Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Fool's Convention

Every time another state votes, another major political figure endorses, or another "true conservative" feels the need to reaffirm their devotion to purity, there remains a group of people calling for a brokered convention.  These not-Romney devotees insist that Mitt must be fought all the way to Tampa, and that a floor fight at the RNC Convention would be better for the GOP than Romney's nomination.  Among this group are Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, both of whom have stated that their campaign's new goal is to force a second ballot in Tampa in hopes of claiming the nomination there.

Now when I first began writing to point out the idiocy of this notion, I was focusing on the realities of delegate allocation going forward.  I actually have an unpublished post about 90% finished that illustrates how there's no plausible path for Santorum to surpass Romney in the delegate count or the popular vote.  (if enough people are interested in it, I can finish & post it in a matter of minutes).  But I stopped that effort for this one because the math has been discussed extensively by others to no effect.  Despite this reality, there remains this group that insists a brokered convention will happen and that it is a good thing for the party.

So instead of rehashing a point these people have tuned out, I'm going to approach this differently.  For this post, let's explore the concept of going to Tampa without a clear nominee and the many ways in which such an effort would be abysmal.

1.) Brokered conventions are ugly TV.  The modern convention bears little resemblance to the conventions of 50 or 100 years ago.  Today's are little more than political pageantry filled with speeches, slick stagecraft, and thousands of pre-made signs and little American flags for delegates and attendees to wave and chant for.

Political wonks like me tend to be nostalgic for the battles and competition that used to comprise conventions.  But I and others have to remember one simple fact: it's not about us.  The modern convention isn't geared toward a viewing audience that lives and breathes politics, it is for the people who flip on NBC that night expecting to see The Office & get politics instead.  It's for the people who don't really think about who they're going to vote for prior to the nominee's acceptance speech.

People expect to see harmony and unity when they tune in.  Imagine a moment like Nelson Rockefeller's anti-Goldwater attack in 1964 or the infamous 1968 Democratic convention complete with riots, delegate walkouts and a young Dan Rather punched in the stomach playing out on TV today.  (And those conventions didn't even go to a 2nd ballot!)  Particularly in contrast to the unity and harmony the Democrats will portray just one week later, a week of shouting, fighting, and dissension that culminates in tepid acceptance of a nominee will be poisonous to Republican chances in November.

2.) A candidate wearing no clothes.  People underestimate just how important the months between primary season and the conventions have become in modern elections.  July and August are the time where candidates raise money, define and refine a general election message, and bulk up their staff to run a truly national campaign.  In the case of lengthy primary battles, it's also the time where a party's base accepts and then unites behind whomever has won.

Now imagine what the absence of this period of time would mean for our nominee.  Gone would be the time to raise the money needed to compete with the juggernaut that is Obama's fundraising machine.  Although Super PACs can provide augmentation to any candidate's ad buys in the fall, they cannot be used for the actual campaign's staff, infrastructure, and personal outreach to voters.  Neither Santorum nor Romney have built up the organization needed in the fall.  Santorum's campaign runs on a shoestring budget with few staffers that's incapable of running nationally in its current form, and even Romney's fundraising and organization (though far superior to his Republican opponents) is fairly modest in comparison to other future nominees at this time.  

If there is no resolution by June 26th, the two months that follow will not be spent attacking the failed Obama administration, or assembling a strong team of staffers in key swing states, or building a war chest that can at least mitigate some of the President's financial advantage.  Instead, it will be spent courting uncommitted delegates, trying to cut deals with state delegations, and figuring out whether there are pledged delegates who would sway on a 2nd ballot.  To those of you who would argue that this organization is irrelevant if the nominee has grassroots support, that view is no less ignorant of political reality than those who dismiss entirely the need for loyal volunteers.  No campaign can stand any chance of victory if they do not have both in sizable quantities.

An uncertain nominee also deprives the party of unity.  Obama in 2008 and Clinton in 1992 were candidates who did not officially clinch their party's nomination until June, and each benefited immensely from the d├ętente that followed their long journey to officially obtaining the nomination.  The greatest healer of divisions that arise in primaries has always been time.  But a candidate nominated at the convention doesn't get a party that has healed.  People who think that the simple act of winning the nomination will make the divisions go away instantly are deluding themselves.  It takes time, and the nominee of a brokered convention will have to waste precious time in September trying to coalesce his own party.

