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Richard Greener Headshot

GOP Nomination: A TV Show Headed for Chaos

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Presidential nominating conventions are television shows first and political events second. Before the TV era, the Republicans once took as many 36 ballots to nominate James A. Garfield in 1880. Nobody watched. Nobody listened. Nobody cared how long. The GOP endured 10 ballots in 1920; six in 1940; and three in 1948. It is no coincidence that since TV entered the picture in 1952 all nominees since have been victorious on the first ballot. Still, the Democrats have outdone their GOP rivals. In 1924 the Democratic Party Convention lasted from June 24 through July 9 -- 16 days -- and it took 103 ballots to finally nominate "The next President of the United States" John W. Davis.

This year the Republicans -- and the TV networks -- have allocated four days, Monday through Thursday, Aug. 27-30 for their nominating gala. All the TV networks -- broadcast and cable -- will televise the proceedings designed to culminate on Thursday night with the presidential nominee's acceptance speech. Maybe as many as 100 million Americans might watch. But what will they do if no nominee can be selected by Thursday? What happens next in a deadlock? Is there anybody who believes that any TV network would devote all that airtime -- perhaps as long as 16 days! -- to the GOP National Convention? The pressure to choose a nominee "in time" for television will be beyond measure. What does this mean to the primary and caucus proceedings currently underway? Is anyone planning for this mess?

Nobody currently running for president as a Republican will win that party's nomination. It just can't be done, not when you consider how the delegates to the Republican National Convention are being chosen. Someone other than Romney, Santorum, Gingrich or Paul will have to be the eventual nominee.

There will be 2286 voting delegates this summer in Tampa. To win the nomination one must have 1144 of them vote for you. Because of the system, it's already too late for any candidate to accumulate that many delegates. Here's why.

Right now Mitt Romney has won 173 delegates. Rick Santorum has 74. Newt Gingrich has 33 and Ron Paul has 37 delegates. None of them figure to drop out before the Convention. A total of 2029 delegates have yet to be selected. But only 400 such delegates are available in Winner-Take-All states. Count them:

  • March 18 -- Puerto Rico, 23
  • April 3 -- Wisconsin, 42
  • April 3 -- Maryland, 37
  • April 3 -- Washington, D.C., 19
  • April 24 -- Delaware, 17
  • June 5 -- California, 172
  • June 5 -- New Jersey, 50
  • June 26 -- Utah, 40

The rest of the voting delegates in Tampa, 1566 of them, will be awarded via a series of complicated and often vague rules in primaries and caucuses and at special state conventions according to a hybrid process in some states, proportional representation in others and in other states by Congressional district results and/or by a vote of state party officials who are not at all legally bound by their primary or caucus results. For the candidates, getting the most votes in the caucus or primary may mean little or nothing at all. Every state has its own set of rules and regulations and many of them are not easy to read or understand and are subject to widely varying interpretation by reasonable analysts.

Let's look at the traditional frontrunner, Mitt Romney. If Romney wins every one of the remaining Winner-Take-All states he will add 400 delegates bringing his total to 543. He will still need 601 delegates to reach a majority. If Michigan is any guide, look what happened there. Romney led Santorum all night as returns poured in and he clearly "won" the Michigan primary -- if you were watching TV. However, the delegate distribution in Michigan is by Congressional district, not popular vote, and will be 16-14 giving Romney only 2 more votes than Santorum on the convention floor. Since, for the purpose of this analysis, I am giving Romney all 400 Winner-Take-All delegates (unlikely to really happen), he must still win many other state primaries and caucuses by margins much greater than anything he has been able to muster thus far in order to gather those 601 needed delegates. And, if Romney only wins half the Winner-Take-All states he will need not 601 more votes but 801. There's no place, it seems, no collection of states where this sort of result appears at all likely.

Add to this the states that already allow delegates to "vote their conscience" regardless of who wins their primary, and/or those states like Pennsylvania where a number of prospective GOP delegates have announced in advance that they will vote for Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich no matter who wins their primary, and you have all the makings of an impossible-to-win first ballot for the Republican Presidential nomination. Why is that important? It's not just TV. After the first ballot nearly all delegate commitments are set aside. In state after state it will be the individual decision of each and every delegate as to which candidate they vote for on the 2nd ballot or the 3rd, or the 103rd. Now is the time to remember the Greek Goddess Khaos, better known to us moderns as Chaos. She will reign supreme at the 2012 Republican National Convention.

As no nominee appears in sight, the televisions folks will by necessity threaten to pack-up and leave for greener pastures and the bigger income of sitcoms and singing competitions. Tampa will become a ghost town. No one will be watching. So, what will they do to avoid this political catastrophe?

The powers that be -- among the delegates in Tampa, not in the Republican establishment -- will look for someone else. Who? Fill in the blank. We all know the names and we all know they will say "No thanks." Jeb Bush? Chris Christie? Mitch Daniels? Paul Ryan? Not a chance. Not when they can all wait for 2016 or even 2020. In 1884 the Republicans faced a similar situation. They turned to William Tecumseh Sherman who replied: "If nominated I will not run. If elected I will not serve." In 2012 who will be the anti-Sherman? Look for the call to eventually go out to, and be enthusiastically accepted by, Sarah Palin. In 2008 Ms. Palin was the last second stand-in for Joe Lieberman. In 2012 she'll be standing-in for the Greek Goddess Khaos. The Republican Party may never recover.

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