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What happens if there’s no clear GOP nominee

In the race for the White House, neither party has a candidate with enough delegates yet to clinch the nomination. Judy Woodruff examines the delegate dance on the Republican side with Benjamin Ginsberg, a partner at Jones Day and an NBC/MSNBC political analyst.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And we begin with politics tonight.

    As we just heard, the race for the White House is partly a battle for delegates, and neither party has a candidate with enough delegates yet to clinch the nomination. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are within a few hundred pledged delegates of one another. But add in superdelegates, and she has a commanding lead.

    For Republicans, Donald Trump leads the delegate count, with Ted Cruz a few hundred behind, and John Kasich well back. The GOP still has contests too come in 16 states, including New York, Pennsylvania, and California.

    For more on the Republican delegate dance, we're joined by Ben Ginsberg. He's a partner in the law firm Jones Day, an NBC/MSNBC political analyst, and he served as general counsel on Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign.

    And, Ben Ginsberg, welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG, Partner, Jones Day:

    Thank you. Thank you for having me.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, let's remind everybody first that this delegate process has two different steps to it.

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    It does.

    The first is the primaries that we have all been following on Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons, where candidates vie to get percentages of the vote. And the second part is the delegate selection process, which is now going on in state conventions and before state executive committees around the country.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, what's happening now is that, after the number of delegates is chosen based on how well these candidates do, decisions have to be made about who the people are that fill those slots. And you were telling us earlier it is different in virtually every state in how that's done.

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    It is.

    Republicans practice a fierce federalism, which allows each state to do it the way that state wants to, and you have a variety of mechanisms for selecting who will be the actual people on the floor in Cleveland.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And how are those decisions made? A lot of it is personal relationships, you were saying. Some of it is who is already in the party hierarchy in a particular state.

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Yes.

    If it's a state convention, then it's a matter of the candidates getting enough of their supporters there to win their slate of delegates. There are other states where a state executive committee, in other words, the leaders of the state, will determine who the delegates are.

    That's an instance of taking care of your political supporters and maybe your friends and family. There are a few states about 10 percent of the delegates are chosen directly by the candidates, but in most instances, the delegates are not chosen directly by the candidates.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And right now, as we have reported, Donald Trump is a couple hundred delegates ahead, but Ted Cruz seems to be picking off delegates here and there. What is he doing that Mr. Trump isn't?

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Well, the very granular process of winning state conventions is what he seems to have concentrated a great deal on.

    So, the way Republicans do it is that there are often county conventions and then district conventions and then a state convention. And so it's a process of getting your supporters in each one of those, and, ultimately, that's how you get people in Cleveland.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, the ideal solution for any candidate is to get to the magic number 1,237 before Cleveland. Donald Trump still has a chance to do that, right?

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Yes. Yes. If he wins about 60 percent of the delegates who are remaining, perhaps 66 percent of the delegates who will be bound to a particular candidate, he can do that on the first ballot.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But if he doesn't, what are the options then?

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Well, the options are about 70 percent of the delegates will become unbound for a second ballot. So, it's…

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So they're no longer committed to voting.

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    To either Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz or Mr. Kasich or Mr. Rubio or Bush or Carson or any of the candidates, correct.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And that means that it then goes on to several — to ballots after that, and what could happen?

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Well, a number of things can happen.

    The convention can come to a decision on one of the candidates, Mr. Trump or Mr. Cruz. It is possible that additional individuals can get their names put in nomination further down the road. There is a process for doing that. Much of this will actually be determined, these rules of the road, by the convention rules committee meeting on probably the Friday before the convention starts.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So for us to be talking about it now, can we really know right now what's going to happen?

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    No, I don't think so.

    On June 8, the day after the last primaries, there will be a pretty set way to know what the first ballot vote will be like. And then there will be rules decisions made by delegates who have not yet even been selected that will impact the way the proceedings of the convention go.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What a lot of people are talking about, Ben Ginsberg, is if Donald Trump is close, but not there, if he's say at 1,100, rather than 1,237, what happens in that situation?

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Well, there are a number of delegates who are unbound, somewhere between 160 and 200 probably, who are not bound to a candidate.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    At any point? You mean going into the convention.

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    At any point. At any point.

    Their states follow specific rules. So there will be 40 days of wooing as those unbound delegates get entreaties from many a candidate.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Entreaties, meaning?

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Well, they will have conversations about how the candidates are best qualified to do it. There might be some sightseeing around the country.

    Gerald Ford in 1976 took people on rides on Air Force One. So there are any number of ways to develop a relationship with those delegates.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But if you're a delegate right now who is not bound to anybody, you're a pretty popular guy or girl.

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    I think you're very popular, and your popularity may only increase.

    You're either going to have a lot of currency on June 8 to July 18, or you will you will be, gee, it was so close.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Prediction, Ben Ginsberg, on how much suspense there is going to be going into this convention?

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Well, again, we will know that on June the 8th, after the June 7 primaries are done.

    I think there will be a lot of maneuvering. This will be an historically close delegate count, one way or another, and the rules fights in the week before the convention can actually have a determining effect on the outcome the following week.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    All eyes on Cleveland.

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Yes, indeed.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    No doubt about it.

    Ben, Ben Ginsberg, it's great to see you. Thank you.

  • BENJAMIN GINSBERG:

    Thanks, Judy.

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