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What if the chorus of prominent Romney criticisms coming from the Republicans is not just the sound of their unstable coalition falling apart? What if there is a Rovian plan afoot, one that would replace Romney with a nominee of their choosing at the convention?

Now, I'm not the first one to go down this road of speculation.  But I pulled together a few more data points indicating a significant number of the Republican establishment leadership and prominent conservatives have publicly questioned Romney's abilities and decisions.  Many are long-time political pros who couldn't go off message if they tried.  Violating Reagan's Eleventh Commandment would seem to be the last place they would stray from the script.  So, if this is not just sloppy politics, what is going on?

One of the latest jabs at Romney came July 27th from Karl Rove on Fox News in response to Romney's foreign kerfuffle.  Sandwiched in between platitudes making the best of it ("not a big deal"), he said "You have to shake your head ... [platitudes] ... but nonetheless, the damage was done".  Admittedly, I may be giving Karl Rove too much credit here for purposefully starting and ending his response with a criticism, but read on.

Rove July 18 in a WSJ opinion piece,

“The Romney campaign's response—which included whiny demands that the president apologize for his attacks—has unsettled GOP activists, causing them to wonder how prepared Mr. Romney and his team are for the mud-fest they've entered.”
From the CS Monitor on July 17,
"A chorus of prominent conservative voices is worrying aloud that Republican candidate Mitt Romney's play-it-safe strategy is jeopardizing his chance to win the presidency."
National Review's editorial on July 17,
"Release the Returns"
George Will July 17 on ABC's This Week,
“The costs of not releasing the returns are clear, therefore he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”
Bill Kristol July 15 on Fox News,
"This is crazy… you’ve got to release 6, 8, 10 years of back tax returns... "
Pete Sessions July 12 on CNN,
"His personal finances, the way he does things, his record, are fair game,"
Former RNC chairman Haley Barbour, Chuck Grassley, Dick Lugar all have come out criticizing Romney for not releasing tax returns and not handling the politics of this well.

Romney has been the presumptive nominee since the end of May.  These criticisms could be just light shining through cracks developing within the GOP, but the timing and consistency of these comments caused me to wonder.  Combined with 1) the uncomfortable attention Romney is drawing to money, politics and the special privileges of the rich, 2) the opposite of enthusiasm in most of the base and 3) the repeated missteps of the Romney campaign, it seems likely the GOP leadership is looking at all possible options to change the topic.  If Mitt is being purposely undercut, that may mean they've decided the most effective way to change the topic is to change the nominee.

How could this be possible?  RNC Rule No. 9 (pdf) adopted in 2008 states,

"[the RNC is] authorized and empowered to fill any and all vacancies which may occur by reason of death, declination, or otherwise of the Republican candidate for President of the United State".
So the question becomes, how can a vacancy be created?  Mitt could decline the nomination or die, but neither seem likely.  Two other possibilities I considered are vote throwing by convention delegates or disqualification of Romney as a candidate.  With the "or otherwise" phrasing of Rule 9, both could qualify for creating a vacancy.

Delegates are said to be bound by state party oaths, but that does not prevent votes being thrown to another candidate, just that there may be consequences (such as losing their seat at the convention).  RNC Rule No. 15 "Election, Selection, Allocation, or Binding of Delegates and Alternate Delegates" defers to the state Republican Party rules for binding delegates.  But enforcement by the state parties would be unlikely if the anti-Mitt sentiment is wide-spread.  A Romney campaign lawsuit might complicate things, but I can't imagine his campaign surviving this scenario.

Disqualification seems a more open avenue to creating a vacancy.  The 2008 RNC rules say nothing about disqualification of a candidate for President, only of RNC members.  And even disqualification of RNC members is only addressed to provide a method of replacement, not to define disqualification.  Two state guidelines I reviewed (CA and GA) only reference national candidate qualification/disqualification for US Representative and Senator.  RNC Rule No. 40  (d) states,

"When ... any candidate for nomination for President of the United States ... has received a majority of the votes..., the chairman of the convention shall declare that the candidate has been nominated."
 

So, disqualification must be done before the convention votes or in combination with delegate vote throwing.  Under the party guidelines, there does not seem to be any restraints on disqualification, as long as Romney does not receive a majority of the delegate votes during a roll call.

I could speculate on what would disqualify Romney, but the potential list is open ended.  Tax irregularities like the "retroactive" change of residency to meet Massachusetts governor candidacy requirements, refusal to disclose taxes as a breach of public trust, or just general disapproval of Romney by the Republican base for whatever reason (as reflected by a motion to disqualify at the convention) are just a few of the possibilities.

