In election after election, generally (but not always) well before the voting starts, pundits start wondering about the possibility of a "brokered" party convention.
For the casual observer, that term is meaningless. But from the perspective of those who enjoy chaos and tumult (the media), it's a not totally accurate shorthand for an enticing prospect: a presidential race so close and so hard-fought that even on the night that the balloons are supposed to drop, no one knows whose head they'll land on.
A "brokered convention" is a convention in which the delegate (that is, voting attendee) votes of each of the states and territories don't add up to more than 50 percent for any one candidate. There is no clear winner.
Could a delegate split happen?
For the most part, there's a strong link between the number of votes candidates get during the presidential primaries and the number of delegates they earn. If you get the most votes, you get the most delegates, and if you get more than half the delegates, you get to run against whoever wins the Democratic nomination.
But it is much, much more complicated than that.
First of all, the Republican Party, which allocates delegates by state, uses a complex calculus to do so.
Every state and territory gets a delegate spot for its Republican National Committee representatives and state chair. That's three in total.
Each state then gets three delegates for each congressional district.
Each state then gets more delegates for a variety of triggers.
Okay. So let's say we've got some combination of Donald Trump winning a number of states and Ted Cruz winning a number of states and Marco Rubio winning a number of states, and the convention in Cleveland is looming. Now what?
If after all of the voting no one wins, the delegates will keep voting until there's a majority. And that's where the deliberations come in.
For a campaign, then, the goal after a candidate fails to hit 50 percent is to cobble together enough votes to hit the 50 percent mark.
It can get messy, fast.
There's one more wrinkle. The RNC's Rule 40 establishes the rules to be eligible to be nominated. To do so, candidates have to present signatures of support from the majority of delegates from eight or more states. In other words, the most candidates that could be considered eligible for the nomination is six. The fewest candidates that could be considered eligible for the nomination is … zero.
What if Trump and Rubio and Cruz and Bush and Christie and so on each win seven states? There's no one eligible to be nominated.
This is unlikely, and the party could change the rules, as needed. More likely — albeit not a whole lot more likely — is that three or four candidates split the delegates on the floor of the convention, and campaigns spend hours cajoling and browbeating and promising and praying in the hopes of getting 50 percent-plus-one in order to head to the general election.
What happens in the general election, once the Republicans have nominated someone who would probably be considered invalid by a large part of the rest of the party, is a speculative, not-gonna-happen question for another day.