Tag Archives: 2012 Republican nomination

Facing the Facts: The Case For Operation Brokered Convention

If Operation Brokered Convention, the plan I hatched earlier this week to insure no Republican wins the nomination outright before the Republican convention, is to succeed, two things must happen.  First, party leaders must recognize that Mitt Romney, the current frontrunner, will never consolidate the party behind his candidacy.  Second, they must believe that a brokered convention offers the only hope of replacing Romney with a candidate who could unite the party.

Although it has been only a few days since I cast the seeds of my bold plan(!) into the internet winds, already there are signs it is taking root.*  To begin, in the aftermath of Romney’s narrow Michigan victory, influential conservative blogger and CNN contributing analysis Erick Erickson bluntly acknowledged what I’ve been saying for some time: “When you have a candidate few people really like, whose support is a mile wide and an inch deep, whose raison d’etre (a 4am fancy word) is fixing an economy that is fixing itself without him, and who only wins his actual, factual home state by three percentage points against a guy no one took seriously only two months ago, there really is little reason for independent voters in the general election to choose him if the economy keeps improving…If Republicans in Washington are not panicked and trying desperately to pull Bobby Jindal in the race tomorrow, or someone like him, the party leaders must have a death wish.”

Charles Bronson, indeed. Having vested so much in Romney to this point, of course, it is not going to be easy for Republican Party leaders to change directions without a clear strategy for finding a Romney alternative.  That’s where the brokered convention comes in.  Rather than sitting passively while the Republican train wreck unfolds, Republicans need to intervene in the remaining contests to insure none of the current candidates can achieve a majority of delegates before the convention. Fortunately for Republicans, they may get some support from Democrats who for their own (misguided?) reasons may also seek to extend this race.

To their credit, some veteran Republican strategists are coming around to the idea. In an interview with Lou Cannon, longtime Republican consultant Stu Spencer makes the case for a brokered convention, saying that if neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum goes to the Republican convention in Tampa with sufficient delegates to be nominated, their supporters might unite on an outsider nominee because they share the common goal of “beating Obama.”  Cannon writes, “To those who say that a contested convention would split the GOP, Spencer responds that the party is already badly divided and that the current candidates, even the relatively moderate Romney, have alienated independent voters.”

In fact, as liberal blogger Ezra Klein notes, there is polling data supporting Spencer’s assertion that Romney is losing independents, although Klein points out that we can’t be sure that those independents won’t come back to Romney if he wins the nomination. If Romney is losing support among independents, however, that undercuts perhaps his strongest claim to be the nominee: that he is the most electable Republican currently running. (I should point out that some left-leaning bloggers continue to tout Romney’s strengths – which should also give Republicans pause!)

This still leaves the not inconsiderable issue that several of you raised when I first broached this plan: who will replace Romney?  In thinking about this issue, too many of you have allowed your search for the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  Republicans don’t need to identify the next Ronald Reagan. All they must do is identify a candidate who promises to draw broader support among Republicans than does the current crop.  How hard is that?  For example, Adam Winkler at the Daily Beast makes the case for Clarence Thomas as the Republican nominee (hat tip to Nick.)

Ok, maybe not.  But you get the idea. Republicans have to be creative here, rather than passively watching Mitt grind his way to an uninspiring, scorched earth-based nomination victory.  They can begin on SuperTuesday, by throwing their vote to Santorum in Ohio, and to Newt Gingrich in Georgia and, ideally, to Gingrich in Tennessee as well.  (Republicans have to be sure Santorum is not crowned the big winner on Tuesday – something that will undoubtedly happen if the Rickster wins Ohio and a couple of the southern states.)  Admittedly, with less than four days to go before Super Tuesday, this is a huge coordination problem, so there’s not time to lose.  Republican leaders need to step up to the plate and begin to take charge of the party’s future.

Reportedly Mark Twain once lamented, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  For Republicans, it’s time to stop talking about Romney’s bad atmospherics, and instead do something about it. Cue Operation Brokered Convention.

*Of course it’s not my plan.