So let's follow that scenario through.  If Romney is disqualified, the vacancy of the nomination can be filled by the RNC or by a reconvened national convention (Rule 9 (a)).  For that, a replacement candidate is needed.  Ron Paul is a natural option, since he is still a candidate and has an active and vocal base.  But, the party leadership is not enamored of Paul and Paul doesn't have the numbers to swing it by himself.  Former 2012 candidates are also possible, but they have already been vetted and rejected.  

In fact, I can't think of a single national conservative figure that can motivate the base in a big way and is relatively undamaged in public opinion.  Except for one.  And he has shown his power to turn out the conservative base in large numbers.

Back in May 2011, there was a big surprise in the GOP race for the presidency.  One of the top polling candidates stepped out of the race, saying "All the factors say go, but my heart says no".  In Sept 2011, rumors flew when anonymous sources floated that he might reconsider after requests from Republican and conservative activists.  In a familiar turn of phrase, these activists were "unhappy with the current crop of presidential hopefuls".  Talk quickly faded as the primaries heated up and became nasty.  Mike Huckabee went back to being a moderately successful Fox News talk show host and launched a not so successful bid to compete with Rush Limbaugh.

Whatever his actual positions, Huckabee has consistently been portrayed in the press as a voice of moderation on the Republican side, decrying the "toxic atmosphere" of the current GOP and saying that Reagan would have a hard time getting nominated.  While viewers haven't flocked to his media venues, he has shown the power of Huck, calling for a Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day that resulted in a huge turnout.

There is no other potential GOP candidate that has the ability to excite and motivate the conservative base, while at the same time playing the moderate card to the public at large.  He has even come across as an anti-Wall-Street populist at times.  This may not endear him to GOP Big Money, but I expect they are looking for anything to change the current focus on money in politics.  

What better way to redirect the national conversation away from rich peoples tax returns, than with a nominee that can talk like a populist without immediately being exposed as a fraud?  All the talk of special treatment the rich get in our economy and politics will fall away, or at least quiet down.

I'll finish up this speculative piece by revisiting what Rove might gain here, and why the GOP establishment might line up behind a Huckabee upset at the convention.  A large part of the public embarrassment that is the current GOP has resulted from the three major voting blocs demanding their pet issues be given lip service.  Religious conservatives will not tolerate any equivocation on abortion or gay marriage, tea party conservatives will not accept any hint that government spending may be needed or that immigration is good, and GOP Big Money will not stand for regulations and taxation that hits their bottom line.  But that trifecta turns off large swathes of independents, a growing Latino population and growing support for gay marriage, sealing the GOP electoral fate in the near future.

Karl Rove knows this, saying "Political parties do not succeed if they become smaller and more select."  There is only so much branding can do if the demographic tide is turning and GOP messaging is fractured.  Rove needs is a conservative base that is meek when dealing with the GOP establishment.  What better way to daunt the base than by having the overwhelming favorite of religious conservatives go down in a good fight.  Next time they'll know to play along.  In the meantime, the extremist reputation of the current GOP gets muted by fielding a "moderate".  And who knows, Huckabee could even win.

If faced with the choice, a Romney campaign fighting for the next three months to avoid talking about his taxes, business practices and habit of insulting people, or a Huckabee campaign toning down the "toxic atmosphere" that clings to the GOP, which do you think Rove would choose?

P.S. I know there are plenty of unanswered challenges to this scenario, such as fundraising on such short notice, but I thought it good to cover this possibility in case Rove pulls a fast one.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's been my thought for some time. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    KenBee, MKSinSA, Mannie, llywrch, BusyinCA

    Best for the party to nominate a credible person who can build name recognition for 2016.

    Willard's forte = "catch 'n' cage". He's not into "catch and release."

    by hannah on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 03:14:34 PM PDT

    •  But they got nothin'. (0+ / 0-)

      A credible GOP candidate? What is this mythical creature of which you speak? They are all so damaged. If they were dog food, not only would all said dog food be recalled, it would have to be disposed of by a level A hazmat team. Their rigid adherence to ideology will be their Achilles heel.

      And re: 2016 The Democrats have a deep bench, and a lot of new talent in the minors. I'm working on a D majority until 2020 minimum. Suck on that Boehner. And your strangely orange hued horse you rode in on.

