Skip to comments.There’s a Chance! Yes! (Could there be a brokered convention?)
Posted on 03/17/2012 7:12:25 PM PDT by smoothsailing
MAR 26, 2012, VOL. 17, NO. 27
BY STEPHEN F. HAYES
Nobody had the week of March 11 circled on the political calendars last fall. The week after Super Tuesday featured two contests in the Deep South, two on the islands, and a caucus in a state that had already hosted a meaningless, if well-attended, primary. But last week may end up being more significant than most in the bizarre and meandering Republican presidential nominating process. It was the race in a snapshot: Rick Santorum did better than expected. Mitt Romney failed to win over very conservative voters but continued to add delegates. And Newt Gingrich underperformed but vowed to continue.
Still, something changed: The campaigns for two of the three leading candidates acknowledged that their strategy is not to win the nomination outright but to prevent Romney from doing so. That means their goal is a contested convention.
Gingrich said this directly in a March 13 interview with Bret Baier on Fox News. We just got two out of every three delegates in Mississippi and Alabama for somebody other than Mitt Romney. I dont think thats what he wanted. . . . The first goal has to be to get to a point where theres an alternative to Romney. Otherwise, he becomes the nominee.
The Santorum campaign was not quite as blunt, but the message was the same. In a strategy memo released March 12, adviser John Yob argued that the delegates selected at local and state conventions are likely to prefer the most conservative candidate in the race. Santorums real advantage, he wrote, is at the national convention. Mitt Romney must have a majority on the first ballot in order to win the nomination because he will perform worse on subsequent ballots as grassroots conservative delegates decide to back the more conservative candidate. . . . Santorum only needs to be relatively close on the initial ballot in order to win on a later ballot as Romneys support erodes. John Brabender, Santorums chief strategist, tells me the campaign has hired experts on delegate allocation and convention rules.
If the Gingrich and Santorum campaigns agree on strategy, they differ on tactics. Gingrich wants a partnership with his conservative rival; Santorum doesnt. The Gingrich campaign claims its candidate must stay in the race for two main reasons: (1) With two conservatives in the race Romney wont be able to end the race by training his fire on just one opponent, and (2) Gingrich can fight Romney for delegates in places where Santorum didnt do the procedural groundwork4 congressional districts in Illinois (10 delegates) and Washington, D.C. (16). A Gingrich adviser tells me that Gingrich and Santorum together could be a powerful team.
Santorums campaign isnt interested. Its very clear that the ultimate goal is to unify conservatives around a candidate thats not Mitt Romney, says Brabender. Either were going to unify around Rick Santorum or were not. This is the game. Were in it now. Were trying to win. To that end, Santorum has bought ad time in Illinois ahead of the March 20 primary there, and also in Louisiana (March 24) and Wisconsin (April 3).
Romneys campaign insists that the math favors their candidate. And while theyve overstated his inevitabilityone adviser said itd take an act of God to keep him from winninghe is still well ahead in the delegate count. University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato puts the likelihood of a Romney nomination at 80 percent.
Romney has had some very good moments in recent weeks. When he took a question from a father whose son, a veteran of service in Afghanistan, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, Romney answered with compassion, sincerity, and just the right amount of indignation about the poor treatment the Marine has gotten from the government that sent him to war. And while Gingrich has gotten lots of attention on gas prices, Romneys critique of the Obama administrations energy policy decisions is precise and persuasive.
But Romney hasnt won over a majority of Republican voters who identify themselves as very conservative, and talk of delegate math and inevitability by his campaign doesnt exactly generate excitement.
Thats a problem. A Gallup poll last week found that just 35 percent of Republicans would enthusiastically support Romney as the nominee. By contrast, 47 percent of Republicans told Gallup in February 2008 that they would enthusiastically support John McCain. Its not just Romney. Last weeks poll, in a confirmation of polling throughout the campaign, found that Republicans arent thrilled with the field. Just 34 percent said theyd enthusiastically back Santorum, and just 28 percent said that of Gingrich.
This lack of enthusiasm has reignited talk of a contested or brokered convention. Im pushing for a floor fight. . . . Id like to see a good old-fashioned convention and a dark horse come out, Maine Republican governor Paul LePage told Politico in late February. I just believe we ought to go to the convention and pick a fresh face.
Romney last week dismissed such talk. Were not going to go to a brokered convention, he told Foxs Bill Hemmer. One . . . of us among the three or four that are running is going to get the delegates necessary to become the nominee. But its a possibility, however slim, that Romney did entertain just two weeks earlier.
On Saturday, March 3, Romney stood with Santorum and Gingrich on the floor of a shuttered DHL warehouse in Wilmington, Ohio, next to a makeshift set constructed for a presidential forum hosted by Mike Huckabee. Each man had filmed individual question-and-answer sessions with Huckabee and panels of economic experts and local Ohio business owners. With a brief break before they gave their closing statements, Romney approached Santorum and Gingrich (Ron Paul was busy campaigning in Washington).
The three candidates discussed the nominating process. Romney raised the possibility of an unvetted candidate getting into the race and spoke of the perils such a scenario presented for the party. Not surprisingly, the other two assented and each agreed that he would reserve his support for someone now in the race. R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for Gingrich, said the consensus that emerged from the conversation was that the Republican nominee was among the four of us and not an outsider. Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney adviser, agreed with that characterization.
