Romney’s inevitable nomination is slipping through his well-manicured fingers. While the media has been telling us for months that no one has a shot against Prince Willard’s well funded political machine, it is clear that the voters are less impressed. After defeats in Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, Missouri (even though Missouri really doesn’t count delegates until later), Minnesota and Colorado, and a victory in Maine that required some Chicago-style shenanigans to edge out Ron Paul, Romney is now fighting off Rick Santorum for the lead in national polls.
This article, however, isn’t about the Santorum surge; nor is it an analysis on why Mitt is having difficulty connecting with Republican voters (the latter being the key factor to the former.) Instead let’s discuss the potential consequences of an intensely contested primary battle ending with Romney falling short of the 1,144 delegate threshold.
Let’s talk about a brokered convention.
Since the last brokered convention was the infamous Democratic Convention of 1968, many Americans may not be familiar with the concept or what could emerge from such an event.
During the first ballot at the Republican convention, the state elected delegates are required to vote for whomever they are pledged (though, as Paul’s campaign understands, caucus delegates enjoy a bit more leeway). After that though? All bets are off.
Now it is possible that Romney, after losing the nomination by a few votes, could simply convert some Gingrich or Santorum pledged delegates and then seal the deal. That, however, depends upon genuine interest in Romney being the nominee. If we can take away anything from his primary difficulties, it is that Romney has done little to excite the Republican base.
What about Santorum or Gingrich? If Gingrich wasn’t so personally disliked, he would potentially lock up the nomination outright. Santorum on the other hand, terrifies many outside of a specific demographic of Republican voters.
This is why it is important to point out that a brokered convention does not limit delegates to choose between those currently seeking the GOP nomination. In 1968, for example, the Democratic nomination went to Hubert Humphrey, the serving VP who did not participate in a single primary.
So who in the broader GOP could benefit?
People are quick to respond with Chris Christie. Consider, however, that the governor not only refused multiple attempts to jump into the primary contest, but has played bulldog for Romney throughout most of the campaign. This will immediately make it difficult to win over Newt backers and, combined with some of his social views, won’t endear him to Santorum delegates.
Mitch Daniels? Another executive who opted against entering the race months ago, Daniels has so far been hesitant to subject his family to the hardships of national political exposure. While people, to say nothing of politicians, always have the ability to change their mind, I think it is unlikely in this Hoosier’s case.
Though I don’t fully understand the bizarre obsession many establishment Republicans have with Jeb Bush, I do think they are right to look south towards Florida. The candidate best situated to emerge from a brokered convention is Senator Marco Rubio.
Though some may bristle at nominating a young, inexperienced senator with a razor thin record of accomplishment, demographic-conscious Republican strategists dream of the GOP electing the first Latino President. He could also be unique in creating an energized, united front amongst the three establishment candidates. Remember that Rubio worked with Newt on his book 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future, shares Santorum’s Catholic faith and defended Romney during the Florida primary. Rubio would be rewarded for staying out of the endorsement game.
If he harbors any Presidential aspirations, Rubio will never find a better opportunity to act on them. He would be going against an unpopular administration and have the enviable position of being spared the long, exhausting process of primary politics. To those who would question whether Rubio, who showed no interest in running for the nomination before, would suddenly take the nomination, look at the calendar. A traditional primary run would have sacrificed the opportunity to do anything in the Senate and forced Rubio back into the electoral game roughly four months after a difficult and expensive senatorial contest. An August nomination spares him almost two years before diving back into campaigning.
The scenario above is still very unlikely – but unlikely describes the GOP nomination process to date. One thing that can’t be questioned, however, is the appeal Rubio has with a large section of Republicans, both in the establishment and the grassroots. At a time where friction has never been higher between these two classes, I believe Rubio can unite and inspire quite like no other GOP figure can.
That potential should not be overlooked.