3.) Voters, schmoters! Think back for a moment to the Obama-Clinton primary battle in 2008.  Even as the realities of the delegate count pointed to Hillary's defeat, her campaign continued to push (with reasonable success) the narrative that winning the popular vote was more important than the pledged delegate count.  It was a major part of that conversation because there were hundreds of superdelegates free to tip the balance of the race to one side or the other.

Although there are far fewer superdelegates in the Republican nomination process, this ideal of respecting the will of the people is a powerful one.  Right now, Mitt Romney has a lead of nearly 1.3 million votes over Rick Santorum out of approximately 11 million votes cast.  About half the overall vote of a competitive race to the end is in, with around 11.4 million votes outstanding as I estimate the remaining turnout.  For Santorum to overtake Romney in the popular vote count, he would have to beat Romney in the remaining contests by over 11%, a complete reversal of the contests to date.  Once factoring in the vote in Utah (a turnout of around 320,000 where Mitt won 90% four years ago and figures to do at least as well in 2012), the gap would be 1.6 million & would require a 15% margin for Santorum in the other states.

The likelihood of Santorum making up that margin is slim, and it leads to another problem at a brokered convention.  Choosing any candidate other than the leader in the primaries would mean that 2,286 delegates in Tampa have ignored and overruled the votes of over 20,000,000 primary voters.  The same people who have spent the better part of the last year claiming and condemning that the undefined "establishment" was trying to choose the nominee apparently have no problem with .01% of primary voters overturning the party's votes on the convention floor in Tampa.  

But at least Rick Santorum has won a sizable amount of votes.  For the various draft movements, this willful disregard for the voting process would be blatant and egregious.  You may be a fan of Mitch Daniels or Sarah Palin or Chris Christie or Mike Huckabee or someone else, but the reality is simple: nobody voted for them.  If a candidate who voluntarily sat out the process can simply show up in Tampa and leave the nominee, what message are people to take from that other than a complete repudiation of voters' opinions?  Tying in with the previous point, a drafted nominee would also leave Tampa without a dime of campaign money, without any organization of any kind, and needing to win over the large number of detractors.  The same reality applies to Bachmann, Huntsman, and Perry: candidates who ran only to drop out from lack of support.  

4.) An establishment affair.  One of the dominate battle cries of various candidates has been that they are the candidate to take on "the establishment".  It's a source of irritation for me, as neither the candidates nor the people shouting it have ever been able to provide a definition of what constitutes this all-powerful and entrenched "establishment".  I find it to be an exercise in cognitive dissonance to proclaim that Newt Gingrich (Beltway resident since 1979) or Rick Santorum (Beltway since 1991) are these great enemies of Washington, and it seems that the word "establishment" only means "people who didn't endorse my candidate", but it remains a narrative of the campaign.

But to whatever extent there exists some monolithic establishment within the Republican Party, does it not stand to reason that the convention would be its home?  All the brokered convention proponents envision the same thing: a sudden surge grassroots energy and unity that brings them an anti-establishment, "true conservative" candidate (Santorum, Gingrich, Palin, whomever).  I lump these people into a category called "people who have no concept of what the convention is".  

As I pointed out in parody form last month, conventions aren't run by some consortium of local tea party groups.  It's Reince Priebus and the RNC who plan and orchestrate the events of the week.  Should we get to Tampa and truly not have a nominee, it's the party leadership that will work to coalesce behind one candidate.  The most likely choice they will make is the candidate who possesses the strongest campaign organization, fundraising network, and poll numbers when matched up with Obama.  You may have heard of that guy, his name is Mitt Romney.  

This primary process is still playing out, and that fact does not have to be a negative for the party.  But I write this to convey one message: when it ends, let it end.  This idea of a knockdown brawl straight into Tampa is a fool's errand that will only serve to ensure defeat.  If defeating Obama is truly as important as we all say it is, then dragging out the fight among ourselves beyond its lifespan should be anathema to every single conservative.  Our common quest's goal is Washington, so let's not crash the car getting to Tampa. 

1 comment:

  1. Hello Coelho,
    My name is Shane and I am an intern working for Congressman Tim Ryan. We would like to add you to our email list so that we can begin sending you information regarding what’s happening in Ohio. Is there an email address we can send this information to? You will be able to contact me at if you have any questions.

    Thank you for your time,