Despite the consensus that emerged from the discussion in Wilmington, Gingrich twice raised the possibility of a new entrant in an interview last week with Bret Baier on Fox News. Gingrich pointed to Romneys difficulty winning support from conservatives. Im just saying analyticallythe way we campaigned out here, the fact that two out of the three delegates from each state is not going to be for Romneyis a significant advantage. We can argue later on whether Santorum is the right person to nominate or Gingrich isor something else may happen.
Moments later, Baier asked Gingrich to describe his path to the nomination. Theres a 60-day period between the last primary to the convention. We live in an age of television, radioyou knowYouTube, video . . . what have you. I could imagine a dialogue would break out that says, Whos the right person? And whether its one of the four of us or someone elsebut the question is, Who is the person who is capable of defeating Barack Obama? (Emphasis added.)
Is this just the rambling of a candidate with no direct path to the nomination? Perhaps. But even before he spoke, a prominent Republican strategist unaligned with any current candidate emailed me: Cant someone else get in?
Kirby Wilbur, chairman of the Washington state Republican party, says a convention fight that ends with a new candidate would be good for the party. Wilbur, whose position makes him neutral in the race, says those who argue that such a scenario would be disastrous are mistaken. Theres simply not a real broad-based candidate that appeals to everybody in the party, he says. The longer this goes on with Romney winning small states big, but winning just 30 or 35 percent in other statesthats not a mandate. Theyre arguing: Lets accept inevitability. Thats not happening.
The risk, Wilbur acknowledges, is a chaotic convention that sets up well for a proverbial white knight who never shows up. And the candidates most often mentioned as saviors have all said theyre not interestedat least for now. Wilbur says there would be two possibilities for a late entry: In the two months between the final primary in Utah and the convention, and at the convention itself. If Romney doesnt get 1,144 [delegates] and would go into the convention without a majority, I think then theres a period of negotiation before Tampa where Romney approaches Santorum and Gingrich and Paul and negotiates for delegates. If they dont agree to help him, and he doesnt win on the first ballotmost delegates are released after the first ballot, and itd be wide open. Its not hard to see a Marco Rubio, a Mitch Daniels, or a Chris ChristieIm not preferring any of them, but those are the names out thereand on the second ballot theres an incredible sweep toward him.
Wouldnt that look like the establishment simply shoving its choice down the throats of party rank-and-file? Wilbur, a strong conservative and former talk radio host in Seattle, doesnt think so. There would have to be a consensus among the delegates, so it wouldnt just be the party leaders. It would have to be somebody with grassroots support. The delegates are the grassroots and theyre conservativemore conservative than the leadership.
That process, Wilbur argues, would energize the Republican base, not discourage it. The eyes of the nation will be on the conventionno one is paying much attention before then. What they see is a candidate come to the forefront, get the enthusiasm and excitement of the conventionand thats contagious.
How likely is it? In the 1994 movie Dumb and Dumberjuvenile, but classicJim Carrey plays Lloyd Christmas, a dimbulb who battles with his good friend and fellow idiot, Harry Dunne, to win the heart of Aspen, Colorado, socialite Mary Swanson. Swanson finds the men repulsive, but an indefatigable Christmas pursues her despite her obvious lack of interest. At one point, he asks her to level with him about his chances.
Not good, she replies.
You mean, not good like one in a hundred?
Id say . . . more like one in a million.
After a brief pause, a wide smile creeps across his face, and he pumps his fist. So youre telling me theres a chance!
No, they dont end up together. Even in Hollywood theres no guarantee of a storybook ending.
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
Steve’s kinda late to the party, seems many of us have been talking for weeks about how both Newt and Rick need to stay in the campaign to gather enough delegates between them to force an open convention. Romney’s gameplan is to win 1144, the gameplan for the others is to prevent him from doing so.
Mitch Daniels is so boring compared to Rubio and Christie.
I’m afraid that Rick Perry would get clobbered by Obama. His short stint in the Primary Process, and especially the Debates, have shown America what we Texans have known for a long time; Perry is a light-weight. The real power in Texas is with the Lt. Gov. The Governor is by-and-large, ceremonial, except for veto power. The GOP machine keeps Perry getting the nomination every election and Texans will not vote for a Democrat. But, after his embarrassing Primary showing, he will never win another election here in Texas.
Palin/West is unbeatable!
Mitch Daniels is so boring compared to Rubio and Christie.
To add to that, I was under the impression that Daniels is NOT very Conservative. I know he did say that if he was the candidate, social issues would be OFF the table. As far as Christie.... after he publicly dissed that Navy Seal (when his fat ass never served a day in the military) that was the final straw for me. I wouldn’t vote for that gluttonous, fat ass slob for anything. Now, here’s the ticket:
PAUL RYAN / MARCO RUBIO !
Rubio’s parents did not hold American citizenship at the time of his birth, and thus he doesn’t qualify as a natural-born citizen.
But Perry held the position of Lieutenant Governor for two years...
How about Thomas Sowell for president?
Let’s see you stop Marco Rubio from being the GOP VP nominee.
Other than Palin, Perry was my choice early on. I agree with you on successful conservative Governors, they were always our best bet.
Sowell for President? Works for me!
Now we're talkin'.
While I would LOVE to see this happen, I certainly hope SOMEONE in the ‘stupid party’ is behind the scenes vetting potential nominees....closely.
People like Demint (my choice), Ryan, Cantor, Rubio or any governor need to be screened by SOMEONE.
Demint/Ryan would be a good ticket!
That may be a winning combination for some conservative political junkies, but the average Republican voter has little idea of who those guys are.
Won't sell, won't win.
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