The GOP candidates gathered in Iowa for an August debate (Flickr/IowaPolitics.com)
After the flurry of debates during the invisible primary, the cable airwaves have recently been bereft of candidates bickering with each other face to face. A final debate had been scheduled to take place this coming Monday, March 19, in Portland, Oregon—a state that doesn't hold it's primary until the middle of May. The local party and media were moving ahead with preparations, announcing moderators last week, but it looks like that debate won't come to fruition.
Should Barack Obama win reelection this fall, the 2012 Republican campaign might be remembered as much for those who decided to remain on the sidelines and leave a feeble frontrunner unchallenged as for the party's actual nominee. Even though Mitt Romney has held onto his place as the only candidate who can realistically win the nomination, it has become increasingly evident that the former Massachusetts governor was a weaker candidate than anyone initially envisioned. The fact that Rick Santorum—a candidate dismissed as a bottom feeder by his opponents, the media and Republican voters alike as little as three months ago—has caused Romney this much trouble provides all the proof needed that, should Romney have faced a strong field of opponents, he wouldn't seem so inevitable.
Liberals weren't too excited about their 2012 electoral chances a few months ago. Even if Barack Obama managed to hold onto the White House, simple math made it tough to imagine Democrats keeping their current majority in the Senate. Democrats will need to defend 23 seats this November, thanks to their success in the 2006-midterm elections, while Republicans only have 10 seats up for grabs. If Republicans manage to flip four seats in November, Mitch McConnell would start off 2013 as the Senate Majority Leader.
Broad categorizations are an American specialty—after all, we are the nation of the Cosmo quiz, the seven highly effective habits, the red and blue state. In keeping with this tradition, it seems fitting that we break down the biggest primary day of the GOP race into an easily digestible taxonomy. Super Tuesday 2012: one day, four candidates, ten states, 434 delegates. Here's what you need to know.
Ohio, the Battleground
Who’s the favorite? Flip a coin. According to Five Thirty Eight, both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney both have a 50 percent chance of winning.
Mother Jones’ Andy Kroll reports that top Republican 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.
There comes a point in every presidential election battle where political pundits and fanatical West Wing-watchers alike hold their breaths, click their heels, and wish upon an earmark that this will be the year of the brokered convention.
As the surety of Mitt Romney’s arranged marriage to the Republican Party steadily diminishes while other suitors pull ahead, the plausibility of a tussle in Tampa come convention-time in August has grown. Herewith, a look at the peculiar institution of the nomination convention, why all the talking heads are in a tizzy about a brokered instead of a fixed one, and what the odds are of a televised royal rumble this summer.
What is a brokered convention?
In their current form, conventions are exercises in collective vanity, an excuse for the party’s settled nominee—who has already garnered enough delegates to make his competitors drop out—to get media exposure and some prime face-time with party big-wigs. But conventions were once substantive affairs, where candidates’ delegations came to wheel and deal for votes, hoping either to clinch the top slot on the ticket or at least ensure that their ideas make it onto the official party platform. A convention is "brokered" when none of the candidates has the requisite number of delegates to secure the nomination and competitors remain in the race. To settle on a nominee, the party goes through a series of re-votes and political horse trading until a candidate is chosen.
With Mitt Romney unable to build support with a solid majority of Republicans, and the only alternative—Rick Santorum—an unelectable disaster, some Republicans have floated the possibility of a brokered convention, where party leaders decide the nominee for themselves. There are a few practical problems with this scenario; first, a new candidate would have had to enter the race two months ago, in order to have a chance at amassing a substantial portion of delegates. Moreover, it’s been forty years since individual party leaders controlled large portions of delegates. In other words, there are no delegates for GOP elites to actually broker.
CPAC, DC—The Citizens United case is back in the news this week with the Obama campaign's announcement that they would coordinate to help raise funds with the super PAC Priorities USA. As the presidential campaign ramps up, it's easy to forget what the actual Citizens United organization is: a mini-film studio with a conservative bent.
The group is all over CPAC this week, airing their films in the CPAC Theatre, hosting a blogger briefing Wednesday, and sponsoring a panel Thursday morning titled "Advancing the Pro-Life Movement through Media.” And of course, they also have a booth selling DVDs of their various films in the CPAC vendor basement.
If you spend your time amongst politically-involved liberals these days, you've probably participated in a lot of head-shaking conversations, along the lines of, "Wow, is this Republican race awesome, or what?" It is, without doubt. And one of the things it has showed us is that, what political scientists call "candidate quality" is a more complicated factor than we usually think. And Mitt Romney turns out to be the most complicated candidate of all.
The class of commentators who celebrate politicians outside the two-party system might finally realize their dreams of a third-party candidacy in 2012. These agitators of a middle path—typically white, upper-middle-class elites terrified of the nation's debt but ill at ease with social conservatism—have tried their hand in past years at disrupting the normal political process. In 2008, a group called Unity '08 planned to run a bipartisan presidential ticket but fell apart before the election.
The most important rule in Nevada is don’t bet against the house. The guys who got it wired tend to win, and Mitt Romney, candidate of the Mormon majority, didn’t disappoint in Saturday’s caucuses. Equally unsurprising was the low turnout, which probably fell short of the number of people dropping their paychecks in the MGM Grand Casino on Saturday night. The best efforts of the media to drum up a story notwithstanding, the Nevada caucuses yielded no surprises and barely anything of interest.
To no one’s surprise, Mitt Romney repeated his 2008 performance in Nevada with a double-digit win last night. Given the poll numbers, which had the former Massachusetts governor leading by up to 20 percent, Romney’s victory was nearly preordained.
Last week, when Mitt Romney claimed not to have seen an attack ad his campaign had produced, he was no doubt trying to blame his super PAC, Restore Our Future, for coming up with it. Whether or not the former Massachusetts governor was being truthful—one can imagine that, in a fast-moving campaign, candidates only passively approve the messages their surrogates put out—the incident underscored the way super PACs, which are barred from coordinating directly with the candidates they are supporting, have come to dominate the political landscape.
It's always good for political junkies to remind ourselves that the rest of the public doesn't think about politics nearly as much as we do, and therefore their opinions are far less rooted and far more likely to change with the arrival of new information. If you're a TAP reader, you had an opinion about Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich a year ago, and your opinion today is probably pretty much the same as it was then. It may have intensified a bit, and there may be new things you think of when you think of those two, but it's unlikely that you've shifted from disliking them to liking them, or vice-versa. But that's not the case for most Americans, who in recent months have been subjected to all kinds of new information about the Republican candidates.