America Don't Back No Losers

By Roger Simon

February 1, 2012 5 min read

On the 17th ballot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in late August, the delegates remained deadlocked.

Inside the sweltering convention hall, "Moon Colony" delegates wearing wedges of green cheese on their heads continued to demonstrate for Newt Gingrich.

Mitt Romney, ahead in the delegate count but without a majority, remained holed up in his command bunker at the Tampa Marriott Waterside, refusing either to name Gingrich his running mate or to share his Marriott Reward Points with him.

Ron Paul delegates continued to block access to the convention center's cooling system, insisting that the words "air conditioning" appear nowhere in the Constitution.

The networks were in solid 24-hour, gavel-to-gavel coverage, with their anchors existing on Red Bull, PowerBars and IV drips. An estimated 150 million Americans were tweeting about the convention, with another 150 million making snarky responses.

Interest in politics became so intense throughout the nation that the Kim Kardashian-Justin Bieber elopement barely made the nightly news.

Oh, if only it were true. Every four years, the media dream of a brokered convention, in which no candidate has enough votes to win on the first ballot.

We have not had such an event since 1952, when the Democrats took three ballots to come up with Adlai Stevenson, who went on to lose the general election to Dwight Eisenhower. The Republicans have not had a multi-ballot convention since 1948, when Thomas Dewey won the nomination on the third ballot and went on to lose to Harry Truman.

The last time the outcome of a convention was in doubt was 1976, when Gerald Ford arrived in Kansas City, Mo., with more delegates than Ronald Reagan, but not enough for the nomination. After considerable wrangling, horse-trading and a fateful rules battle, Ford won on the first ballot by 117 votes.

Since then, all the conventions have become carefully scripted TV shows, with the only suspense being which defeated candidate will get a speech in primetime and which will be condemned to blathering on in the afternoon.

All this is a result of reform, proving once again that reform is usually dull. Delegates are now selected by public primaries and caucuses instead of the behind closed doors by party bosses. Has this really produced better candidates? I doubt it. But it has certainly ruined the suspense.

Which means the media now eagerly seize upon any scrap of hope that we will get to a convention without a preordained result.

How much time and space did we spend talking and writing about "superdelegates" in the 2008 Democratic primaries? Superdelegates were the party establishment and were designed to prevent dark-horse candidates from running away with the convention.

One of every five delegates on the convention floor in Denver was a superdelegate in 2008, and 56 percent were members of the Democratic National Committee. This looked really good for Hillary Clinton, whose husband and campaign chairman both happened to be superdelegates.

But it didn't matter. Once Barack Obama had wrapped up a majority of elected delegates, the superdelegates would have had to override the will of the people to hand the nomination to Clinton, thus appearing both anti-democratic and robbing the party of its first black nominee. Obama's campaign team knew the superdelegates would have to follow the regular delegates, and it was right.

A brokered convention was a good story, but it was doomed to failure no matter what the party rules were. This happens a lot. No matter what parties decide about the rules, about pledged or unpledged delegates, about proportional or winner-take-all contests, a certain dynamic takes over, a dynamic once famously formulated in Chicago: "We don't back no losers."

People see a winner, and they begin to climb on board the bandwagon. The losers are left to make brave speeches about floor fights at the convention.

When is a loser finally a loser? Ask people when it was over for John McCain in 2000, and they will tell you that it ended for McCain in South Carolina after he lost a vicious primary fight waged by George W. Bush. But that is the benefit of hindsight.

Actually, McCain slogged on and won six primaries after South Carolina. It's just that nobody cared. Once you look like a loser, you become one, and the collection of delegates here and there no longer matters.

"I will go all the way to the convention," Newt Gingrich vowed Saturday.

He almost certainly will. Even if it just means hoping for a primetime speech.

To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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