On November 28, 2011 we wrote in this space:
“If Republicans really want to beat Obama their only clear path to victory is through a brokered convention. It would be ugly and messy and a lot of political blood would be spilled. But only through a brokered convention could a candidate like Jeb bush, Paul Ryan, Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie emerge. Any of these four would give Obama a run. Otherwise it’s all about Mitt Romney…and Democrats would like nothing better.”
In the aftermath of the Alabama and Mississippi primaries it appears more and more likely that a “brokered” or “contested” convention will occur.
A “brokered” convention is one in which a previously unannounced candidate is installed by the party to serve as its standard bearer against the opposition. The competing candidates, having failed to win enough delegates to secure the nomination are pushed aside in favor of a white knight who rides to the rescue. A Chris Christie or Jeb Bush comes to mind.
A “contested” convention is one in which the current candidates, having failed individually to garner enough delegates to win the nomination, come to the convention and horse-trade among themselves to come up with a winner. Mitt Romney, the leader in earned delegates, would make the case that he should be the choice. Santorum and Gingrich would argue that they, not Romney, are the true conservatives and better suited to go one-on-one against Obama.
This brings us back to Alabama and Mississippi.
Rick Santorum won both states and dashed Romney’s hopes of pulling off a victory in the geographic heart of the Republican Party. Santorum’s two victories also crushed Gingrich’s southern strategy. Newt’s only victories were in Georgia and South Carolina. His plan was to win in the southern states thereby bolstering his assertion that he, not Santorum or Romney, was the true conservative who could beat the President.
In the end it is still all about Mitt Romney. He came into this week’s contests a weak frontrunner and he leaves in much the same position. His message of “y’all” and “cheesy grits” failed to resonate in Alabama and Mississippi, where unemployment is high and 22% of the population is on food stamps. Instead of offering his plan to fix the economy and create jobs Romney takes the stump talking about electoral process and how the other candidates should bow out because his candidacy is inevitable. In spite of all his money and organization he cannot shake Santorum; a flawed candidate, running a disorganized campaign with little money. Losing to disorganized, poorly funded Santorum only weakens Romney.
And then there is Gingrich. Fueled by a monstrous ego Gingrich is enjoying the ride…the book sales…the television exposure…the national stage. All Gingrich wants to do is get to the convention. If he can get there he can shift the dynamic from Romney and force a very different conversation.
Romney says that his candidacy is inevitable. Like so many of Romney’s past statements, that assertion is a lie. Romney has won 495 delegates. Even if he wins the eight remaining “winner take all” primaries he would only have 876 of the 1,114 delegates needed to secure the nomination. His nomination is far from certain.
Santorum is surging. Newt is all about…Newt.
And so we look to Tampa and a brokered or contested convention.
We can only hope.