GOP Leaders Desperate to Rip the Party in Two

(Recuerdos de Pandora/Flickr)

Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll reports that top Republicans continue to “whisper” about a campaign to draft a new candidate into the presidential race should Mitt Romney falter in Michigan:

On CNN Tuesday morning, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chair of the House homeland security committee, hinted at a whisper campaign among “top Republicans” who want a GOP favorite such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) to enter the race if Romney loses the Michigan or Arizona primaries or struggles on Super Tuesday, when ten states controlling 437 delegates hold GOP primaries on March 6.

“I think there’s going to be more of an interest, more of an emphasis on having someone ready if on Super Tuesday… Mitt Romney does not manage to break loose, and to have that candidate ready to come in,” King said. He added, “Again, I have no inside knowledge. Just whispering and mumbling here among top Republicans who are concerned that Governor Romney has not been able to break loose.”

As much as it would be difficult—if not impossible—for a new candidate to enter the race and win the necessary delegates, I’m not sure that it matters. When it comes down to it, Republican leaders determine the rules of the nomination contest, and if they want to bend them for the sake of a “white knight,” I’m not sure that there’s anyone who could stop them.

That said, GOP leaders are insane if they believe that they could draft a candidate into the race, hand him the nomination, and avoid a shitstorm of anger from Republican voters. According to a Gallup poll released last week, 66 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said that it would be better “if one of the four candidates now running managed to secure enough delegates to clinch the nomination.” What’s more, a subsequent poll from the Associated Press shows broad satisfaction with the current slate of candidates—60 percent of Republicans are satisfied with the people running for the nomination.

Conservative voters are suspicious of the GOP establishment and desperate to nominate someone from the tribe. If Mitt Romney is the nominee, they’ll be disappointed, but can at least say that they gave him a fight. But circumventing those voters with a white knight candidate is a recipe for anger and division. There might not be riots, but conservative voters might turn decisively against the GOP in protest.

Put another way, which would Republican leaders prefer: a unified party with Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum at the helm, or a divided party, and a third-party challenge from the right? It’s a real possibility, if they opt to ignore their voters.

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