Photo: Real Clear Politics
For many conservative Republicans, the dream outcome of the 2012 primary season is a brokered convention. Disappointed in the four remaining choices, they hope to change horses in August, at the end of the primary stream. drafting their preferred candidate, be it Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, or ???
But as sure as Jeb Bush will be proposed, so will Sarah Palin. She is now and always has been the singular Reaganesque super-star voice in the original Tea Party phenomenon; the only one who can bring it to the mainstream. Her absence from the primary race has left a vacuum and no substitute has been found. Every other possible or potential leadership hopeful has risen and receded in this already seemingly long Republican primary season.
All reports from the CPAC conference, the former Alaska governor received far and away the most spirited and enthusiastic reception at the convention of about 10,000 conservative activists. She drew the audience to its feet more than a dozen times during her keynote address on Saturday. “The cheers for Palin were so loud that they drowned out her remarks again and again,” he writes. “Conference organizers had to set up three overflow rooms to accommodate the throngs of supporters eager to hear her words.”
Sarah Palin bated clean-up at CPAC and hit a home run! Her appearance reminded CPAC’s attendees how much they missed her. Palin was/is the conservative super-star. She brought the red meat to CPAC and crowd loved it… as they loved her! Palin repeatedly said the door was open for a conservative victory, but the door that seemed to be open the widest was the one to her political future as the leader of the conservative movement and as heiress to the Reagan legacy. Sarah once again proved her conservative relevancy… It was her party on Saturday, and it could be for the foreseeable future. The only questions remains, could that include a place for here on the party ticket in a brokered primary?
Remember… Palin has already been there once for a dress rehearsal.
Photo: McCain Election Album 2008
Many have been adamant that the outcome of a brokered convention is extremely unlikely. For it to occur, there has to be an almost perfect storm of events; the GOP elites can’t just declare shenanigans on the primary season and select a new nominee. Instead, something has to prevent any of the current candidates from clinching a majority of the delegates; if one of them amasses that majority, he will be the nominee on the first ballot at the convention in Tampa. But has anyone else noticed how often they ask Mitt Romney about this possibility?
It is looking more and more like the the GOP fight could eventually degenerate into an ideological battle between the very conservative and somewhat conservative/moderate wings of the party, with Romney on one side and a single alternative on the other. Unless there was a late entrant or Ron Paul caught fire in the caucus states, someone was virtually assured of claiming the requisite number of delegates in that scenario. (However, there are signs that the Romney and Paul camps may have already brokered a deal.)
Something else to remember, the GOP does have super-delegates of a sort, in the form of the 63 RNC members. They aren’t as numerous as they are in the Democratic Party, but they are still there. While many of them have already declared allegiance to one candidate or another, those commitments can evaporate quickly, as Hillary Clinton learned all to well to her sorrow in 2008.
Additionally and perhaps even more importantly, demographic and geographic splits are beginning to surface in the GOP that resemble the splits in the Democratic Party in 2008. That year, Hillary Clinton laid claim to working-class whites and Latino voters, while Barack Obama laid claim to college-educated whites and African-Americans. This divide continued throughout the primary, right up to the last day of voting.
The GOP split is still speculative at this point. But to see the possibility, examine the map of U.S. counties and how they have voted so far. Blue counties backed Romney, red backed Gingrich, green are for Santorum, while white have gone for some other candidate (or not yet voted).
Map: Real Clear Politics
Romney has done well in New Hampshire and south Florida; the latter is basically the North transplanted to the South. This suggests continued strength in the Northeast. He’s also done well in the Mountain West: Nevada was in his camp, as was a large portion of the Western Slope of Colorado. Note also the handful of counties in southern Colorado that went for Romney; they are heavily Mexican-American, and Romney has run well with Latino voters in the GOP contests thus far.
Next, Gingrich. There is continued resistance to Mitt Romney in the GOP among evangelicals. These voters are concentrated largely, but not exclusively, in the South. And as we see, the former House speaker ran well in South Carolina as well as in northern Florida, and is expected to do well in Georgia. This caused many to conclude that Gingrich was on the verge of emerging as the definitive not-Romney.
