I'm probably crazy, but am I the only person in America who doubts that the GOP presidential nominee -- and thus quite possibly the next president of the United States, given the economy -- can come out of the current crop of eight major candidates? The conventional wisdom is that such an outcome would be, on a practical level and perhaps mathematically, impossible -- and up through 2008 that wisdom surely would have been correct. Four years ago, John McCain had many of the same problems that Williard "My First Name is Mitt...Really!" Romney is experiencing today, and he still coasted to the nomination.
What very few people are talking about -- even though everyone should be talking about this -- is that the 2012 GOP campaign is entering completely uncharted territory. There's a major rules change in the way that Republicans will pick their convention delegates -- the winner-take-all format that dominated most primaries has been greatly reduced, and a proportional system (similar to the process that dragged out the Democratic nomination battle until June) is largely in its place.
In 2008, McCain emerged as frontrunner thanks to his popularity in less-wingnutty New Hampshire, his ability to woo fellow veterans against a divided field in South Carolina (that won't happen for Romney), and then a blitzkrieg of winner-take-all wins in large Super Tuesday states. In 2012, cult candidates like Ron Paul (who may actually win Iowa outright) and Michele Bachmann (who could also do well in the Hawkeye State) keep chugging away and pick off convention delegates in state after state, with little incentive to drop out.
What's going on?
1) Mitt Romney can't win. After the implosion of rival after rival, his share of the polls should be rising but had actually declined in recent days from about 25 percent of the GOP primary electorate to closer to 20 percent. That is fatal, folks. Three-quarters of primary voters have made it clear they will not support Romney under any circumstance, and so voters will be awarding close to three-quarters of the delegates to other candidates, who if anything would be more inclined to rally behind a Romney alternative than the former Massachusetts governor as the Tampa convention draws closer.
2) Newt Gingrich can't win, despite what some pundits said after last night's debate. And the reasons are not why you think. Sure, his three marriages and all that that implies, his flip-flops on issues that conservative voters actually care about and his money-grubbing ways will all hurt him. But the really problem is this: Anyone else remember Rick Perry? There was one thing -- and one thing alone -- that ended his front-runner status, thanks to the right-wing base, and that was his softness on immigration, topped off with accusing his fellow Republicans of a lack of compassion. And yet in last night's debate, Newt Gingrich DID THE SAME THING! Is he insane? I guarantee you that Gingrich will fall back in next week's poll, and the so-called pundits will be baffled.
3) Perry, Cain, Bachmann, Paul, Santorum, Huntsman, Johnson, Roemer, Karger, etc., etc., can't win...need I explain?
So what happens when the GOP rolls into Tampa and no one has even a third of the delegates needed for the nomination? It will become the situation that political junkies like myself have literally waited a lifetime for (history lesson: the last nominating convention to go more than one ballot was the Democrats in 1952, before I and most people reading this were born) -- a brokered convention. I think the GOP bigwigs will try to create a bandwagon for Romney, and find it's just not there. But the anti-Romney vote could truly be divided seven ways, making it hard for the conservative bloc to rally behind any one would-be nominee.
This is when the GOP convention honchos announce a short recess and get on the phone to Trenton -- and convince Chris Christie to come to Tampa as a white knight. If the last year has taught us anything, Christie is the only Republican who seems to generate equal enthusiasm among the Tea Party faction of the party and also the big, 1-Percent donors who reluctantly backed Romney only after the New Jersey governor declined to run...the first time. Normally, a two-month general election campaign would be political suicide, but if unemployment is hovering near 9 percent, it would be plenty of time for Christie to make his case.
Admittedly, there's a lot of threading the needle in this scenario -- maybe Romney and his rich backers can buy off Gingrich, Perry and Huntsman early enough to get the nomination process. But I'm not convinced.
Ask yourself honestly, right now, knowing what we know right now, can you picture Mitt Romney on the stage accepting the nomination in Tampa?
Or Newt Gingrich?