The potential for a floor fight at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer has GOP consultants digging out old strategy books.
Trump consultant Paul Manafort, who’s leading the candidate’s delegate process, comes with plenty of presidential experience, and John Kasich strategist Stu Spencer was on the floor for the last contested GOP convention.
Ted Cruz, meanwhile, has largely left his existing campaign structure, which included longtime GOP consultant Mark Campbell as its political director, in place. Internally, Cruz strategists acknowledged the possibility of an open convention pretty early on in the primary process and even did some early planning around it.
"Those guys studied the rulebook,” said Chris Turner, who runs Texas-based Stampede Consulting. “They aligned themselves with the most active convention goer-types, the folks who revel in that part of the process. This is the kind of stuff activists live for and they're clearly having fun teeing off on Cruz's opposition right now."
But Turner, whose GOP firm focuses on grassroots organizing, said there’s unlikely to be an industry takeaway from what happens at the Republican National Convention in July. Moreover, even the work the Trump, Kasich and Cruz campaigns are doing is unlikely to have any far-reaching impact beyond the floor of the Quicken Loans Arena.
“In terms of any direct benefit this organization might have on the general election, I don't see that. Not directly anyway,” Turner said. “This is a 'one-time-use' card to play, specifically for delegate selection and for the convention itself."
While the campaigns might not benefit in terms of infrastructure, their consultants and operatives could emerge with enhanced skills and reputations — even if they lose. To wit, here’s a list of Democratic operatives who worked on Ted Kennedy’s failed contested convention effort in 1980: Harold Ickes, Jack Corrigan, John Sasso, Tony Podesta, Bob Shrum and Joe Trippi.
Should the 2016 Republican convention produce the same political stagecraft, undoubtedly a new generation of operatives will emerge. Still, it’ll be hard-won experience. Ickes told C&E of his time on the floor at Madison Square Garden: “It was a brutal political fistfight.”
Before it gets to that point for the Republicans, of course, there’s the delegate selection process at state party conventions, many of which have been thrust into the media spotlight.
GOP strategist John Yob is the author of “Chaos: The Outsider's Guide to a Contested Republican National Convention.”
“Smart campaigns would invest mainly in grassroots infrastructure to fight these selection conventions,” said Yob. “You can be the smartest strategist in the world, but if you don’t have the troops on the ground, it’s all for naught.”
Yob said the skills of a good convention consultant or operative are akin to that of a parliamentarian. In fact, he said one of the primary missions of all the campaigns at this stage is getting their supporters on the RNC’s rules committee, which includes two members from each state.
But a good convention hand also needs the skills of a political director in order to sniff out what Yob calls supporters in name only.
“Historically speaking, there has always been supporters in name only — even when there isn’t a contested convention,” he said. “But in the past it was more of an annoyance than a determinant of who wins the nomination.”