Diary

A brokered GOP convention is a real possibility, so why drop out?

gop_candidates

Ever-astute David French over at National Review has called for the thinning the GOP herd.  Given that there’s an “undercard” for each debate, where arguably the smartest person in the room (Gov. Bobby Jindal) languishes while Gov. John Kasich gets to strut like a Columbus peacock in full plumage, he may be right.

Yes, I understand ambition. I also understand hope – especially when filtered not only through fans and supporters who believe the candidate’s breakout moment is just around the corner but also through the candidates’ own political history of triumph, sometimes against long odds. The presidency is the job of their dreams, they think they can win, and they also feel that it will be best for the nation they love if they’re in the Oval Office rather than their rivals.

Moreover, they can make a case for hanging in just a bit longer. After all – if you’re an establishment candidate like Jeb Bush – can’t you argue that [mc_name name=’Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000303′ ] was dead in the water in 2007, right until he came roaring back to win the nomination? If you’re a low-polling insurgent, wasn’t Rick Santorum barely registering in the polls – even in Iowa – before emerging as the last Romney-alternative standing and the runner-up in 2012? And aren’t most of the politician-candidates having trouble believing that the Trump and Carson surges are any more concrete than the Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain boomlets of 2011? In other words, in their minds almost 50 percent of the Republican primary electorate is still functionally up for grabs.

In more than their minds…in reality.  The “SEC Primary” might be the ticket to a brokered convention, or so said one of the other smartest people in the room (whatever room he’s in), Newt Gingrich.

“If you think you can get 5 or 6 or 7 percent of the delegates, you can come to the convention with some muscle, and you end up with a brokered convention,” he said, describing that scenario as “chaos” and “wild” but also, “as an observer … very cool.”

Very cool chaos could happen if low-polling candidates stick around and prevail in winner-take-all states. “(Ohio Gov. John) Kasich will probably carry Ohio. (New Jersey Gov. Chris) Christie will probably carry New Jersey,” Gingrich said. “They’re asking themselves, ‘Why would I drop out?’ ”

This appeared in Kyle Wingfield’s AJC blog, along with a few other opinions.

“Under the current rules, there is a 1 in 3 chance we’ll have a brokered convention,” offered Randy Evans, one of Georgia’s Republican National Committee members. That’s a significantly better chance than in past contests, even if it’s way too soon to push the panic button.

Still, let’s say the GOP field remains large and splintered all the way to the convention. If so, contrary to the wishes of those in Georgia and other Southern states that sought a larger voice in the contest, the big “SEC primary” on March 1 could wind up rendering them less influential.

At the risk of getting into the weeds, let me explain. It’s not just that Georgia will divide its 76 delegates among any candidates who receive at least 20 percent of the vote, diluting its influence compared to winner-take-all Ohio (66 delegates) or even Arizona (58). You have to keep in mind the convention is where candidates are actually nominated.

In recent years that was a mere formality, because only one candidate was left standing; in 2012, Mitt Romney was actually the only nominee even though several Republicans ran for president that year. But should no clear winner emerge, GOP rules require nominees to have majority support from eight states. Evans predicted none of the proportional, SEC primary states would muster such a majority.

Essentially, by pushing all these primaries to the earliest possible dates in order to thin the herd to one quickly, Republicans have actually caused a large field of candidates to all remain “in” for the sake of a possible fight at the convention itself.  Given that I don’t think Trump will withdraw unless he is absolutely trounced in the early primaries, and that I don’t think Carson will drop out until his grass-roots cash machine dries up, we are left with the distinct possibility that Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie, and [mc_name name=’Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’P000603′ ] will stay in, just for the sake of keeping their options open.

Paul has the additional inducement to stay in because he hasn’t finished paying off the $500,000 he owes the Kentucky GOP to switch to a caucus from a primary so he can keep his Senate campaign warm while running for president.

When we hit August, we could be in the position of having a smoke-filled-room deal that would guarantee a loss in November.

Can you imagine the voter outrage should, for example, Donald Trump win a 40 percent plurality but not end up with the nomination because all the other delegates ganged up on him? Or if Jeb Bush were to slog his way to third place, only to wind up atop the ticket?

Chilling.