Here's what everyone's saying about a brokered political convention

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What Is A Brokered Convention?

WASHINGTON (AP) — 'Tis the season — no, not THAT season.

It's that point in the presidential election cycle when speculation starts swirling that the primaries won't produce a clear winner and one of the parties' big nominating conventions will dissolve in chaos.

SEE ALSO: Ben Carson vows campaign 'alterations' to defend against attacks

This time, it's the Republican side of the race that's looking particularly unsettled.

After a crazy year in which Donald Trump's ability to stay on top in a supersized pack has repeatedly confounded the conventional wisdom, the what-if chatter is wilder and louder than usual.

What if no one gets a majority of delegates in the primaries and caucuses? What if Trump leads the delegate count but party elites want to derail his route to the nomination? What if delegates to the Cleveland convention deadlock on multiple votes and then try to turn to someone completely new, perhaps House Speaker Paul Ryan?!?

Check out Trump's recent gatherings:

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Donald Trump rally in Las Vegas
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Here's what everyone's saying about a brokered political convention
Supporters of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump attend a rally at the Westgate Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 14, 2015. Trump will face off with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and six other main stage candidates at the GOP debate on December 15. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Westgate Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 14, 2015. Trump will face off with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and six other main stage candidates at the GOP debate on December 15. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters during a campaign rally at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on December 14, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Donlad Trump is campaigning in Las Vegas a day ahead of the final GOP debate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A protester's sign reads 'Dump Trump' during a campaign rally for Donald Trump, president and chief executive officer of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. Trump and fellow candidate Ben Carson said Sunday that talk of a contested convention to select the Republican nominee violates terms of neutrality agreements they made with party leaders not to mount third-party campaigns. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Dressed as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Dante Ciccarone, right, and Georgie Ciccarone attend a rally for Trump, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on December 14, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Donlad Trump is campaigning in Las Vegas a day ahead of the final GOP debate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at a rally, December 14, 2015 at the Westgate Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. Trump will face off with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and six other main stage candidates at tomorrow's GOP debate, hosted by CNN. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump supporters hold up a sign reading 'We Are The 68%' before Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump's rally, December 14, 2015 at the Westgate Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. A recent USA Today poll shows 68% of Trump supporters would follow him if he left the GOP to make a third party run for the presidency. Trump will face off with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and six other main stage candidates at tomorrow's GOP debate, hosted by CNN. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Attendees listen during a campaign rally for Donald Trump, president and chief executive officer of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. Trump and fellow candidate Ben Carson said Sunday that talk of a contested convention to select the Republican nominee violates terms of neutrality agreements they made with party leaders not to mount third-party campaigns. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Westgate Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 14, 2015. Trump will face off with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and six other main stage candidates at the GOP debate on December 15. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump speaks at a rally, December 14, 2015 at the Westgate Hotel & Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada. Trump will face off with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and six other main stage candidates at tomorrow's GOP debate, hosted by CNN. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
A supporter of Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump holds up a sign as he attends a rally at the Westgate Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 14, 2015. Trump will face off with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and six other main stage candidates at the GOP debate on December 15. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meets with people at a rally Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 14: A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waits for the start of a campaign rally at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino on December 14, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Donlad Trump is campaigning in Las Vegas a day ahead of the final GOP debate. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is given a sombrero at a rally Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Ridiculous, says Ryan.

Silly, says Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus.

"I don't think that's going to happen," says Trump.

Veteran politicos agree such scenarios are unlikely.

The outlook will clarify once people start voting in February, they insist.

SEE ALSO: The mind-blowing turnaround in Donald Trump's poll numbers explains why he's blowing everyone out of the water

But they also acknowledge that the chances of an unsettled outcome are higher than usual in the current unconventional political environment.

Ben Ginsberg, the lawyer who served as counsel to the Mitt Romney and George W. Bush presidential campaigns, says that because this GOP election cycle offers three lanes of candidates instead of two — a "Trump" lane in addition to the traditional "establishment" and "conservative" lanes — "it becomes more likely that no one will have a majority of delegates."

SEE ALSO: A surprising candidate would fare worst against Hillary Clinton in a general-election matchup

"The odds are still really small," Ginsberg continues, then offers this caveat: "I did say on the day before the 2000 election that there would never be another presidential recount."

This from the man who went on to play a central role in the Florida recount at the heart of the Bush v. Gore battle for the presidency.

The large field of GOP candidates and Trump's wildcard candidacy aren't the only factors at play in speculation that the 2016 primaries could end in uncertainty.

