If I turn out to be right on this, remember you probably read it here first.
I’m beginning to suspect that the GOP nominee for the 2012 general election may well be, “None of the above“. I.e., some dark horse candidate who’s either at the margins (like a Huntsman or a Roemer), or someone totally out of left field.
It involves two words which we haven’t used in about 70 years: “Brokered Convention“.
There are Republican candidates with support an inch wide and a mile deep, and candidates with support a mile wide and an inch deep. None of the current candidates poll more than about 25% primary support at any one time, although they have done quite a bit of ‘spot swapping’ in the polls these last few months.
Romney seems stuck at about 22%, plus or minus. Other leaders have come and gone. Currently, it’s Newt Gingrich’s turn.
For a couple of generations now, candidates who hovered in single digits for any length of time — like Cain, Bachman, Perry, etc. — have dropped out of the race, ala Tim Pawlenty.
Dropping out in the absence of sufficient campaign funding and political support has always been the norm when running for a presidential nomination.
Now it’s different. Call it “The Sarah Palin Political Business Model”. This model uses a presidential campaign as a business start-up. As such, there is every incentive to keep running, even with improbably low poll numbers.
Most of the GOP candidates have more at stake than the presidential nomination, and the actual nomination isn’t necessarily as valuable as what used to be the consolation prize: Post-campaign speaking fees and merchandise sales.
Here’s my scenario:
Several candidates will make it to the GOP National Convention at Tampa Bay (FL): Romney, Gingrich, Huntsman, and perhaps Michelle Bachman and/or Ron Paul. Each will have run the distance for their own reasons, be they ambition, ideology, or long-term financial prospects. No single candidate gets through the primaries and caucuses with a clear majority of delegates. The first ballot will thus be a deadlock.
This is where it gets interesting. Once the first ballot has gone ’round, none of the delegates are committed to any one candidate, and for the first time in over 70 years, the political horse trading can begin in the (now metaphorical) smoke-filled room.
The problem they will face is this: Mitt confronts an “anyone but Romney” resistance which runs deep in the party. Everyone else (except possibly Jon Huntsman) is virtually unelectable as a GOP nominee in the general election.
In a negotiation very much like forming a parliamentary coalition, the various candidates (or their representatives) will offer their delegates’ votes in exchange for something of political value. It might be the vice presidential spot, a cabinet position, an ambassadorship, or perhaps a promise to act on some cherished piece of legislation or policy.
The Convention will then move for a second ballot to see if a nominee can be selected by a majority of the delegates. I’m betting that the second ballot will also fail, in the face of GOP factionalism and Rightwing/Tea Party purity tests.
If something isn’t worked out by the 3rd, 4th or 5th ballots, all bets are off , and you will see moves to draft a ‘least objectionable to the Convention’ nominee.
My personal assessment is as follows:
- Romney: Ambition drives his campaign. He wants to be president, has the resources to go the distance, and relies on the motto, “In the end, Romney is the only realistic choice.” It’s a tough sell for more than a third of the party delegates.
- Gingrich: Going the distance. Nomination is secondary to product sales of books, DVDs, etc., and then more punditry and speaking fees. The nomination, if it comes to him, is a bonus.
- Perry: Pride goeth before a fall. Perry has a record of zero electoral losses combined with money and substantial internal sycophantry to keep him going. Eventually, his money and his ego will give out and he’ll drop from the campaign, but not before grabbing a few delegates.
- Bachmann: Ideologically driven, and would like to shape the future GOP in her own image. She only has a prayer of making it to the convention, and may be hoping for a FoxNews contract when this is all over, but otherwise probably doesn’t have the savvy to properly ‘monetize’ her candidacy for future income. She’ll drop out and become a gnat on the fringes, like Palin but without the reality shows and adoring following.
- Ron Paul: Might well make it to the end, because of his eccentricity and small but loyal following. He’ll make it through to the convention because he’s so damn entertaining. No chance of being the nominee, though.
- Huntsman: Might make it to the convention. I’ve felt from the beginning that Huntsman’s goal isn’t necessarily getting the nomination (though he’d love to have it), but is actually to provide a more historically moderate and intelligent Republican alternative in order to try and drag the GOP back to an actual right-of-center political stance. Republican pragmatists may hope he has a chance, but I think it will be a generation or two (if ever) before his vision of a moderate conservative party (something like an Eisenhower Republican Party) can be realized.
- Cain: Corporatists candidate with lots of money backing him, but (fortunately) doesn;t have a prayer of being nominated. Might get as far as Tampa Bay just because he can.
- Santorum: Strictly ambition-driven. Google-search him. He’s done.
- None Of The Above: After all is said and done, this will be the nominee. This person will be anonymous enough in the party to be inoffensive to a majority of the delegates, but will likely serve as not much more than a place-holder on the Republican presidential ballot.
After the 2012 election of the Democrat (likely Obama) as president, the political and ideological bloodletting within the GOP – an almost literal struggle for the soul and survival of the Republican Party — should make for an interesting 2016.
The Ballot Brawl of 1924, By Peter Carlson (Washington Post Staff Writer) Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Discussion Thread: brokered convention – a little history from the wapo