If you recall, as far back as May of last year, various forces had begun to mobilize in the conservative movement to prevent Mitt Romney from winning the 2012 GOP nomination. As Jon Ward reported, this was a "top goal" of Freedomworks, "the nation's most influential national Tea Party group." It was also the top goal of quixotic Alaska Senate candidate and beard farmer Joe Miller, but no one took that particularly seriously for obvious reasons.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Iowa caucuses, however. Despite all of this mobilization and concern that Romney was not adequately conservative enough -- a viewpoint shared by plenty of folks within the GOP establishment as well -- none of these various armies arrayed against the former Massachusetts Governor actually...did...anything. Besides occasional complaining and occasional hoping for deliverance.
Back at the beginning of December, there were signs that the people who desperately wanted someone besides Romney to win might start doing something about it. The Hill's Molly Hooper reported that conservative "kingmakers" were "unhappy" about how the race was shaping up -- at the time, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was surging as the Romney alternative, and he turned out to be the one guy they despised more than Mittens. But time was running out -- the deadlines to get on the ballots for the early primaries had passed, and the second round of deadlines was looming. So there were rumors that some elite confab of conservatives might meet in some Papal conclave and choose a candidate out of the smoke. Erick Erickson of Red State yanked the relevant intel from from the Wall Street Journal's "Political Diary" newsletter:
Efforts are underway by some wealthy Republican donors and a group of conservative leaders to investigate whether a new Republican candidate could still get into the presidential race. The talk is still preliminary and somewhat wishful, but it reflects dissatisfaction with the two leading candidates, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
Conservative leaders are looking into whether it is feasible for a dark horse to get on the ballot in select states. The deadline to qualifying for the ballot has passed in Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, and New Hampshire. But a candidate could still get on the ballot in states like Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Michigan and Texas. At the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, voters write in their choice, so there is no formal filing deadline.
But once again, nothing seemed to come of this, and I'd all but figured that the moment to move with determination against Romney had passed. Apparently, I was wrong, because here's the news today, from Jonathan Martin:
A group of movement conservatives has called an emergency meeting in Texas next weekend to find a "consensus" Republican presidential hopeful, POLITICO has learned.
"You and your spouse are cordially invited to a private meeting with national conservative leaders of faith at the ranch of Paul and Nancy Pressler near Brenham, Texas, with the purpose of attempting to unite and to come to a consensus on which Republican Presidential candidate or candidates to support, or which not to support," read an invitation that is making its way into in-boxes this morning.
As Martin reports, this new gathering is being hosted by social conservative luminaries like James Dobson and Gary Bauer, the clear implication being that a champion must be selected from the Santorum-Perry-Gingrich ranks to take on Romney directly, because the three-way splitting of the vote is making Romney's path to the nomination easier to traverse.
The problem, of course, is that last night's contest only managed to winnow Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) out of the running. Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) spent the night "reassessing" his campaign, leading many to believe he might quit while he was not ahead as well. But a morning tweet from the Perry camp signaled that he would press on to South Carolina.
Gingrich of course, shows no sign of quitting the race either, which presents an interesting dilemma for this social conservative confab. As Steve Benen notes, "Gingrich has never gotten along with Dobson," which suggests that former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has the inside track to winning over this group's favor. But with Gingrich chafing at Romney's numerous super PAC attacks and signaling that he's prepared to go all "V For Vendetta" on Mitt, the anti-Romney forces could not have a more determined ally in their War On Romney than Gingrich.
Which means this latest attempt at marshalling the forces of darkness against Mitt might end up like all the others -- bogged down in indecision.
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