So now it's Rubio (and the establishment) dreaming of a brokered convention

Ah, yes. The brokered convention. It’s the great white whale of political reporters and bloggers. We all love to talk about the possibility and all the thrills, spills and mayhem that could result from it. Of course, it hasn’t happened in the living memory of any Republicans reading this unless they happened to be around for the slugfest surrounding Thomas E. Dewey in the 1948 primary. (I know some reference the 1976 battle of Ford vs. Regan as a brokered convention, but honestly that was a lot more drama than rules busting I think. Your mileage may vary.) But as I’ve written here in the past, while still not the most likely scenario, there are signs that it’s at least possible this time around. We generally don’t hear much about it from the RNC or the establishment lane candidates, but that may be starting to change. Some folks on Marco Rubio’s team, currently in a bit more trouble than they expected after Iowa, are daring to utter the words. (ABC News)

The best hope of the Republican establishment just a week ago, Marco Rubio suddenly faces a path to his party’s presidential nomination that could require a brokered national convention.

That’s according to Rubio’s campaign manager, Terry Sullivan, who told The Associated Press that this week’s disappointing performance in New Hampshire will extend the Republican nomination fight for another three months, if not longer. It’s a worst-case scenario for Rubio and many Republican officials alike who hoped to avoid a prolonged and painful nomination fight in 2016.

“We very easily could be looking at May — or the convention,” Sullivan said aboard Rubio’s charter jet from New Hampshire to South Carolina on Wednesday. “I would be surprised if it’s not May or the convention.”

In the past, when we’ve heard talk of this it’s generally among supporters of Trump or, to a slightly lesser extent, Ted Cruz. Pretty much nobody among the party elders wants to see them get the nomination, and if either arrives in Cleveland with a lead less than the minimum 1,144 delegates needed to win on the first ballot, things could get ugly. After some horse trading among the power brokers, the remaining delegates could, in theory, line up behind somebody more palatable to the establishment a few ballots later and take the nomination away. As I’ve noted here previously, this would likely be the end of the party as we know it for a generation.

But the folks you don’t hear talking about it are the ones who would potentially benefit from it the most. For Rubio’s team to be suggesting it this early in the process is telling, at least as I read the cards. It’s something of an obtuse admission that we might not be able to win this thing honestly so we may have to steal it on a technicality.

Whether or not this is even a possibility all comes down to a question of timing. If you agree with the conventional wisdom regarding this primary season, here’s how it plays out. Either Trump, Cruz, or a combination of both suck up a bunch of delegates on a steady blitz through some time after Super Tuesday. This requires (according to this thinking) at least a couple of establishment lane candidates to stay in the race and split the old school vote. Since there are many winner take all states in the SEC primary, the outsiders could build up a significant, though not 51% lead. Then, when the establishment field finally narrows to one person, he starts running the table in the later states, stopping anyone from getting to 1,144.

But when does that break happen? If it’s too late into March or early April, a Trump / Cruz campaign might already hit the magic number or be able to pick up the needed stragglers in some late breaking apportioned delegate state. If one of them breaks out of the pack on Super Tuesday and snags several states, the outsider momentum could be stopped before they get near the finish line. This only works if the timing is just right. Of course, the other potentially flawed assumption is that an establishment lane candidate can win all the races once the rest of the field is winnowed down. Does that sound likely to anybody? Remember: just to take one Yuge example, New York doesn’t hold their GOP primary until April 19th and that’s 92 delegates. (Three others are floaters.) Do we honestly think that Cruz or either of the governors could beat Trump on his home turf if he comes in with a big head of momentum?

Honestly, I’m not buying it. Once we get past Nevada and get down to three or four serious candidates things might get a bit more boring fairly quickly.


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