It's the third week in February and it should have been over already.
If the 2012 primary season had played out like many GOP politicians and political pundits thought it would, Mitt Romney would already be the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Believing this, many mainstream GOP stalwarts prematurely jumped on the Romney bandwagon early on by giving him their endorsements, most even before the Iowa caucuses.
If all had gone as planned, by now an anointed Romney should have been running against President Obama this week, building a consensus against an Obama second term -- and working at amassing campaign funds to match the anticipated $1 billion expected to be raised by the president.
Instead, Romney's candidacy is now in big trouble.
Out of nowhere, the uber-socially conservative Rick Santorum, coming off of upset victories in caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado and a non-binding primary in Missouri, has closed the gap in Arizona and is running neck and neck with Romney in the former Massachusetts governor's home state of Michigan. Those two primary contests, which take place on Tuesday, were presumed easy victories for Mitt weeks ago.
Today, Romney is actually running as an underdog in these primaries. The headlines read "Romney Facing Unexpected Hurdles in Michigan," "Mr. Right eludes GOP," "Romney's woes tighten Republican race" and "Why Romney's Candidacy May Not Be Salvageable." He stands at the political precipice where defeats on Saturday will guarantee a drawn-out primary battle where no one locks up the nomination before this summer's Tampa convention.
To make matters worse for Romney, with Super Tuesday looming on March 6, Newt Gingrich, the ultimate underdog and spoiler in the race, is once again alive after another $10 million injection into the former House speaker's super PAC, "Winning Our Future," from casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (and maybe $100 million more coming in the future).
At this point, no one should discount Newt's uncanny ability to resurrect his campaign (again) with strong showings in a number of Super Tuesday primaries and his determination to ruin Romney's chances of sewing up the nomination.
Ominously for the GOP, Santorum's derisive religious rhetoric has shifted the focus of today's political discussion to fixate on right-wing social issues such as birth control, abortion and gay marriage, perilously distracting the primary election dialogue away from Obama's feeble first term and weakening any GOP candidate's chances of winning over crucial votes from economically beleaguered Reagan Democrats and independent voters.
What was unthinkable months ago, there is now talk of a "brokered convention" in Tampa where after a first ballot fails to designate a candidate, and the delegates chosen to vote for a candidate based on primary or caucus results are freed to choose other candidates nominated on the convention floor.
Romney's failure to lock up the nomination early serves as impetus for a growing movement to find a viable "white knight" candidate to win delegates votes at such a brokered convention -- a Jeb Bush, a Mitch Daniels, a Chris Christie, all populists with proven records as governors who, unlike Romney, can bring together a very fragmented party together in Tampa to deliver a simultaneous vision of American resurgence and strength and a honed, anti-Obama message that will attract the votes of the majority of American electorate.
Romney's failure to gain momentum is much less his own personal failing as a viable conservative candidate rather than an indictment of the bogus power of social conservative fringe of the GOP to dictate the selection of radical, unelectable candidates in these early contests and the unwise vision of many mainstream Republicans in anointing him too early in the process.
While it was been since the 1940s since a contested convention has picked presidential candidates, and polls indicate that most Republicans don't want their presidential candidate picked in this manner, it may be not such a bad thing. In 2012, delegates from all 50 states representing all walks of Republican life could battle it out in Tampa to ultimately pick a more electable presidential candidate than a Romney or a Santorum -- and actually give the GOP a chance to take the White House in November.
Even if Romney wins both contests Tuesday, he has failed to break out as the true anointed GOP candidate. What you may see in the next few weeks is a concurrent effort to draft Bush, Daniels, or Christie to win an inevitable convention fight despite the ongoing primary contests and debates.
At this point, that's one bandwagon Republicans should be willing to jump on.
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