I have been discussing the possibility of a brokered 2012 Republican National Convention in my columns and television and radio appearances over the last three months. A “brokered convention” is defined as a situation in which no candidate arrives at the convention having won enough delegates in primaries and caucuses for a first ballot majority.
I am not yet ready to predict a brokered convention, but as frontrunner Mitt Romney continues to struggle to garner a majority of delegates in the early primaries and caucuses, the likelihood of a brokered convention increases. Let me go one step further: If Mitt Romney loses the GOP primary in his native state of Michigan on February 28 to Rick Santorum, his candidacy is finished, and a brokered convention is a certainty.
Two polls released yesterday show Santorum with a substantial lead over Romney in Michigan. The Public Policy Polling poll (PPP) has Santorum ahead of Romney 39 to 24. The American Research Group poll has Santorum ahead of Romney, 33-27. The primary is two weeks away, but this is clearly nightmare time for the Romney campaign.
Mitt Romney is unquestionably the Ed Muskie of the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination. Like the late Maine Senator in 1972, Romney began the race with a huge lead in terms of money, organization, and endorsements. Yet similarly to Ed Muskie in his losing 1972 campaign, Romney has failed to generate any compelling positive message. As Fox News commentator Brit Hume stated, Romney’s most decisive victory was achieved in a Florida primary where he used his financial advantage to carpet-bomb Newt Gingrich to political death. This lack of a positive message cost Romney dearly, however, in his losses to Santorum last week in Missouri, Minnesota, and Colorado, the latter a state which Romney carried in 2008.
Even worse for Romney, his argument that he is the most electable Republican has been proven by polls to be a myth. As an example, the Rasmussen Poll released last Friday, February 10 showed President Barack Obama leading Romney by 10 points nationwide, while only leading Santorum by 4. As Greg Sargent noted in yesterday’s Washington Post, various polls have shown Romney’s ratings among independent voters declining dramatically.
Romney cannot remain a viable candidate if he loses Michigan. He achieved his most significant victory in the 2008 GOP Presidential sweepstakes in the Wolverine State, before being decisively defeated by John McCain in Florida. A Romney defeat in Michigan on February 28 will finish Mitt – and drive many GOP moderates and center-right individuals into a fit of apoplexy at the possibility of Rick Santorum winning the GOP Presidential nomination.
Let us not mince words: there is a significant cultural bias – in fact, bigotry against Rick Santorum among many, although not all, Republican moderates and center-right rank-and-file. Rick Santorum home schools his children and wears his Catholicism on his sleeves. As an Orthodox Jew and man of faith myself, I find these qualities in Rick Santorum most endearing. Yet there are many Republicans of a moderate or center-right stripe who claim these qualities make him unelectable. I have a far more favorable view of the tolerance of the American people than these Santorum critics.
If Santorum wins Michigan, causing the political demise of Romney, the various center-right and moderate GOP governors will focus on stopping him. Unfortunately for them, they have no center-right alternative candidate. Their best possibilities – Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, and Mike Huckabee – have already unequivocally stated that they will not accept a draft. Therefore, the center-right and moderate governors will form favorite son movements to prevent Santorum from winning delegates in their respective states.
The fact that a convention is brokered, however, does not necessarily mean that a previously unannounced candidate must be chosen, as in 1940 when the Republicans drafted Wendell Willkie. If Santorum arrives at the 2012 GOP convention in Tampa as the frontrunner, he will simply have to make his case before the various state delegations in order to win a majority. Delegates are only pledged to their candidates for two ballots, and the objective for Santorum will be to pick up as many delegates as possible from favorite son delegations.
There has not been a brokered GOP convention since the aforesaid Willkie triumph in Philadelphia in 1940. I disagree with those Republicans who feel that a brokered convention is necessarily a negative for the party. If Santorum, for example, is in the national spotlight over the summer as he seeks delegates for his intended majority, this can only be a positive for the former Pennsylvania senator. His communication skills are excellent, and the increased exposure to the electorate will benefit him.
Usually, a national political convention simply ratifies the overwhelming choice of the voters in that political season’s primaries and caucuses. If Rick Santorum defeats Mitt Romney in Michigan two weeks hence, we will see a true GOP convention in Tampa this August, and not a coronation.