You can discuss a game, but you can't change the score
February 3, 2012
By George Shirk
Times News Editor
We’re hoping for a brokered Republican National Convention in Tampa this coming August, and the signs for this happening are just about everywhere.
We take this stand not on principal, but on the pure basis of the fun of it all. Smoke-filled rooms. Political favors. Promises.
This year, could it really come down to Newt and Mitt and, or even The Donald in a brokered convention? All the signs say maybe.
Some people might forget that the Obama-Clinton race four years ago ended only in June, with a primary vote in Puerto Rico. The Dems were this close to having a brokered convention.
A brokered convention happens when no single candidate has enough delegates to win on the first ballot. Before the era of presidential primary elections, political party conventions were routinely brokered.
Adlai Stevenson (of the 1952 Democratic Party) and Thomas Dewey (of the 1948 Republican Party) were the most recent “brokered convention” presidential nominees. The last winning U.S. presidential nominee produced by a brokered convention was Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1932.
But boy oh boy there have been close calls.
I was a cub political reporter with the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 1976 when Ronald Reagan went toe-to-toe with incumbent President Gerald Ford in Kansas City. I worked with the peerless (at least to me) political columnist Frank Nye—still the best convention political writer I ever saw.
Then, as now, writing about politics for the papers was divided between the policy wonks, who delved into issues, and the “horse race” reporters who practically never had a “stance,” per se, on anything, but were entirely consumed with the race.
I was a horse race guy.
It was the last time a Republican presidential convention opened without the nominee having already been decided in the primaries.
I had a swell time, with an entirely unpredictable result, at least for me personally, and it had to do with baseball. More on that later.
Anyway, tracking the shift of delegates on the floor was part of my job, and I went at it enthusiastically.
When the whole thing was over, one of the exhausted political reporters suggested we all go over to Royals Stadium, where the home town heroes were engaged with the Cleveland Indians in a critical late-season game for the Royals (who went on, by the way, to win the American League West, only to fall to the Hated New York Yankees in the fall).
I recall a conversation with another reporter in mid-game. He was an older guy, on the staff of no less than the New York Times.
“I should have been a sportswriter,” he said.
Naturally I asked why.
“Because in the paper, sports is as close as you can get to telling the unvarnished truth.”
He was right. In the sports pages, if someone is an idiot, chump, jackass, boob or bozo, you just wrote it.
You can discuss a game, but you can’t change the score. Ever.
In the near-brokered GOP political convention of 1976, we had all of that. We just couldn’t write it. We might have it again this year with Mitt and Newt, with Santorum and Paul horsetrading their delegates from the floor.
Shortly after the 1976 fray, I began a new, 20-year career in sportswriting, inspired by the likes of Ronald Reagan, George Brett, Gerald Ford, Freddie Patek, Nelson Rockefeller, Paul Splittorf and Frank White.