In most election cycles, the credential committee of the two national convention are hardly mentioned if at all. Any credential fight is about a handful individuals who failed to win a delegate slot challenging those who did get elected to those slots. Because the nominee is a foregone conclusion, who actually fills the seat does not “matter” to the central business of the convention and any of these disputes are handled with the only media concerned about the result being the local papers from the delegate’s home town.
This year, with the Republican race looking close, there is at least a lot of noise about challenges to the delegate selection process. While it is possible that some of these complaints will end up before the two credential committees, my take is that most of the current “potential” challenges will go nowhere or are not really credentials issues. So far, it seems like there is one potential real credentials issue for the two conventions.
Most of the discussion to date seems to be a blanket complaint by Trump that the individuals being chosen as delegates in the various states are not truly loyal to the candidate that they are pledged to support. The problem with this complaint is that there is nothing in the delegate selection rules — either at the state or national level — that requires loyalty beyond the first ballot for President. While perhaps the rules should change for delegate selection in the future, that does not demonstrate any rules violation for the current batch of delegates. More importantly, this type of global fight is very unlikely to succeed. The majority of the convention gets to decide which delegations to seat. A candidate raising a global challenge is probably doing so because he does not have the majority of the delegates. The majority is unlikely to make a decision expelling a large number of delegates to help a candidate that they do not support.
A second topic of discussion seems to be South Carolina’s Republican delegation. This dispute seems to be about whom these delegates will vote for, not who should be seated as the South Carolina delegation. While the media thinks that this matter will be decided by the credentials committee, but the issue sounds more like a ruling for the Chair and the Secretary when South Carolina casts its votes.
There are currently one sure and one maybe credentials issue percolating through the system. The sure issue is the Republican delegation for the Virgin Islands. At the present time, there is one delegation chosen by the territorial convention and one certified by the chair. (There is overlap as the alternates chosen by the convention are now the delegates certified by the chair). While this fight is currently in court, the court is likely to recognize that the ultimate authority is the Republican National Convention. Most of the delegates on the competing slates are technically uncommitted, so it might not become a campaign vs. campaign issue. On the other hand, if the campaigns decide that they have a better shot with some delegates than with others, it might become a test of campaign strength. Interesting side note, two of the delegates on the slate chosen by the convention are related to one of the two representatives from Michigan on the credentials committee.
The maybe is the Democratic delegation for Nevada. Allegedly, for the Clark County Democratic Convention (which chose delegates for the state convention), the on-line pre-registration form appeared to require a donation to cover convention expenses. The democratic rules (Rule 2.D) bar any mandatory payment to participate in the process. Whether this alleged flaw in the relevant webpage had any impact on the attendance in Clark County (and the change in the results from the precincts results to the county convention results) is presently unclear. Given the role of superdelegates, it is unlikely that the Democratic nomination will come down to three or four delegates from Nevada. However, there are likely to be some Clinton supporters from Clark County who just missed out on being delegates to the state convention who will want to be seated as delegates at the state convention and some Clinton supporters from Nevada who will just miss out on being national convention delegates (if the current estimates stick). If the allegations about the website are true, it seems likely that somebody who really, really wants to make this fight in Philadelphia could probably find some delegates who did not show up to the county convention who would say that they opted not to attend due to the charge included in the on-line pre-registration.
Probably, this dispute will get resolved between the two campaigns in Nevada and it will not reach the national convention, If this dispute is not resolved, it may serve as a reminder to state and local parties about the need to be careful in the design of registration web pages. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, this potential dispute is arising in a state that uses a traditional caucus to apportion delegates (meaning that missing delegates at later stages can change the apportionment). In a state in which the later stages had nothing to do with delegate allocation and only impacted delegate selection, the fight would be between supporters of the same candidate. Because the significant number of absent delegates from the Clark County convention potentially alters the allocation, this fight could be between the two campaigns.
Obviously, of the two, the Virgin Islands is the more likely to go to the convention floor. You have actual competing slates of delegates that have been chosen. Nevada is about who theoretically might have won if more county convention delegates had attended the Clark County convention. Reconstructing the actual results of a theoretical convention is impossible. Given that the additional delegates to the state convention are mostly theoretical, it is less likely that there will be a significant number of people showing up at the state convention demanding to be seated as Clark County delegates, cutting the potential for a national convention fight in the bud.
As both potential fights indicate, credentials fights are a combination of a factual challenge based on compliance with the existing rules and a test of power between the supporters of various campaigns — will the convention do what is right based on the facts and rules or will they use it to benefit their preferred candidate. In a convention in which the nomination is not in issue, it is easy to do the right thing based on the facts and the rules. In a contested convention, the temptation to ignore the rules and act to win the real fight — the presidential nomination — may be overwhelming.