  •  seems unlikely (6+ / 0-)

    that they could disqualify Rmoney (for what, incompetence?) or throw enough votes, but I have to agree that the Huckster is by far the most dangerous ReThug candidate.

    •  Beware the Huckelberry. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wilderness voice

      Makes me think of Lewis Carrol.

      `Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
        Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
      All mimsy were the borogoves,
        And the mome raths outgrabe.
      JABBERWOCKY

      A slithy tove looks like a better candidate that any other GOP operative I've seen. Of course, they are all fictional. [insert bubbanomics hahaha here]

      I do agree with you tho', Huck is most dangerous because he is most likeable. Hell, I even like him, at least compared to the other possible personalities. But still very dangerous. He would facilitate a US theocracy and further the ambitions of the fractional top .001%. If elected, I, and you, might actually be eligible for refugee status as political prosecuted individuals that would face severe punishment in our home country. So there is a bright lining to this dark cloud. Although I would miss seeing my grandchildren.

  •  I wouldn't be too surprised (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mannie, BusyinCA

    if this turns out to be the case.

    60/40 against.

  •  Huck's By Far Their Most Potent Normal Sounding (7+ / 0-)

    lunatic. He may well be able to pull it off if he and the party agree, and it'd be excellent preparation for a 2016. Repubs allow 2nd chances to losers and the losers often get in 2nd time around.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 03:34:33 PM PDT

    •  that's what the hucksterbee's counting on, too! (0+ / 0-)

      i'd LOVE the r's to nominate him, whether it's this yr (not gonna happen, tho) or 2016.  if the r's think they've got a clunker in romney, just wait till huck gets his act going!

      never vote for anyone whose first name is reverend.

  •  An "Evangelical" as a candidate ? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HoundDog, notrouble, JeffW, BusyinCA

    Would Rove want to empower the evangelicals even more ??

    I don't know...

    I see your point that Huckabee appears moderate. But is he ?  And how would he handle the question of abortion ?  Or gays in the military ?  Oh he is slick and is certainly more talented at politics than Romney. But he would still face the same problem: how can you please the empowered radical right on social issues and still win a general election ?  Another problem:    Huckabee is not very strong on economics, is he ?  I admit I don't know his record as Governor though...

    •  Huckabee is in no way moderate (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BusyinCA

      Obama would slaughter him, even if he could put a campaign together at this late date.

      Anyway, there is no way that the Republicans can derail the Romney train wreck now. ^_^ It would split the party, like Millard Fillmore and the Whigs in 1856, when they vanished from political history, and the five Southern Democratic Party candidates running against Lincoln in 1860.

      Hands off my ObamaCare[TM] http://www.healthcare.gov

      by Mokurai on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 12:16:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  the "Knight on a White Horse" game has been (4+ / 0-)

    played throughout the 2012 Republican primary process, resulting in virtually a new "frontrunner" from one month to the next: first it was Bachmann, then Perry then Gingrich. Every time a new knight on a white horse came forward...well...it ended up being a has-been in a rusted suite of armor riding an old hag.

    Republicans were desperately searching for an alternative to Romney for the past two years and...failed to come up with anyone who could actually beat him.

    It seems highly unlikely that they would risk running someone who is perceived to have been chosen by a bunch of party hacks in a smoke-filled room instead of the candidate selected by Republican voters during the primaries and caucuses.

    If they did do that, though, it seems highly unlikely to me that Huckabee would be the one who they would turn to.

    Under that scenario, someone like Jeb Bush seems much more likely. He is very popular with the conservative base. He was a populare governor and would likely carry Florida. He would get all of the benefits of the Bush family, including all the connections and money. He could make a dent in the Hispanic vote (he did relatively well for a Republican among Hispanics, speaks Spanish and his wife is Latina).

    However...it still seems highly unlikely that they would overturn the will of the Republican electorate and simply push Romney aside.

    Romney's been a pretty poor candidate so far; however, despite that polls show him being very competitive (likely due to lingering high unemployment)...and the general election campaign has not yet begun.

    •  good point, if they can lock FL with Jeb (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      suspiciousmind, wdrath, JeffW, BusyinCA

      then why would they look any further.  Of course, one downside with Jeb is his family connections.

      •  true, but... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JeffW, BusyinCA

        ...there does not appear to be any one Knight in Shining Armor out there for the Republicans, either...Bush might come closest, but they all carry some baggage. And Mike Huckabee seems like among the least likely candidates under that scenario to me.