Assessing What the Media Says: Looking Back at Michigan and Ahead to SuperTuesday

How should we interpret Tuesday’s primary results in Michigan?  It is always useful to compare what the data suggests happened versus what the media reports.   The two narratives do not always agree, as I hope to show in this post.  And that serves as an early warning as we look ahead to the media coverage of Super Tuesday, coming up on March 6.

Media claim #1: Rick Santorum, in losing the Michigan primary to Romney, essentially blew his chance to win this nomination.  That’s the verdict of Joe Scarborough of “Morning Joe” fame, who reportedly said yesterday:  “If Santorum had beaten Romney in Michigan, it would have shaken the race up … He had his chance. He blew his chance. … I hate to upset people, but the fact is: Romney has all the built-in advantages. [Santorum] had one chance to take him down. And he blew it.”  In the same vein, the Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza claims that Romney narrowly averted a defeat that would have essentially ended his candidacy:  “And when Romney needed to win — a loss in Michigan would have crippled his campaign beyond repair (or close to it) — he did.”

Really?  Scarborough and Cilizza would have us believe that if 2% of Romney’s popular vote switched to Santorum, giving Rick the victory at 40%-39%, Romney’s campaign would have ended?  And that for want of that 2% switch, Santorum blew his one chance to beat Romney?  I’m not buying it.  In fact, I believe a narrow Santorum win in Michigan would have made absolutely no difference to the outcome of this nomination contest.  Remember, although Romney beat Santorum 41%-38% in the popular vote, they split Michigan’s 30 delegates, 15 apiece.  Even with an additional 2% in the popular vote, Santorum would still likely have split the delegates with Mitt – and at this point that’s what these contests are all about: getting delegates.

Nor do I see any evidence that Santorum “blew” his chance. In fact, this was his strongest performance to date; he won 377,000 votes and 38% of the popular vote – the best performance for him in any contest so far.  Mitt, meanwhile, did what he’s done all campaign: held his own by virtue of strong support among upper-income, older and more moderate Republican voters, but without showing much evidence that he can expand his coalition.  To his credit, he increased his vote totals and percentage over 2008, when he won with 39% of the vote and with 70,000 fewer votes.  But that increase in votes came from most of the same areas that supported him four years ago.

Media claim #2: Santorum lost this race in the last few days when he shifted the campaign focus from the economy to women’s issues, particularly abortion and reproductive rights. This was a theme trumpeted by more than one news outlet in the days leading up to the Michigan primary, and one that CNN’s Gloria Borger raised during the primary coverage Tuesday night.   In fact, however, Santorum’s support among Republican women has increased since January, and in Michigan, exit polls indicate he won 38% of the men’s votes – and 38% of the women’s vote.  Similarly, Santorum won 38% of the vote by “working women” and 38% of the vote of everyone else.  If anything, it was Romney who suffered from a gender gap – he did 4% better among women than men.  It appears that some of the men’s vote gravitated from Romney to Paul.  The lack of a gender gap based on Santorum’s views toward “women’s issues” should not surprise us – although media pundits continue to insist that views toward issues such as abortion and reproductive rights drive the gender gap in voting, that’s not the case.  Instead, women and men differ much more on issues related to war and peace, and how much the government is responsible for caring for the most vulnerable citizens in society.   Keep in mind that 79% of Michigan voters cited the budget deficit and the economy as the most important issue – only 14% mentioned abortion.   When reporters go on and on about how women are particularly sensitive to debates regarding these issues, I often believe they are more likely voicing their own views, about what they think is true – views reflecting their own socioeconomic status, rather than citing any evidence to support the claim.

But didn’t the polls indicate that Santorum’s support shrank in the last few days before the Michigan primary – just as talk about social issues heated up?  It is true that among the 9% who made up their mind on the day of the election, Romney won 38-31%.  But for those who decided “in the last few days”, Santorum took 43% of the vote, compared to 34% for Romney.  At the very least, those making the social issues claim have to explain why social issues suddenly became prominent among those who decided on the day of the election, but not among those who made up their minds in the last few days before the vote took place.  It may be the case that Santorum lost support because of his conservative social views,  but I’ll need more evidence before I accept this claim.

