Suppose a prospective candidate for US President goes through the entire primary process and easily obtains enough pledged delegates to win their party's nomination in the first round of convention voting.

Then, just days before the convention is due to open, some information becomes public about the candidate that makes the candidate completely unelectable in the November general election. Say, continuing massive unreported off-shore accounts, revealed as part of the Panama Papers leak. Or incontrovertible evidence of seeking and accepting bribes in a previous government position.

Would the convention be bound to proceed with the nomination based on the direction of the primaries? Or could they somehow shift to a more viable nominee?


2 Answers 2


Yes, but...

Assuming the candidate doesn't drop out on her or his own:

The delegates have complete control over the convention. They could vote in a rule prior to the nomination vote that said that the candidate was not eligible and vote in someone else. Many of them may still be bound to vote for that candidate, but the rules would say that the candidate could not win. There is no rule saying explicitly that having enough bound delegates to make up a majority of the delegates awards victory.

For example, if Hillary Clinton is convicted of abuse of classified information after winning 2383 bound delegates in primaries, her own delegates could vote in a rule precluding anyone convicted of a felony from winning the nomination. They'd be bound to vote for her on the first ballot but that wouldn't count. Most would be unbound on later ballots and could vote for someone else. That someone else might be Bernie Sanders but not necessarily. They could pick someone else entirely.

To continue, Clinton could then turn state's evidence against Donald Trump on a bribery charge. Trump gets convicted too but has at least 1237 bound delegates. The Republican delegates modify rule 40 to exclude votes for convicted felons. Some of the delegates may be unbound immediately, e.g. Minnesota and Oklahoma are only bound if the candidate is nominated. Cruz, Kasich, or some other candidate could be nominated.

Note: neither scenario is likely. This is just a semi-realistic chain of events to illustrate what could happen.

All that said, if either party did this, they'd need a really good reason to avoid a backlash. They'd probably try hard to get a unanimous decision on the rule change so as to provide cover against charges of interfering with the election. They'd specifically try to recruit the previous supporters of the candidate to be removed.

  • 3
    That last paragraph is very important. Just because the delegates can do all this, doesn't mean that there won't be massive backlash. They'll want to do as much justification and covering of themselves as possible.
    – Bobson
    Apr 17, 2016 at 22:58

Would the convention be bound to proceed with the nomination based on the direction of the primaries? Or could they somehow shift to a more viable nominee?

The parties are essentially private clubs. They can shift the rules as needed to accommodate the desires of the leadership.

This has happened before. And likely will happen again. Granted, they have to weigh their ability to do this against the political will of the party's members.

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