One of the items cited in this morning's Abbreviated Pundit Roundup is a piece by Dan Balz about the continuing stalemate in the Republican nomination contest. DemFromCT comments:
"Republicans will rally around the winner... they always do, but perhaps with John McCain/Bob Dole enthusiasm."
Now, there's no doubt that the quote represents the odds-on likeliest outcome. Large portions of the base don't like Romney, just as they didn't like McCain or Dole (and for the same reasons -- too moderate!!!). But at the end of the day, just as in these past cases, they will likely yield to the blandishments of a combination of lack of alternatives still standing, electability, and deference to the authority structure within the movement and party.
But it's always worthwhile thinking about a wider range of possibilities. And there are factors at work this year that make it more likely than most years that their side won't have the nomination locked down before the convention.
First a word about terminology. "Brokered" convention is only a useful descriptor because it's the common usage for the situation in which no candidate has a lock before the convention opens, and there is no other descriptor in use out there. But such a convention probably couldn't be successfully brokered, and would end instead in deadlock. That likelihood is one powerful reason that the parties lately have consistently given one candidate a lock prior to the convention, because the alternative would be catastrophic. This tacit understanding is arguably a big driver of the "momentum" we observe that gets one candidate a lock prior to the convention. A point is reached at which people in the party pick one candidate to unite behind, even if this candidate is not their first choice, because they understand that it's unity prior to the convention, or a debacle on e-day.
Well, for one thing, that dynamic of momentum probably won't work so well this year, or rather, it will have some competition. The Rs this year may prove to be in an analogous position to the Ds in 1860. That year, a significant faction within the party actually wanted a deadlocked convention, or at least they valued deadlock over giving Douglas a smooth ride. They wanted to humiliate and weaken the obvious consensus, establishment candidate, Stephen Douglas, even if they couldn't get the nomination for a more reliable Slavocrat. Heightening the contradictions was of equal, maybe greater, importance to them than having their side get the nomination.
Any of that sound like the Tea Party? Do the Fire-Eaters of 1860 have any better analogy since 1860 than the rather sizable contingent of Congressional Rs who seemed to want a repudiation of US debt as an end in itself?
The Rs have always had their extreme wingnuts, and it isn't clear that they're more extreme this year, at least in their beliefs and ideology. But, on any number of fronts, they seem much more willing to act on those extreme beliefs. That "Yes, we can!" message seems to have gotten through to them, if less so to our side (Well, you could argue that disparity has lessened since OWS has kicked in.).
That's the difference between the Tea Party we have this year, and those prior years when we had the same radical winger elements of the R base, but they lacked a movement, they lacked any sort of organization or focus of potential organization and action apart from the regular party structure. They had no alternative in 1996 and 2008 but rally in the end behind the RINO establishment candidates. This year they have an alternative. The Tea Party has already taken over many state party organizations.
Suppose this standoff between Romney and Anybody Else persists into the early primary season, and it becomes reasonable for people to conclude that no candidate is running away with the nomination. Why wouldn't the True Believers, at least and especially in those states where Teabaggers control the party, go the route of lining up delegates committed only to some "favorite son", who may or may not be one of the nutbars now running against Romney, if only to retain leverage to extract concessions from Romney at the convention, but quite possibly, to unite behind a "real" R when Romney fails to get a first-round win.
And, of course, once it seems at all possible that there won't be a lock this year, and the Baggers start arming themselves for a brokered convention, then all factions of the party will jump into this process of trying to get in delegates with an eye to controlling the nomination. The fundies, for example, though usually willing to settle in the end and fall in line for someone the other factions insist is more electable, will not have a line to fall into, the more it seems that Romney isn't going to get to 51% of delegates, and other factions like the Baggers are organizing to make sure of that.
The "moderates" within the party will have this added reason to pursue lining up moderate delegates, that they will flatter themselves that a brokered convention is the only way to get someone electable nominated, someone to sub for the flawed and failed Romney. Trying to get a "moderate" into the primary circuit will just expose them to weeks and months of ideological attack from the Right that, as we have seen, even a Rick Perry is vulnerable to. If the primary route is the only way to get the nomination, well, they just have to go that route or give up. But if a brokered convention seems at all possible, then it becomes the clearly preferable route. Better to foist their moderate White Knight on the party at the last minute as a convention dark horse after Romney fails to win on the first ballot, because there won't be time for their crazies to do the oppo research to discover in their past some horrible secret vice such as a momentary show of half-way reasonableness towards brown people.
We actually have potential power brokers on the R side this year, which the parties haven't had for decades, since the old party and city machines died off. I doubt that these people would actually be able to broker a deal and get behind a compromise candidate. The ideological divide is arguably steeper, but more importantly, if we do have these competing factions of "moderate" and floridly crazy delegates and their power brokers, the very newness of that situation will mean that the leaders won't feel they have any room for compromise. They will have to be unyielding in order to establish the coherence and stability of their separate sources of authority within the wider party and movement, and their personal leadership within those factions. Maybe after the new arrangment has been around a while, they would be able to settle into the compromises needed to broker deals, but not this year.
Sure, all these hypothetical dynamics will probably fail to materialize. Things generally do work out this year the same way they did last time at bat. Well, until the year they don't, and then they start happening according to a new pattern.
Has this seemed so far to be the kind of year when the old rules of politics fail?