In the competitive news environment that drives political coverage today, when every outlet struggles to define an outcome in the most newsworthy manner possible in order to capture the viewing audience in any single news cycle, there is a tendency to overstate the significance of each event.  But in an extended nomination fight, no single contest is likely to be a game-changer at this point.  Michigan did not save Mitt’s campaign.  Nor did it doom Rick’s.  It’s important to keep that in mind as we head toward SuperTuesday, when the media hyperbole will undoubtedly reach new heights.  There will be 10 contests on March 6, with 437 delegates at stake – more than have been up for grabs in all the contests so far.  And yet, when the dust settles, we are likely to see a reprise of what just happened last Tuesday:  Wolf Blitzer will begin the night trumpeting the significance of it all,  John King will work the magic board until it malfunctions, Anderson Cooper will wander the stage looking for someone to talk to, the pundits will opine (sometimes accurately, sometimes not), the major candidates will all win a chunk of delegates, Mitt will retain his weak frontrunner status, I’ll pour a glass of scotch, and the race will continue.

Addendum:  Here’s more media hyperbole from Charles Krauthammer on Michigan, the “gender gap” and how Santorum blew it.

Addendum (11:00 p.m.)  I’ve been teaching and grading for most of the day, so I’m late to to this story that a divided Michigan rules committee has decided to award both of Michigan’s at large delegates to Romney. If this survives the inevitable Santorum challenge, it will mean that Romney wins 16 delegates to Santorum’s 14, instead of a 15-15 split.  It won’t change the point of my post, however.

Mitt To Be Tied? Previewing the Arizona and Michigan Primaries

Based on the latest polling data in Michigan, today’s primary there is almost certainly not going to have the ending Mitt Romney likely envisioned when he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination last year.   The very latest Michigan poll shows Romney leading Santorum by 37%-36%, which, in effect, is a tossup.  Given the closeness of the race, the winner may be determined by how many Democrats decide to participate in this open primary, and whether they all go for Santorum.  If they do, he may squeak out a victory.

However, because the bulk of Michigan’s 30 delegates are allocated by winner-take-all in each of the state’s 14 congressional districts, it is quite likely that Romney and Santorum will split the delegate haul pretty evenly no matter who wins the popular vote, although there’s a slight possibility Ron Paul could steal a district.  Three months ago I’m confident that Mitt viewed Michigan, his home state, as solid Romney territory.  Today, he’s hoping to hang on for a win, knowing full well that he’s squandered a chance to pad his delegate lead.

As Jon Bernstein reminds us, however, the news is not likely to be all bad for Mitt tonight.  All indications are that he is going to win Arizona, with the latest polls there having him leading Santorum by about 16%. Unlike in Michigan, Arizona’s 29 delegates are awarded on a winner-take-all statewide basis; you don’t get anything for finishing second statewide or winning congressional districts.    (Note that both Michigan and Arizona saw their delegate totals halved by the Republican Party by virtue of holding their primaries before March 1.)   So, based on delegates alone, Mitt is likely to be the big winner tonight no matter what the Michigan outcome.   Unfortunately for Mitt, given the expectations game, this may not be how the media spins the results.  Instead, it is more likely that in their fixation on the horse race, they will emphasize Mitt’s surprisingly (based on earlier media expectations!)  close race in his home state, and suggest this is another indication of his rather lackluster candidacy.    This will set up the media narrative looking ahead to the March 6 Super Tuesday events, where Mitt is not likely to do very well.  Poor Mitt – even when he wins he loses!   But in truth this is not solely media spin – the fact that Mitt is struggling in a state that he won easily in 2008 with 39% of the vote over the eventual Republican nominee John McCain is a valid indication that Romney is a weak candidate.  So, victory in Arizona notwithstanding, tonight is not going to be all sweetness and light for Mitt.

