Bill Whalen

If It Ain’t Brokered, Don’t Fix It?

Every four years, political scribes dream of a “brokered” national convention (i.e., no one with enough delegates to secure a first-ballot nomination) much the same way football junkies want the Super Bowl to go into overtime.

The latter’s never happened in its 46 installments.

And the former? Non-predetermined political conventions are as about a rare occurrence – the most recent being 1976 and the Republican gathering in Kansas City, where Gerald Ford ultimately trumped Ronald Reagan.

Still, that hasn’t stopped the speculation that 2012 could produce something different – the GOP undecided on its nominee heading into the Aug. 27-30 Republican National Conventionin Tampa, Fla.

The thinking goes like this:

  1. Mitt Romney loses the Feb. 28 vote in Michigan (his boyhood home) and perhaps the other state up for grabs next Tuesday, Arizona. Panic ensues within GOP moneyed circles; they go shopping for someone new to keep the nomination from going to Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul.
  2. That certain “someone” indeed takes the plunge (former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell are two names being bandied about, along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as examples of noncontroversial consensus-builders). Circle this date on the calendar: March 23, the filing deadline for the June 5 primary in California. New Jersey (April 2 filing deadline) also votes on the first Tuesday in June – combined, that’s 222 delegates (about half the number of delegates at stake on March 6 “Super Tuesday”).
  3. The Republican caucuses and primaries run their course (21 states voting after March), with the vote splitting four and five ways (assuming the current four hopefuls stay in the race). With no candidate in reach of the goal line, the insiders gather in Tampa and start flexing muscle/cutting deals to secure the nomination for the late entrant. Maybe no smoke-filled rooms in our politically correct times, but lots of political intrigue.

As entertaining as all of that sounds, here are a three reasons why a “brokered” convention once again may elude us.

  1. If Someone Takes the Plunge? Think back to Chicago and the summer in 1968. Our scenario begins with a big-name Republican having a change of mind and jumping into the race – what Bobby Kennedy did in 1968 (RFK announcing on March 16 of that year, just four days after LBJ’s narrow win in New Hampshire). Here’s the reality of RFK’s bid to “rescue” the Democratic Party: he won but four states (only 13 holding primaries that year) and less than 400 delegates (1,312 needed for the nomination). Had he have lived to see the national convention, let’s assume RFK would have needed to cut a deal with the other “peace” candidate, Eugene McCarthy, to overcome Hubert Humphrey’s advantage with the party establishment. In 2012, a late entrant likewise will be delegate-challenged – that California-New Jersey sum of 222 delegates just one-fifth of the 1,114 needed to win. Btw, 1968 and that other troubled convention year, 1976, have this in common: the warring party lost that fall’s election.
  2. What Defines “Consensus Candidate”? It’s not like the Republicans have an elder statesman/eligible former President waiting in the wings. There’s no audience for the last GOP nominee, John McCain. His running mate, Sarah Palin, would meet with the same electability concerns dogging Santorum and Gingrich (just ask Donald Trump). Chris Christie? He brings two qualities conservatives deem lacking in Romney: pugnacity and a gubernatorial record he can tout. On the other hand, the right won’t like his views on global warming. A similar problem would exist for Mitch Daniels, a budget samurai who in the past displeased the right by voicing concerns about the culture wars. Bottom line: a white knight is a noble concept – and a royal headache for those seeking the holy grail of party unity.
  3. And What of Voters? Here’s one way to look at the Republican field: a series of moments defined by a series of rejections. Romney surged in New Hampshire and was rejected by South Carolinians. Gingrich, the beneficiary of that vote, was then rejected by Floridians in favor or Romney . . . who, after winning in Nevada, was promptly rejected by the good people of Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri in favor of Santorum. Let’s see if the pattern holds next week and fickle voters shift back to Romney, or Santorum manages to add to his momentum. However, should a clear winner emerge on the morning after Super Tuesday – let’s arbitrarily define that as half of that day’s 10 states – there’s a chance that voters could fall in line. Consider this survey, which shows that GOP voters want one of the current contenders to start pulling ahead – and they don’t want an unsettled convention come summertime. So, on some subconscious level, GOP primary voters are rooting against a “brokered” convention. A majority of those respondents also think the rollercoaster campaign isn’t hurting their party’s cause. The message, perhaps: it ain’t brokered; don’t fix it.
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