After the 20th 2012 GOP Presidential debate it became obviously clear that there was blood in the water. Romney, who has been the consistent “One to Beat” was rather low-energy, but he provided a standard performance that would neither hurt nor help him. Newt Gingrich seemed distant to the contest, and attempted to give another rebirth to his run by focusing on the energy issue (gas prices) – which I must make note of his “Americans will be happy with $2.50 a gallon under my presidency”... Newt, I am not happy with anything over $2.00. 16 short years ago when I started driving, I could get ARCO/AMPM gas for $0.69 a gallon. You’re asking me to be happy with a 250% increase in gas prices because it is better than a 550% increase? I remember the outrage when gas hit $2 a gallon... I want to get THAT wrong corrected first... but I digress. Ron Paul had a great night, where he delivered two points. First, Santorum is a “Go along to Get along” kind of politician, and that Paul’s biggest hurdle has been the misconception that he is not electable when matched with Obama. But Paul is still fighting for a state to pick him, and struggling with the media to get fair attention. This leads to the source of the blood in the water: Rick Santorum, who was the center of attention of the other candidates, yet let the moment pass without a defining example of why or how he is rightly the person to lead this nation. Four candidates making their 20th appearance before the voters; four candidates, none of whom stands poised to gain the required delegates to clinch the nomination.
Just months ago the mere mention of a brokered convention, suggesting that Romney could not clinch the nomination, was tantamount to GOP heresy. Heading into March, however, you are hard pressed to go one day without a new article discussing the looming brokered convention. Journalists and pundits have their delegate scorecards and their calculators in hand, and as each contest comes and goes, the resounding chorus is one raising the speculation of a brokered convention. But what is really making their mouths water is the speculation of who may be lurking in the shadows, waiting to step into the light and unify the party and the nation... the great savior of the 2012 election.
The speculation of the brokered convention comes down to Arizona and Michigan. Romney is in the fight of his political life after losing three states to Santorum, one being the Romney “gimme” state of Colorado. If he loses in Michigan, he could still win the nomination but would be so damaged that he would have no chance to win the general election. Once the results of Michigan and Arizona are read on Tuesday night, after the calculators come out, after the delegate scorecards are updated, we have to look at the facts:
1. Gingrich is still poised to clean up in the South, and will hold on until the bitter end hoping to gain enough delegates to be a force in the party convention. He has been waiting patiently for Super Tuesday, and a run on the southern states. He is at such odds with Romney and Santorum that he will not support one of them. So long as he has a delegate to his name, he will ride on to Tampa.
2. Ron Paul’s strategy has always been to lock up loyal delegates who may not vote with their state’s results, in hopes of being a force at the convention. If Ron Paul gets out of the race before the convention it would only be to do so as a third party candidate, focusing his attention on the general election. Based on the strength of his delegate strategy, however, I feel that Paul could enter Tampa stronger than delegate scorecards would lead you to believe.
3. Romney and Santorum are both Northeastern candidates, but Santorum does not fare as well in that region. He is clearly the favorite in the Midwest and Mountain states, where evangelicals win the day. Santorum may falter heading into the next contests due to his “cover my butt” performance at the debate, but without a chance for Newt to surge, Santorum is going to be at least neck-in-neck with Romney, splitting delegates and emboldening both candidates moving forward to Tampa.
4. If Mitt Romney can hold on in Michigan, he is strong in the west, and could pick up a large number of delegates. If Romney loses in Michigan, he may suspend his campaign. If he loses in Arizona and Michigan he will no longer be the GOP front-runner and may hold on through the convention hoping to at least be a delegate leader heading into Tampa.
If this continues to be a four horse party after Super Tuesday, we can count on a brokered convention. Period. But what is likely to happen leading up to the Convention in Tampa? Chances are slim that we will have our savior waiting in the wings until the convention.
Look for a possible draft movement to arise if Romney loses in Michigan and Arizona. Santorum is off the ballot in enough states, and is not a national contender (see Gingrich in the Southern States). If Santorum can beat Romney but not clinch the nomination, Romney will not be able to beat Obama, leaving a huge source of anxiety for the Republican Party. Look for a stronger one if he wins one or both; the people are looking for the anti-Romney and if Santorum is not that guy they will keep looking.
Who is lurking? Who is waiting? Chris Christie? Sarah Palin? Donald Trump? What about true dark horses, like Luis Fortuno (Gov. Puerto Rico)?
More importantly... What if there is a deadlock? One can assume that Ron Paul’s delegates are 100% loyal, and without his endorsement they will keep voting for him. Gingrich and Santorum delegates are more likely to swing without endorsement – they are not loyal so much as appointed by the state to vote one way or another. Romney has an army, though less loyal than Ron Paul’s... but would they be inclined to support a dark horse nominated from the floor?
There are 48 more contests (including territories and districts)... How the delegates are selected is key to how a brokered convention may play out. How Romney fares in Michigan and Arizona is key to the potential for a brokered convention. The strength of the remaining four heading into Super Tuesday is key to determining if there is an open door for a late-comer to step in and save the GOP from itself in 2012.