As the Republican presidential primary drags on, 27 debates later, with no candidate yet obtaining 50% of the delegates, speculation is increasing that the nominee may end up being selected in a brokered convention. If none of the candidates win a minimum of 1,144 delegates in the primaries and caucuses, then the Republican convention becomes a brokered convention where the nominee is chosen by freewheeling delegates. Delegates would be permitted to change their votes at the convention and support anyone, even new candidates. Ballot contests are held until one candidate achieves a majority of delegate votes.
The three candidates left in the race besides Mitt Romney are hoping for a brokered convention since it is practically impossible now for them to get enough delegates. Rick Santorum, in second place after Romney, needs 70% of the remaining delegates to win. As frontrunner, Romney opposes a brokered convention, needing only half of the remaining delegates to win the nomination.
There are plenty of problems with a brokered convention. It leaves Republican candidates taking jabs at each other instead of Obama for a much longer period, spending most of their money in the primary instead of against Obama. The convention begins August 27. The last primary this year is Utah’s on June 26. By the end of August, there will be only a couple of months left for the race against Obama. Republican candidates have been taking shots at each other since the beginning of last summer and a brokered convention means that infighting drags out for well over a year. Hugh Hewitt observed that a new candidate who has not participated in the primary yet may find it difficult to get into the national fundraising game this late against Obama.
The most troubling part about a brokered convention is it leaves the nominating process to be decided by backroom dealing. Instead of a mostly democratic process of electing the nominee, the nominee would be chosen by political hacks.
The last Republican brokered convention did not fare so well for the GOP. The last GOP brokered convention took place in 1948, when Thomas Dewey was selected, a weak dark horse candidate who went on to lose the general election to Democrat Harry Truman. The Democrats had more luck with a brokered convention in 1932, nominating Franklin D. Roosevelt, who went on to become president. But the mood was right to propel a dark horse candidate; the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. The country’s current mood, while dismal, is not quite desperate enough to throw everything out that radically and start again.
Those who are dissatisfied with the current four GOP candidates hope that someone more palatable will come out of the convention. Yet who is there? Most of our major Republican political leaders today have flaws that would come to light under close scrutiny. Chris Christie is an attractive new candidate nationally, but once he is under the presidential spotlight his moderate record will become an issue with the conservative base. Sarah Palin has indicated she would be open to being selected at a brokered convention, but she has lost a lot of support from conservatives over the past couple of years. Some of the more principled GOP leaders with excellent records like Michelle Bachmann poll extremely poorly against Obama. Considering Bachmann dropped out of the primary earlier, it is less conceivable that the delegates would go back to someone who appears so freshly defeated.
The likely result of a brokered convention is that one of the three frontrunners – Romney, Santorum or Gingrich – will take the nomination. In order to choose anyone else, many more delegates loyal to one of the top three candidates would have to be persuaded to switch their votes. This means a brokered convention will probably not be as chaotic as some predict, but it is far from an optimal situation.
Much of the reason the GOP primary process has gone on this long without one candidate achieving a clear lead is due to changes Michael Steele made to the primaries when he was RNC chairman. He moved the primary election dates up in states that allocate delegates proportionally, ahead of winner take all states’ elections. He said the purpose was to give more people in post-Super Tuesday states a greater opportunity to compete. But at what cost? Allow the GOP to bruise itself so much it guarantees a weak run against Obama?
For most Republican voters, the favorability of a brokered convention comes down to whether they support Romney or one of the other three candidates. Although Romney polls best against Obama, and it would be better to have the GOP candidate selected sooner rather than later, many would rather opt for the wildcard of a brokered convention as a last ditch chance for their candidate.
Santorum supporters wish Gingrich would drop out of the race, since much of the conservative base’s vote is currently split between the two candidates and Gingrich has no chance at getting 50% of the delegates. If enough of Gingrich’s supporters were to switch to Santorum, Santorum would have a realistic chance at obtaining a majority of delegates before the convention. However, Gingrich knows that anything could happen at a brokered convention, and the longer he stays in the race, the more likely it will end up in a brokered convention. No one thought either Gingrich or Santorum would have the comebacks they did earlier in the primary, so it is not inconceivable one of them could defeat Romney at a brokered convention.