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.


  1. If there is a deadlocked convention, the plurality winner will probably be the nominee, and next most likely the runner-up. IOW, the convention will serve in place of a run-off election. That someone who didn’t run and won zero delegates will be the nominee seems far-fetched to me. That world is gone.

    If I’m wrong, Jeb Bush seems most likely.

    Daniels is unacceptable to social conservatives after explicitly playing down their concerns.

    Christie might work if he can be sneaked in without vetting. But there’s a lot of moderate in his record, and I think his Muslim appointment could be a particular problem. He impugned the sanity of his critics on that matter, just like a liberal. Perry showed us what happens when a Republican uses liberal cliches against his conservative critics.

    That leaves Ryan and Bush acceptable to conservatives. Ryan is just a House Member, and likely unattractive to moderates.

    The big knock on Bush is that it’s ‘too soon’ for another Bush. Is there evidence for that?

    Bush might prefer to run in 2016 or 2020. But if the convention settles on him as the savior and he refuses, is he likely to be given another chance later?

    Republicans won’t risk Obama appointing Thomas’s successor. Winkler needs a better answer than crossed fingers.

  2. David,

    I agree with all of what you wrote. I do not know of any evidence that it’s “too soon” for Jeb – that just seems to be one of those things that so many people have said that we assume it is true, without bothering to find any support for the claim.

  3. Professor, it’s possible that Scott Walker would be available…if he loses the recall.

    He is getting a lot of press and his credentials are rock solid.

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