But now we have to consider that Santorum has won Iowa and Minnesota in the Midwest, and won Colorado largely on the strength of his showing in eastern Colorado (which is basically the Great Plains). He also won Missouri — which is culturally more southern than Midwestern — but Gingrich wasn’t on the ballot there. For now at least, he is the “anti-Romney” in the Midwest. Santorum is getting a bit of boost from the Catholic birth control mandate issue, but some aren’t so sure about his fiscal conservatism.
If this split continues — Romney in the West and Northeast, Gingrich in the South, and Santorum in the Midwest — we could easily find ourselves in a scenario where no candidate crosses the 1,144-delegate threshold by the time voting ends. Consider this: Right now, Romney barely has a majority of the delegates. If Gingrich successfully contests the winner-takes-all allocation in the Florida primary (based on the RNC’s rule against such a format before April), no one would have a majority of the delegates as of today.
We will find out how viable this path is in the next few weeks. In the lead-up to Super Tuesday, we’ll probably see Romney win Arizona, Michigan and Maine. Arizona and Maine are in his demographic wheelhouse, while he is a native Michigander and his father was governor of the state (Although in a recent survey 67% of the people living in Michigan were not born or did not live in Michigan when George Romney was Governor). Washington is a coastal state, where Romney’s strength hasn’t been tested, so it is up in the air.
Super Tuesday will likely be tougher for him. Four of the five largest states — Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Georgia — are Southern (or in Oklahoma’s case, culturally Southern). Romney will likely win Virginia by default, but he will probably fare poorly in the remaining three. If Gingrich can stay in the race and maintain his strength in the South, he will likely win them.
On the other hand, Romney will probably do well in Massachusetts, Idaho and Vermont. Santorum seems well-positioned to win North Dakota. But let us remember, Santorum is fourth in delegates, behind Ron Paul.
So the viability of a three-way split probably comes down to Ohio, which has a fair number of evangelicals, though not to the degree that Tennessee, Oklahoma and Georgia do. Santorum has some strengths he can draw on in the Buckeye State, as his blue-collar message could play well even among Republicans there. If he wins, it means that we probably do have a deeply divided GOP, with Gingrich taking the anti-Romney vote in the South, and Santorum taking the anti-Romney vote in the Midwest.
The key is that neither Gingrich nor Santorum can begin to do so well that the other drops out. Both must remain effectively regional candidates. If Gingrich’s support collapses in the South, it might leave an opening there for Santorum. We’ve seen some potential evidence of this, as Gingrich’s support in Gallup’s tracking poll is down about seven points since the Florida primary (although it isn’t down in the wake of Santorum’s wins Tuesday night). If that were to occur, we would be back to a two-person race. There is also now word that Gingrich’s financial supporter, Adelson, has pulled out. Most feel he will stay in the race, but that his star has faded.
Alternatively, Santorum’s support could turn out to be confined to caucus states and/or states where Romney failed to spend money. Remember, Colorado and Minnesota are small state caucuses, virtually ignored by the candidates. Santorum’s win in Minnesota was large enough, however, that it could indicate broader support among the general electorate (as was his showing in eastern Colorado). This might allow Gingrich to step in, or Romney to wrap up the nomination. But Santorum says he has a plan to beat Mitt in Michigan.
But in the event this scenario does unfold through Super Tuesday, we would then begin a long slog. But unlike 2008, where Obama’s states were frontloaded and allowed him to gain an air of inevitability early on, here the states are spread out. The remainder of March contains Northern caucuses in Wyoming and Kansas. There are Southern states: Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. At the same time, areas with heavily Latino population such as Puerto Rico, and states with relatively liberal Republican parties (Illinois) will cast their ballots. The fact that these contests award their delegates proportionately will prevent any candidate from breaking out.
