Why would conservatives wish for a brokered convention?

Every four years, the media likes to speculate about brokered conventions, an outcome from a primary season that hasn’t happened in more than a half-century.  This time around, the talk of brokered conventions includes conservatives who see that outcome as a way to clear the decks and find a true grassroots-style conservative rather than an establishment candidate to top the ticket in November.  Joe Scarborough said last week that “conservative movers and shakers in Washington” tell him that backing Newt Gingrich is only a game of keep-away preventing Mitt Romney from winning the nomination outright, and that they hope for a brokered convention that produces another candidate altogether:

SCARBOROUGH: You know, the people I always talk about.  People say, Joe, don’t you love the Republican party?  Yes! Chris Christie.  Jeb Bush.  Mitch Daniels.  Paul Ryan.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Are we talking about these guys again?  Is this what has happened?

SCARBOROUGH: This is important for people at home to understand this. You know I’ve been talking quietly to the most powerful, I think, conservative movers-and-shakers in Washington over the past couple weeks, trying to get their read. Are we really going down this path? Every single one I’ve spoken to is trying to figure out a way to get to a brokered convention. Everyone thinks, resents the fact that Mitt Romney’s people think that he’s entitled to this.  I don’t know if it’s possible or not.  But that’s what the Republican establisment wants.

The Christian Science Monitor reported on the “rumblings” yesterday:

More than ever, the 2012 nominating process is confounding pundits and proving unpredictable. It’s unlikely that any candidate will wrap up the nomination quickly, and now buzz – which has been present for some time – is increasing about the possibility of a brokered convention and even a late-entrant candidate.

In the past week, influential conservatives, includingRush Limbaugh and Joe Scarborough, have discussed the growing rumblings. According to Mr. LImbaugh, many in the Republican party are welcoming Gingrich’s resurgence, not because they like him as a candidate but because they have misgivings about Romney. …

Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey (R) of Texaspredicted a brokered convention on CNBC Monday night, and Michael Steele, the former national chairman of the Republican party, recently put the chances of a brokered convention at 50-50. “The base wants its chance to have their say,” he told the The Huffington Post. “They aren’t going to want it to end early, before they get their chance, which means that the process could go all the way to Tampa.”

In my column today for The Fiscal Times, I explain why a brokered convention is unlikely — and why it would be a nightmare for the very people who want to see one in order to block Romney as the “establishment” nominee:

It takes a special set of circumstances to get to a brokered convention, and this year’s race isn’t likely to provide them.  To keep one candidate from acquiring a majority of pledged delegates, brokered-convention fans generally need at least three candidates to win significant amounts of delegates.  The 1976 fight was an exception; Gerald Ford lacked a clear majority in a two-man race, but ended up winning on the first ballot anyway when Ronald Reagan made a couple of political missteps.  This race looks like it will become a two-person race, especially when the simultaneous primary dates begin and Mitt Romney’s organizational advantage takes effect.  In April and beyond, all of the primaries and caucuses are winner-take-all, and Romney’s large money advantage over Gingrich, Santorum, and Paul puts him in position to cinch a majority if Gingrich hasn’t precluded the possibility by that time.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that no one candidate has a majority of the delegates, and none manages to wangle a majority on the first ballot at the convention.  How does this benefit conservatives, who have fought the “establishment” that has pushed Romney for the nomination?  The nominating process will then fall into the hands of the Republican National Committee, comprised of state party chairs and other power brokers, where the Tea Party has little or no influence. The fantasy in this case will be that the assembled party bosses and delegates, many of whom are part of state-party establishments, will crown a completely new candidate.

Who would that candidate likely be?  It’s not going to be Sarah Palin or Herman Cain, who are the antithesis of this kind of back room wheeling and dealing and who aren’t necessarily trusted by the people negotiating the question. Assuming that it’s not one of the candidates who couldn’t close the deal in the primaries, it might be Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, or another establishment figure that chose not to run and get vetted in the first place.

And what would be the result if this happened?

Some of those choices might appeal to some Republicans, but consider the hole from which this nominee would start. Ten weeks from the election, the party would have a nominee for which no one had cast a ballot in a primary, who has raised no money, who has built no organization, and who has articulated no platform before getting drafted at the convention.  Put that up against the re-election campaign of Barack Obama and his $250-$300 million campaign fund and more from unions and the entertainment industry, and it would be a prescription for political suicide – and not just for the presidency, either.  The disarray would impact House and Senate races all around the country and risk not just the opportunity to take back control of the upper chamber, but also put control of the lower chamber up for grabs.

A late entrant in the race might be another option, but without money and organization, one is very unlikely to get a majority of delegates in the primaries, which leads back to a brokered convention again — and hand-picking a candidate in the proverbial smoke-filled back rooms.  Matt Lewis points out the folly of going with a late entrant now:

But while the current GOP field is weak, the notion that the other candidates commonly bandied about would be superior strikes me as flawed. These bench sitters look good precisely because they didn’t run for president. (Had Rick Perry sat out, there is little doubt his name would be among those mentioned.) Every likely future candidate — just like every current candidate — comes with strengths and weaknesses.

To prove the point, let’s examine a few of the names most frequently mentioned …

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is a smart and serious man. But he looks like Vladimir Putin on TV. He has little charisma. (I’ve met him.) What is more, fairly recently, he offended social conservatives by saying we should have a “truce” on social issues — and fiscal conservatives by speaking favorably of a VAT tax. His wife doesn’t want him to run, and if he did run, his marriage would become an issue.

Haley Barbour left the governorship of Mississippi after pardoning 200 prisoners — including murderers and rapists. Fifteen minutes after leaving the job, he was a lobbyist again. And don’t forget that Barbour briefly flirted with running for president, during which time he became embroiled in a race scandal after praising the Citizens Council in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has a terrific resume and a great record. He is obviously intelligent. But remember his widely-panned State of the Union response? Do Republicans want to take a chance he will pull a Perry?

I’ve previously listed the reasons Paul Ryan should take a pass this time around. And Jeb Bush? Yeah, his last name is … Bush.

Look how well some of our can’t-miss candidates performed when they had to go through a vetting process in the debates.  Do we really want to pick someone who just skipped all that and wait for an “oops” or a “you go first” moment  in the ten weeks between the convention and the general election?

We need to focus on the candidates we have at this stage, and sharpen them up for a general-election fight.  Mostly, though, we need to get them to return to speaking about Republican and conservative values, rather than ripping each other with previews of Democratic attacks, and acting like they want to lead this party for the next four years and not the other.  While we’re doing that, we will need to increase our focus on House, Senate, and gubernatorial races so that in the future we have reliable and credible conservative candidates to run for Republican presidential nominations.