Given the changes to the rules regarding apportionment of delegates, some political observers are beginning to fantasize about the possibility of a brokered convention next year if none of the current field of candidates succeed in garnering enough delegates to lock up the process. And who wouldn’t like that? The prospect of smoke filled back rooms, wheeling and dealing, tense replays of speeches.. it’s a ready made Movie of the Week! Howard Megdal, at Salon, makes precisely this argument, and in fact argues that it might be the perfect cure for what ails you.
Several candidates who aren’t Mitt Romney are likely to be on the ballot in all 50 states. If a majority of the party agrees on nothing more than Not Mitt Romney, the real Mitt Romey cannot enter April with a majority of delegates. If Romney is able to climb to even 30 percent nationally in the pre-April states — something he hasn’t done in a single national poll — and wins a corresponding percentage of the vote, he would still have only 349 delegates. That means he would need to capture 868 of the 1,217 winner-take-all delegates to capture the nomination through the primary process. His only hope is that the other candidates have dropped out.
The GOP leadership and the rank and file would have the opportunity to nominate a compromise candidate who hasn’t been in the race at all: John Thune, Chris Christie or Jeb Bush, someone who can cite Romney’s unpopularity and moderate record as the basis for breaking their previous vows not to run. Suddenly, the Democrats would face a fresh conservative face who would receive just two months of scrutiny before Election Day.
And running against a president saddled with mediocre approval ratings, whose reelection prospects seem largely buoyed by his uninspired opponents, the Republicans would go into the general election with a sense of dynamism, not disappointment. A brokered convention in Tampa is shaping up the GOP’s best-case scenario.
I’m sure this sounds exciting to a lot of base voters who may be disillusioned with the current crop of candidates. Who knows what might happen in a case like that? (The author exhibits the requisite restraint to avoid mentioning Sarah Palin riding into the convention hall on a polar bear, wearing a necklace made of the teeth of the Democratic leadership.) The scenario is designed to be exciting, much like one of the final episodes of The West Wing. But as Doug Mataconis points out, it’s probably not nearly as probable as Megidal imagines.
There’s only one problem with Megidal’s analysis, it seems to be based on what has become a common misunderstanding of what the new GOP rules actually mean. As Josh Putnam pointed out back in August, many GOP states are not actually pure winner-take-all in their delegate allocation. Instead, they allocate delegates based on Congressional District, with a bonus number of delegates going to the statewide winner, and at-large delegates that are awarded proportionally. These states will not be required to change their allocation rules even if they hold their primaries before April 1st. This was the allocation system that was in place in many GOP states in 2008 and it’s what allowed John McCain to lock down the nomination so early even though many of his victories were by relatively small margins on the statewide ballot. There’s no reason to believe that the same thing couldn’t happen in 2012, and even less reason to believe that such a system would allow the nomination process to be dragged out all the way to Tampa, as entertaining as that might be.
Further, as Doug points out, there is an obvious downside to short sheeting the primary process. As bloody as the current battles may be, they do serve the purpose of thinning the herd and getting any possible dirty laundry out of the way well in advance of the summer campaign season. Would we really want to be finding all the warts and scars of the final nominee that close to the election?
Still, the rule changes may well result in a much longer primary, going deep into the spring without one early, big dollar favorite locking it all up as soon as the votes are cast in South Carolina in Florida. I’m not sure if that’s entirely good for the party’s prospects, but it will certainly provide a more entertaining spectacle for those of us covering it.
MORE: Michael Barone isn’t buying it either.