Given the closeness of the Michigan race, this could be a long night.  Polls close there at 8 p.m. eastern time, but I don’t expect the networks to project a winner for some time.  In Arizona, where polls close at 9 Eastern Time, Mitt should be declared the winner in short order.   As always, I’ll be on for more extended analysis and a live blog later tonight.  Keep in mind that these are the first primaries since Florida at the end of January, and the first events that will actually award delegates since the Nevada caucus.  (All of Santorum’s subsequent “victories” came without any fixed delegates as yet.)  And there are some interesting subplots beyond the delegate haul to discuss. For example, how will Mitt do among Hispanics in Arizona?  What do the exit polls indicate about Mitt’s support among lower-income voters, and among the Tea Party crowd?  Has Santorum’s gender gap widened? Can Ron Paul rally to win any delegates at all tonight?  And, most importantly, how do the media spin the results?

As always, you are invited to join in tonight.  I’ll likely be on closer to 8 p.m., unless exit polls are leaked earlier.

Why Republicans Should Embrace Operation Hilarity

With polls indicating that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are in a virtual tie in Michigan less than 24 hours before tomorrow’s primary there, it may be time for Republicans to start hoping that “Operation Hilarity” succeeds.  Operation Hilarity, of course, is the plan hatched by left-leaning blogger and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas to have Democrats vote in Michigan’s Republican primary in order to defeat Romney in his “home state”.  If Democrats can swing the Michigan election to Santorum, Moulitsas  believes, they may derail Romney’s candidacy, extend the Republican nomination fight and weaken whoever the eventual Republican nominee might be for the general election.  Moulitsas isn’t the only one pushing this idea; already Michiganders are receiving 30-second robocalls organized by a Democratic operative urging them to vote for Santorum in order to “embarrass” Romney.

Note that the Democratic-inspired strategy in Michigan mirrors the advice Republican Sarah Palin gave fellow partisans a month ago, when she urged them to vote against Romney in order to extend the nominating process.  She argued that by doing so, it would give time for all the Republican candidates to be fully vetted, but it was clear she was particularly concerned about Romney, the frontrunner whose conservative bona fides remain suspect to many Tea Party activists. More recently, Palin openly speculated about the possibility of a brokered convention, allowing that it might not be a bad outcome and offering to do what is necessary to “help” her fellow Republicans if it came down to that.  Although she didn’t specify the nature of that “help”, one imagines it centers on her volunteering to head the Republican ticket.

The ultra-liberal Moulitsas and Tea Party favorite Palin reading from the same electoral playbook?  As Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson might ask, “What up with that?”  The liberal Senator Ted Kennedy once remarked about cosponsoring legislation with Strom Thurmond, his conservative Senate counterpart from South Carolina, that “Whenever Strom and I introduce a bill together, it is either an idea whose time has come, or one of us has not read the bill”.

In this case, I suggest the Palin-Moulitsas “cosponsored” strategy indicates it is an idea whose time has come.  Here’s why.  Assuming the latest polling is correct, it is almost certain that Romney will not quell the growing doubts regarding his candidacy even if he squeaks by Santorum in Michigan and wins Arizona, which also holds its Republican primary tomorrow.  In my previous post I noted veteran prognosticator Charlie Cook’s latest column in which he admits to increasing skepticism regarding the viability of Romney’s candidacy. Today New Yorker columnist Ryan Lizza suggests that members of the Republican establishment may be starting to walk back their endorsements of Romney.  None of this should surprise longtime readers, of course; I’ve been citing evidence of Romney’s weakness since before the Iowa caucuses. It simply has taken awhile for others to catch on.

The problem for Republicans, however, has always been finding a suitable alternative.  The only non-Romney candidate that ever showed evidence of inspiring the base to turn out and vote was Newt Gingrich in South Carolina.  His victory there, however, led Romney to once again bury poor Newt in an avalanche of negative ads, much as he did in the run-up to the Iowa caucus.  Romney’s strategy had the desired effect; the Newtster fared poorly in Florida and to date has never really recovered.  Santorum, meanwhile, for all the media hype coming off of his caucus victories in Minnesota and Colorado, has so far not demonstrated that he can win in any state where turnout approaches double-figures, although he may snap that skein tomorrow in Michigan.  Nonetheless, among many Republicans there remain huge doubts regarding Santorum’s unyielding brand of social conservatism.