In April, Gingrich would have a great chance in Texas, Maryland and Delaware (increasingly de facto Southern states in the GOP primary electorate), while Romney would receive large delegate hauls in Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York. Santorum would have primaries in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
In the end, we could end up in California in early June with no clear nominee. While that state is nominally winner-take-all for a whopping 172 delegates, in fact it allocates the overwhelming majority of those delegates by Congressional District. Who is voting in a Republican primary in Nancy Pelosi’s or Maxine Waters’ district? I honestly have no idea, but if they’re different from the voters in the Latino central valley districts, and if they’re different than the voters in Orange County, and if they’re different from the voters in the Sierra districts, we really could have a situation where the state doesn’t produce a winner for the GOP.
If this occurs, and Ron Paul wins around 100 delegates along the way, we have a situation where no candidate has more than 900 delegates, and three have more than 400. In that situation, no one would be able to lay claim to the mantle of presumptive nominee. The convention would eventually deadlock, and an outside candidate could emerge.
The Bush family secret agenda has been a subliminal theme for months with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the favored proxy and pitchman. But at CPAC it broke through to the surface: Al Cardenas, head of the American Conservative Union, says that Republican turmoil might lead to a brokered convention in which Jeb Bush would emerge as a “possible alternative” party nominee. (Cardenas is already walking back his comments and his speech is disappearing from the Internet… but the cat is out of the bag.) It made Drudge this past weekend.
This would not be without its difficulties. We’ve seen the problem with sudden, late entrants before. The nominee would have to be able to put together a platform, a fundraising organization, prepare for debates, select a running mate, and hit the campaign trail, all in a manner of weeks.
And the candidate would not be fully vetted. There might be some skeleton in his closet, or his family’s. One wing of the party might not be satisfied. Chris Christie’s name is frequently mentioned, but he believes in climate change and favors civil unions. How will the religious right react when that is in the spotlight? Mitch Daniels may bore Tea Partiers looking for a fighter, and his past as Bush’s budget director is a black mark waiting to be exploited by his opponent. Jeb Bush is a Bush. And so forth. And then there are the the new, independent, states-oriented, freedom-seeking constitutional conservatives… a ticket of the Western states, a Palin/Perry ticket ticket from Alaska and Texas. Now wouldn’t that be interested?
Conservatism is at the shore of a new awakening but is afraid to cross the river. It goes back to Gov. Rick Perry’s Texas primary race. From Quigley’s Pundits Blog of Jan. 21, 2010: “The Austin Statesman reported that former President George H.W. Bush will endorse U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican primary for governor in her race against Rick Perry. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Margaret Spellings and Karen Hughes [W.’s agent] also support Hutchison … But Sarah Palin supports Rick Perry and will appear with him at a rally on Super Bowl Sunday. Does one Sarah Palin equal a Bush, a Rove, a Spellings and a Hughes? In Texas, I believe it does.” …Bernie Quigley
Perry won in a landslide. But why would the Bush establishment pull out all the stops to support Hutchison, who was sure to lose? Because they saw a new conservative movement building with Perry and Palin and were determined early on to stamp it out. They still are.
Bush/Christie or Christie/Bush as “establishment” representation is bound to bring muffled chuckles (“Hey Abbott!!!”) and Obama would win in a landslide. But Bush/Christie vs. Sarah Palin/Rick Perry positions coming head to head at the Republican Convention would pit the storied worlds of Dexter and Paulie Walnuts; the most notoriously corrupt, burned-out, busted-up, used-up, dangerous, underwater and broke Eastern states, against the new, independent, states-oriented, freedom-seeking constitutional conservatives like Palin of the Western states, Texas and Alaska. Now that would be interesting.
The path to this outcome is still a very narrow, precarious one. But for the first time, I can see it. A Jeb Bush/Christy fight against Palin/Perry with maybe even a Romney/Santorum or Romney/Rand Paul option still sitting out there… or a Palin/Santorum option? Can you see it? I am beginning to!