MR CROWLEY:  Well, at the convention, it would actually be the delegates themselves.  Using Mitt Romney as an example, if he were to announce prior to the convention, for example, that he would be seeking the nomination at the convention, then he would go into the convention and even before the first ballot start trying to line up delegates who, once they were released, would then be willing to vote for him.  I mean, rules sort of – once – if nobody has won on that first ballot, it’s – it really is up for grabs.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Just as we have seen on House of Cards.  I understand.  (Laughter.)  Beautiful example.

MR CROWLEY:  Well, and if Donald Trump’s wife was born in this country, she’d probably be his running mate, so – (laughter).

QUESTION:  Thank you.

OPERATOR:  Thank you very much.  As a reminder, to place yourself in queue, you may press * followed by 1.  Next in queue is Yashwant Raj with Hindustan Times.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Brian, hi.  Good to be talking with you again.


QUESTION:  Sorry I missed the beginning of the presentation, but I was just wondering at what stage in a contested, brokered convention can an outsider, as in – not an outsider – like, somebody who’s not been in the race so far jump in, and how many can?  And what is the process for that?  Somebody needs to nominate that person, or the person will declare himself, herself a candidate here on?  How does that happen?  And if there is (inaudible), has it happened before and when?

MR CROWLEY:  Well, I mean, I think the last time that this – that there was – we haven’t had a real brokered convention since the ’50s.  In 1976 Ronald Reagan made a real push to try to take out Gerald Ford.  If I – I don’t off the top of my head remember if it actually got to a vote or if they brokered a deal before it got to the convention floor, but Reagan’s effort failed, obviously, and Gerald Ford wins, but that also starts to kick off a whole Reagan era when he wins in 1980.  The – and of course, Gerald Ford loses to Jimmy Carter, so there were a lot of people at that convention who thought that Ronald Reagan was the best bet, but were also willing to destroy it – in some sense, to destroy the party on Reagan’s behalf. 

I – the RNC – the rules committee is very powerful and this is all new to the rules committee now.  They could change some of the rules before we get to the convention, so I’m a little hesitant to say exactly how it’s going to work.  And frankly, there are few experts now on how a brokered convention would work.  But anybody – as I said a moment ago, if Mitt Romney wanted to announce before the convention that he intended to become a candidate and seek delegates on the convention floor, there’s nothing stopping him from doing that.  If a state delegation wanted to nominate Romney on the second floor, they could do that.  The exact procedures I’m not sure of, but there would be – certainly be nothing stopping anybody else from showing up at the convention and trying to win delegates on the second, third ballots.

QUESTION:  And just to follow up on that, Trump has said that if he’s denied the ticket – party nomination, there will be riots and stuff.  He may be exaggerating or maybe he’s right, but do you think the Republican leadership, the so-called establishment, would at some stage between now and the convention kind of acknowledge that this man is their best bet – I mean, there is no point fighting him, splitting the party?  Do you – how do you see this playing out?

MR CROWLEY:  Well, I talked a little bit about the establishment earlier, and I think the establishment itself was divided.  As we saw in Florida yesterday, the Florida Governor Rick Scott and the elected Attorney General Pam Bondi the day before endorsed Donald Trump.  There have been other elected officials around the country who have endorsed Donald Trump.  I think as the election season moves on and you start looking at congressional races and Senate races and to some degree governors’ races and local races around the country, I think there’s a strong possibility that as people face their own contested races on the Republican side, particularly in Republican primaries going down the road – I mean, we still have a lot of primaries that are for Senate and governors’ races and local races and congressional races in the months ahead. 

And the Trump voters will still be angry, will still be energized, and I think that some of these establishment Republicans, in an effort to win their own races, may find that they have to if not endorse Trump, certainly talk more positively about him.  I imagine a lot of these candidates will be asked before the convention whether or not they will support Trump being the nominee, and I think they’re going to be hard-pressed in some of these races to say no.  So all politics is local and all politics is about each individual race, and I think some of the establishment is going to start – more of the establishment is going to start drifting toward Trump.