So what’s a good Republican to do?  To this point, it involves a lot of handwringing and hoping that someone – anyone! – will step forward to excite the base and win this nomination.  For all his money and organizational advantages, it is clear that Mitt simply lacks the political acumen to win this race in convincing fashion.  His victories to date testify more to his ability to drown his opponents in a sea of negative ads than to any power to attract broad-based support based on his own attributes.  Yesterday – as only Mitt can – he once again showed that he just doesn’t connect with the NASCAR shot and beer crowd, and he never will.  Ironically, the latest evidence came at a genuine NASCAR event; visiting the Daytona 500 Romney was asked about his love of racing.   He replied, “I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners.”  That’s right.  Mitt rubs shoulders with the owners.  Santorum, meanwhile, had his name plastered on an actual race car.   Mitt, you will recall, prefers Cadillacs.

As we near Super Tuesday, however, it becomes increasingly clear that there simply isn’t time for one of the usual non-Mitt suspects – say, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush or Chris Christie – to get on the ballot in enough states to win the nomination outright – not that any of them has shown any willingness to do so.   Increasingly, for Republicans who are less than thrilled with the current crop of candidates, that leaves one option – the brokered convention.  More than one Republican strategist has openly speculated that the possibility of a brokered convention,  once considered completely unrealistic, is now at least plausible if still unlikely.  A few are even whispering, as Palin implicitly suggested, that it might be for the best if it allows a new Republican to step up.

I think Republicans are missing an opportunity here. Rather than wondering whether a brokered convention might occur, it’s time for Republicans to embrace the Moulitsas strategy in order to make certain it does occur.  That means an orchestrated campaign designed to prevent Mitt from securing a majority of delegates and winning the nomination outright.  Without active intervention, Romney is likely to slog his way to an uninspiring victory by dint of his massive advantage in resources.  He will simply outlast, if not outwit or outplay, his fellow Survivor contestants.   To prevent this, Republicans should organize against Mitt by backing his opponents – all his opponents.  The idea is to go into the convention with none of the current candidates having any real claim to the nomination.   If they are all discredited, it makes it easier to propose an alternative – and harder for the alternative to say no.  After all, it’s one thing to say I don’t want to endure three months of chicken wings, cheap hotels and character assassination.  It’s another to say I won’t accept a draft at a three-day convention.  I defy any of these non-Mitt’s to go Shermanesque on a desperate party and refuse a draft nomination.  It’s simply not going to happen.  They will fall all over themselves to do the right thing by the party and run for President – if asked.

Let’s be clear. There are real risks to this strategy.  No one can be sure how a brokered convention will play out.  Certainly it raises the possibility that the party establishment will lose control of events.  But then, that might be for the best, given their misguided efforts to ram Romney down Republican voters’ throats.  It is also true that whoever is chosen will not have been battled-hardened by a nomination run before the rigors of a general election campaign.  But keep in mind that in the pre-reform period, parties often chose candidates via a convention fight.  It’s not like this is completely unchartered waters.  And besides, think of the enthusiasm mingled with relief that will accompany the nomination of a new candidate, one who ideally will reignite the passions of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party while retaining support of party moderates.

An unlikely scenario?  Undoubtedly so if Republicans continue to sit on their hands and hope for the best, while fearing the worst.  All the more reason to take matters into their own hands, beginning tomorrow in Michigan and continuing through the end of the nominating process.

Operation Hilarity, your time has come!

Addendum (10:45 p.m.): Public Policy Polling is hyping their latest Michigan poll on tweeter by suggesting Santorum may pull this out by virtue of support from Democrats!  The Master Plan Is Unveiled!

The Delegate Race: Can Newt Win The Bonus Round?

