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Hope For A New GOP 2012 Presidential Contender Won't Die

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I don't think I have any need to introduce any of you to the concept that GOP elites have, almost from the very second they surmised they may get saddled with Mitt Romney as their nominee, been vocally despondent about the field of candidates that has emerged to take on Romney. It began last spring, when the talented candidates they craved either dropped from contention (Mitch Daniels), never joined the race (Chris Christie), or ignored numerous entreaties to jump in the game (Paul Ryan). As the actual field shaped up, some pinned their hopes to a late-entrant savior (Rick Perry) who failed to live up to expectations (that he could speak in coherent sentences). And then, when a serious opponent finally emerged, it turned out to be Newt Gingrich, whom the elites also openly despised.

Like I said, this is nothing I need to explain to any of you. Actually, I probably should answer for myself: way back in early December I very confidently stated that the "efforts" that were being taken by "wealthy Republican donors and ... conservative leaders to investigate whether a new Republican candidate could still get into the presidential race" would almost certainly be the very last churn of the unsettled stomach of the Republican party elites, that their effort was doomed because of the many missed deadlines to get on the ballot, and that it would be incredibly hard to conjure a viable candidate from a smoke-filled room. I was wrong about that. Per Alex Pareene, this is what your last stab looks like:

Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard was quietly promoting Gingrich since just before his first surge in the polls, and Kristol himself early this morning asserted that of Gingrich, Romney and Santorum, “any of the three could be the nominee.” (No, actually, but this is Bill Kristol.) He then quotes an editorial he wrote two months ago, predicting, sort of, "a late January entry [I'd now say an early February entry] by another candidate."

And he ends with: "I notice a new online petition was launched Saturday night to try to produce one possible outcome. It's at runmitchrun.com."

Kristol may or may not be the person who actually set up this "Draft Mitch Daniels" website -- some surmise this is the case, though I can't find anything definitive -- but he and his magazine have done their level best to tout its existence. The timing is apt -- Daniels is slated to deliver the official Republican party rebuttal to tonight's State Of The Union address, and I imagine that Kristol has already pre-drafted his column in which he says, "Finally, a presidential-looking Republican takes center stage!" or something like that.

Still, the odds of a late-entrant actually succeeding in a bid to win the nomination are even longer today. As Jamelle Bouie points out, Daniels (or any other fantasy candidate) has "missed the filing deadlines for the states with 42 percent of all delegates, and because of the logistics involved, he might not be on an actual ballot until March." For a late-entering candidate to succeed, he'd have to come on like gangbusters, immediately put the rest of the field on their heels, and win every single primary contest they enter outright and by a large margin. That would be a hard task for even the most dynamic and charismatic candidate -- and while Mitch Daniels certainly has his talents, dynamism and charisma are not among them.

But the whole notion that Bill Kristol might be able to persuade Mitch Daniels to join the race and tap some heretofore undiscovered vein of pure personality to quickly upend the field and claim the nomination is actually the more sensible route to forestalling the possibility of a Romney or Gingrich win. You're also going to hear a lot of talk about the possibility of a "brokered convention," in which the whole matter remains unsettled until the GOP convention in Tampa.

There are two ways of imagining how a "brokered convention" might come about. Actually, hold it -- there are three: the first being that a brokered convention will never, ever, ever happen in a million billion years because the GOP's primary process has far too many safeguards in place for there to be any other result than one of the contenders securing the necessary amount of delegates to officially win. No matter what anyone else tells you, you should not -- NOT! -- bet on a brokered convention, unless you too are gambling with Sheldon Adelson's money.

But, for the sake of argument, there are two ways that people believe this could come about. The first involves all four candidates battling long and hard between now and the end of the primaries, stealing wins from each other, picking up stray delegates here and there, and preventing anyone from hitting the magic number of 1,144 delegates. So much needle threading would have to happen to make this work. Ron Paul's caucus strategy would have to work to perfection. Rick Santorum would have to start winning some primaries. And Newt and Mitt as established top contenders would have to each win a patchwork of contests that fit a mathematical formula, rather than the logical array of contests they're each likely to win (Romney in the Northeast, West Coast, and Mountain West, Gingrich in the South).

The other presumed path to a brokered convention involves an even stranger arrangement, in which the GOP power brokers run a series of strategic "favorite sons" candidacies, in which popular Republican figures in states where filing deadlines have not been hit (or various loopholes allow) run in the state primary, win delegates, and then hold on to those delegates until the convention, where they can (presumably) free them from their commitment to the "favorite son" and then (presumably) follow the orders of the party elites to all come behind some other candidate who would presumably actually want to wake up the morning after the convention being named as the party's nominee for president.

Obviously, this plan has many, many obstacles and problems, but why list them when one can simply say that Republican primary voters are likely to recognize this as transparent chicanery?

But more to the point, even if the eventual goal of a brokered convention is achieved, it still seems impossible to imagine that it would produce a credible challenger to President Barack Obama. I'll let Jonathan Bernstein -- who says that "brokered convention" is a misnomer, and should be referred to as a "deadlocked convention" instead -- describe what the convention would look like:

No one who is in Tampa for the GOP convention this summer is going to lose their job if they defy the state delegation chair, or in most cases suffer any consequences at all for candidate choice in the (extremely unlikely) even that the convention is thrown open. Other, that is, from whatever consequences come from failing to support the winner, especially if that candidate reaches the White House.

Because of all that, if there ever is a convention in which no candidate enters with 50% plus one of the delegates, the outcome would be not only unpredictable, but presumably quite chaotic. Now, it's possible that some set of party leaders (who? who would accept them as leaders?) could sit down and work out a deal in which they all support a compromise candidate, and it's possible that delegates might choose to accept that conclusion. If so, it would be an individual decision by each delegate. It's also possible that full chaos could break out, with no established procedure for pushing delegates to a consensus, and no one with the authority to force delegates to accept a newly-drafted procedure. Really bad results for the party -- a deadlock lasting weeks, the convention splitting in two with each nominating a different candidate and then fighting over ballot slots, all sorts of ugliness -- would all be very possible. We're also talking about 4000 obscure people...who would suddenly be reality TV stars. You want to bet that none of them turn out to be deeply embarrassing to the party?

Does this sound like the sort of process that would yield a candidate with even a ghost of a chance of prevailing in November? Of course not. No matter what anyone in the GOP thinks of Romney or Gingrich (or Santorum or Paul, for that matter), either man would have a much better chance of winning the general election than a champion-to-be-named-later ordained in the loony process described above. Once you think it through, the whole idea that a brokered or deadlocked convention might be the solution here looks thoroughly daft.

But the basic problem is that no one has actually thought this through. None of the talk of a late-entering Daniels or "favorite sons" candidacies or "brokered" conventions stems from an authentic worry that one of the current nominees will successfully garner the necessary number of delegates to win. It all stems from the fact that everyone is terrified of having to support a terrible candidate.

Someone really needs to pull their set of Kubler-Ross Stages Of Grief commemorative dinner plates out of the china cabinet and just break the one labelled "acceptance" over Bill Kristol's head. For his own good!

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