And then you have the other segment of the establishment, some of whom I’ve spoke to this week, who – they want to blow up the Republican Party.  They’re so angry at Trump and so angry at their own voters that they think, let’s lose the election, let’s blow it up, and we’ll start over again in four years.  So the establishment itself is not very united.

QUESTION:  So which is the segment which wants to blow up the party this way, angry with (inaudible) – with Trump and his supporters?  I mean, are there names that you can cite?

MR CROWLEY:  I’ll – I will email you, because I want to make sure I have correct spellings.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Sure.  Thanks, Brian.  I’ll come back in another round of questions if it could go that far.


OPERATOR:  Thank you very much.  As a reminder, to place yourself in queue, you may press * followed by 1 at this time.  Again, *1 for your questions.

Okay.  And allowing a few moments here, I’m showing no additional questions in the queue.  Please continue.

We do have a follow-up, actually, from Yashwant Raj.  Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Sir, thanks, sorry.  So if there is nobody else with questions, I can follow up more.  You spoke about Trump voters who would be angry and go with – wherever he goes.  He has been claiming on the campaign trail that he’s bringing new voters to the party and that maybe they’re Democrats, they’re like independents from before; they are now with Trump.  What evidence have you seen of this, that he’s actually expanding the base and that he’s actually bringing in new voters into the party?

MR CROWLEY:  Well, I think that when – looking at the Florida result, he – 2.3 million Republicans voted in that race.  That was more than 50 percent of the Republicans registered in Florida.  In a closed primary, as you know, only Republicans can vote in a closed primary and only Democrats can vote in a closed Democratic primary. 

And on the Democratic side, only 1.7 million voted – 500,000 fewer than the Republican side – and yet the Democratic voter registration is 4.6 million Democrats to 4.3 million Republicans.  So that’s certainly an indication to me that he’s – is generating a lot of excitement in the Republican base, and the mystery from Florida is the 3 million no-party-affiliated voters couldn’t vote in the election, and we don’t know how many of those might have voted for Trump.


MR CROWLEY:  And we don’t know how many Democrats might have – had this been an open primary, would have moved over and voted for Trump on the Republican side.  So at least from a Florida perspective – and he won 67 out of 66 counties – the only county that Marco Rubio won was his own county, so he won 66 out of 67 counties, which – and by – I’ve looked at the county-by-county results – by big margins in most of the key counties.

QUESTION:  So – and what does it say going forward for general election?  Will he be able to poach Democrats again?  I mean, what does it say for – if he’s kind of faced up against Clinton, would he be able to – I mean, there is a lot – there are lots of Democrats who are very unhappy with Clinton, and they’re now going with Sanders, who may not win the nomination.  And if he drops out, those voters who went with him and who don’t like Clinton, do you think they could be up for – or they could consider Trump?  Because they – sometimes they – and you’ve said this yourself  before, that sometimes there is little separating Trump supporters from Sanders supporters apart from policies and ideology.

MR CROWLEY:  Well, I think that – if I understand your question correctly, I think what we’re going to see happen fairly quickly – within the next month or so – is I think that Bernie Sanders is going to concede.  I think that he is going to quickly team up with Hillary Clinton.  I think that he’ll have an easier time bringing his voters over to Clinton, and I think you’re going to see a fairly unified Democratic Party.  I don’t know how the Republicans – even if Trump dropped out of the race tomorrow, I don’t think the Republican Party throughout this election season has done a very good job of trying to counterbalance the things that Trump has said about Hispanics and minorities and women, and I think a lot of people are going to be very, very turned off by what Trump says, unless he somehow manages to turn around and come up with a general election sales pitch that is dramatically different than what he has now.  This is such an unusual election.  I find it difficult to predict what might happen tomorrow.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  All right.  Thanks, Brian.

MR CROWLEY:  Glad to help.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Once again, if there’s questions, you may queue up by pressing * followed by 1. 

And allowing a few more moments, I’m showing no additional questions.  Please continue.

MR CROWLEY:  Well, if there’s no – if there are no more questions, I want to thank everybody for being on the call, and if you ever need to reach me, you can reach me at my email address, CrowleyReport – C-r-o-w-l-e-y, Report, R-e-p-o-r-t @, and I’d be happy to answer any of your questions.

OPERATOR:  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. 

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