See photos from the latest -- and most contentious -- GOP debate yet:

38 PHOTOS
December GOP Debate
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Here's what everyone's saying about a brokered political convention
Republican presidential candidate businesswoman Carly Fiorina (R) gestures as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio looks on during in the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul gestures during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump, speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Donald Trump is seen through the heads of audience members during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ted Cruz, right, speaks as Donald Trump looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (R) speaks as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie listens during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Ben Carson speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. Carson said his experience as a pediatric neurosurgeon prepared him to make tough choices as a leader. Asked if he could be "ruthless" as a commander-in-chief and order airstrikes that could kill children, Carson said that when he told children heâd have to take out a brain tumor "they donât like me very much, at that point. But later on they love me." (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump, second from left, makes a point as Ben Carson, left, Ted Cruz, second from right, and Jeb Bush look on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Ben Carson, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stand on stage as they are introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ben Carson, left, and Donald Trump laugh during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jeb Bush, right, makes a point as Ted Cruz looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Marco Rubio listens to debate moderator Wolf Blitzer during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ted Cruz speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ohio Governor John Kasich gestures as he speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks during the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO/ ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) waves as he walks onstage during the CNN Republican presidential debate on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the last GOP debate of the year, with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gaining in the polls in Iowa and other early voting states and Donald Trump rising in national polls. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz stand together during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jeb Bush, right, speaks as Ted Cruz looks on during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Carly Fiorina, left, responds to a question from debate moderator Wolf Blitzer during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Marco Rubio speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Jeb Bush speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Chris Christie speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz stand together during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ben Carson speaks during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Donald Trump, left, and Ted Cruz shakes hands at the start of the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Republican presidential candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (L) shakes hands with former Gov. Florida Jeb Bush before the start of the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidates Florida Sen. Marco Rubio greets retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson before the start of the Republican Presidential Debate, hosted by CNN, at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK / AFP / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump (L) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) stand on stage as they are introduced during the CNN presidential debate at The Venetian Las Vegas on December 15, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Thirteen Republican presidential candidates are participating in the fifth set of Republican presidential debates. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
2016 Republican presidential candidates Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, from left, Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon, Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc., Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, and Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, listen to the U.S. National Anthem during the Republican presidential candidate debate at The Venetian in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015. With less than two months remaining before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses and the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, middle-of-the-pack candidates hoping for a late surge in the polls have little choice but to come out swinging in tonight's fifth Republican debate. Photographer: Ruth Fremson/Pool via Bloomberg
Republican presidential candidates, from left, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul take the stage during the CNN Republican presidential debate at the Venetian Hotel & Casino on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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The GOP in recent years has been shifting to a more proportional way of allocating delegates from each state than the old winner-take-all approach.

And that means the momentum Romney achieved after winning a couple of big states in 2012 "is just not going to be as likely" this time, says Mark Stephenson, a Republican consultant who handled delegate strategy for Scott Walker's short-lived presidential campaign and worked on the Romney campaign in 2008.

Even if the field of candidates has been winnowed to three or four after the first four states award 130 delegates in February, the winner in the big Super Tuesday round of voting on March 1 still might come up with just 300-400 delegates of the 600-plus to be awarded that day, says Stephenson. That's a far cry from the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

SEE ALSO: Donald Trump has appeared on Fox News more than twice as much as any other candidate

Stephenson agrees that a contested convention is unlikely, but says that between the unusual campaign dynamics at play this year and the proportional delegate allocation rules, "as people start playing with the math, it's certainly an interesting exercise to come up with scenarios" under which nobody gets to a majority before the convention.

This, then, is the time of joy for delegate geeks who love to nerd out on the fine print of presidential politics and speculate on the what-ifs of a divided convention.

"We do this every four years," says Joshua Putnam, a political science lecturer at the University of Georgia whose frontloading.blogspot.com wallows in the intricacies of the primaries.

"We want it to happen just for the sheer excitement of it all," Putnam says of a contested convention. "But the chances of it happening are pretty slim."

SEE ALSO: A rule tweak could dramatically shake up the next GOP debate

The idea of a brokered convention harks way back to when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms could twist arms and party bosses could steer their preferred candidate toward the nomination. More likely these days, if still a longshot, is a contested or deadlocked convention that opens without a presumptive nominee.

The last time a Republican convention opened without a clear nominee was 1976, when Gerald Ford led in delegates but lacked a majority coming into the convention. There was plenty of drama as Ford beat back a challenge from Ronald Reagan and eked out the nomination on the first vote.

You have to go all the way back to 1952 for a true brokered convention at which delegates turned to someone new. Democrats drafted Adlai Stevenson, who won on the third ballot.

SEE ALSO: Do you know which candidates have dropped out of the race?

Putnam says a rule approved at the GOP convention in Tampa in 2012 could add intrigue in 2016. It requires a candidate to have a majority of delegates in eight states to win the nomination, up from the previous requirement of a plurality of delegates in five states. In a large field, this higher hurdle to the nomination could be daunting. But it's also a temporary rule that the party can change if the outlook is muddled coming out of the last round of primaries in June.

Talk that party elites might try to derail a Trump presidency at the convention runs into all sorts of pushback against the idea of disregarding the will of GOP voters.

"I'm an ANTI-Trump guy, but if the GOP elites (of whom I might be one) attempt to smother the will of Republican primary voters, I will spring to Trump's defense," GOP consultant Rich Galen said in an email.

As for the Paul Ryan scenario, the House speaker declares it "dumb speculation" that should stop. Of course, it was just two months ago that Ryan was pooh-poohing pleas that he become speaker of the House after Rep. John Boehner resigned.

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Associated Press writer Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.

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Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac

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