As the media fixates on the Romney-Santorum duel that will come to a head in Michigan and Arizona next Tuesday, it’s worth remembering another reason why Mitt’s slog to the nomination may prove more difficult than many thought, and why we shouldn’t yet count Newt Gingrich out: the bonus delegates. These are delegates awarded to states based on whether they meet one or more of the following requirements: the state cast a majority of its votes for the Republican presidential candidate in the previous presidential election, the state elected Republicans to the U.S. House or Senate, it selected a Republican Governor, or the state elected a Republican legislative majority. The formula (see the Green Papers website) for determining how many bonus delegates a state gets varies from the simple – 1 bonus delegate if the state elected a Republican governor between Jan. 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011 – to the more complex – states casting a majority of their 2008 electoral votes for the Republican presidential candidate receive 4.5 + 0.60 × the jurisdiction’s total 2012 electoral vote in bonus delegates.

But the basic point is that the more Republican a state’s voting tendencies are, the more bonus delegates it earns.  This is potentially important, because it means that some Republican-leaning states will award more delegates than larger but more Democratic states by virtue of earning these bonus delegates.  On Super Tuesday March 6, for example, the biggest delegate prize is Georgia, which awards 77 delegates, 11 more than the more populated Ohio, which hands out 66 delegates.  The reason why Georgia awards more than Ohio, even though Ohio is the larger state, is because Georgia is allocated 21 bonus delegates compared to Ohio’s five.  The difference, of course, reflects Ohio’s status as a competitive battleground state, whereas Georgia is solidly Republican.

Because these bonus delegates are awarded statewide, rather than by congressional district, a candidate who does well across that state can get a significant delegate boost. All told, there are 396 bonus delegates at stake in the Republican nomination process (not adjusting for the 50% penalties imposed in five states that held nominating contests too early).  Significantly, however, 164 of these delegates, or about 41% of the total, are clustered in the following nine southern states, (listed in descending order by total bonus delegates): Texas (34), Georgia (21), Tennessee (18), Alabama (16), South Carolina (16 originally, but note that the state was penalized half its total delegates), Louisiana (15), Mississippi (15), Oklahoma (15) and Kentucky (14).  These are all states in which, in theory, either Newt Gingrich or possibly Rick Santorum should be very competitive (Gingrich’s already won South Carolina, of course.)   Looking ahead only to the Super Tuesday contests on March 6, Gingrich has a solid 5-8% polling lead over Santorum in Georgia, the biggest delegate prize that day. Conceivably Gingrich could come out of there with 30-35 delegates, including a plurality of the state’s bonus delegates.

However, if Santorum does show that he can win a large primary state by, for example, beating Mitt in either Arizona or Michigan, he rather than Newt may be the primary beneficiary of these bonus delegate rules on March 6. Looking only at the Super Tuesday states, Santorum currently leads Newt in both Tennessee and Oklahoma, although neither state has been polled extensively at this stage and I suspect Santorum’s support is soft in both places. Gingrich does not look to do as well as Santorum in Ohio, and neither he nor Santorum is on the ballot in Virginia. Romney, of course, should win Vermont and Massachusetts quite easily on Super Tuesday.  If Gingrich does well enough on Super Tuesday to convince the media he remains a viable candidate, however, that may boost his stock somewhat in the remaining southern states  – Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky and Arkansas, that have a combined 55 bonus delegates.

In contrast, many states in the Northeast and on the West Coast where Romney is likely to run the strongest have almost no bonus delegates, since these are mostly Democratic strongholds.  Thus, California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – all large states where Mitt and possibly Rick should do well – award a grand total of 9 bonus delegates. The lack of bonus delegates won’t matter, of course, if Mitt is able to parley his advantages in money and organization into sizable victories in these states and if he amasses such a delegate lead that his nomination appears all but inevitable. However, if he continues to stumble, and the delegate race tightens considerably, these bonus delegates may yet prove to be his undoing.

UPDATE 8:53.  Just saw this poll in the field Feb. 16-22 that has Santorum leading in Tennessee with 33% over Romney at 17%, with Gingrich trailing badly at 10%.  If this holds, it is not going to help Gingrich’s “southern strategy”.