      •  bbwatch - the GOP will not drop Romney (0+ / 0-)

        it's just not in their DNA. They won't even consider it. Romney won the votes and win or lose, in their view, you go with the guy who got the votes. I think the most interesting part of your diary is the thought that Huckabee might be available to be a VP candidate. I always thought that Huckabee would be the strongest partner for Romney but that his new radio gig would prevent him from taking the #2 slot. This could be the perfect opportunity for Romney to take a leave and relaunch his radio show after the election. I do think that running as the #2 this year would make Huckabee the GOP front runner for 2016.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 05:53:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  ha! let 'em put ANOTHER bush on the ticket. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JeffW, BusyinCA

      that should guarantee a democratic landslide!

      no way the r's are going to have anyone named bush or cheney on their ticket.  it reminds everyone who caused the mess we're in.

    •  The national beauty contest polls that show (0+ / 0-)

      Obama not far ahead of Romney have no significance in the Electoral College. Obama is significantly ahead in the battleground states, and moving further ahead. The FiveThirtyEight blog at the NYT puts the EC at 301-237. Some other analyses give the race as 334-204.

      Hands off my ObamaCare[TM] http://www.healthcare.gov

      by Mokurai on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 12:20:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Rove survives while Romney flops (6+ / 0-)

    Rove knows that Romney is a dead-candidate-walking.  Rove wants to survive in the political arena, so he must distance himself from Romney.

    •  why is Rove kibbitzing on the VP pick? (0+ / 0-)

      What with Rove's talking up the "Plan for a Stronger Middle Class", it seems he is partnering more closely with the campaign.  At the risk of diving into outright conspiracy theories, could Rove be cozying up to Romney to better deliver the fatal blow?  Coincidence that the Romney campaign made the flub with a positive Romneycare reference?  Conspiracy theories are such fun.

      •  Simple Answers To Simple Questions (0+ / 0-)
        At the risk of diving into outright conspiracy theories, could Rove be cozying up to Romney to better deliver the fatal blow?
        No.

        Mitt Romney is a T-1000 sent back from the Future as a harbinger of the upcoming Robot Apocolypse.

        by mbayrob on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 11:52:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Slightly longer answer (0+ / 0-)

        He can't make the Romney people take his advice (and he does seem to worry at least pro-forma about the whole coordination business -- and he should, he's basically violating the law already, Citizens United or no), but he clearly doesn't have a lot of respect for their acumen.  

        So he uses his media gigs to signal.  Since if Romney is elected, Rove and his money machine will make him a very powerful guy.  So Rove has a lot at stake if Romney crashes and burns.

        He bet on the bastard.  Now he's stuck with him.

        Mitt Romney is a T-1000 sent back from the Future as a harbinger of the upcoming Robot Apocolypse.

        by mbayrob on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 11:56:08 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  He's distancing himself from the catastrophe (0+ / 0-)

      I find it hard to believe that any marginally sane Republican politician would want to step into this minefield. If Romney falls the convention would become a free-for-all. Think hyenas fighting over a carcass. It would take a week to wash the blood off the walls.

      The power of the Occupy movement is that it ....realizes a fundamental truth about American politics… there is no way to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs.

      by orson on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 07:29:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think a simpler answer is (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    defluxion10, JeffW, terabytes

    The republican party is becoming two parties with an increasingly large chasm between them. The gap within is getting to be as large as the gap between democrats and republicans. It's becoming easier to eat their own.

    A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward. Franklin D. Roosevelt

    by notrouble on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 04:55:45 PM PDT

  •  Thing is if that happens then Romney and his (0+ / 0-)

    Backers will go Ballistic and Vengeance will be swift and terrible both "Behind closed Doors" and In front of Closed Doors against The Republican Party.

  •  If Romney were down double digits, maybe (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    llywrch, mbayrob

    Rove believes in the power of the superpacs, and likes to show its power by spending large amounts. By doing so, Rove gains immense power within the party, and more importantly, becomes the defacto kingmaker. By trying to 'disqualify' Romney, he would be seen as a traitorous backstabber by way more than half the party. And if Rove failed to disqualify Romney, Rove would be on the outside looking in. Even with his big time pacs.

    "The problem with quotes on the internet is you can never be certain they're authentic." - Abraham Lincoln

    by realwischeese on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 06:31:31 PM PDT

    •  Yep. If you strike at a king, best you kill him (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      realwischeese

      And I don't think that Rove can be confident of getting Romney out of the picture.

      His best payoff is to have Romney win.  His second best payoff is if Romney loses, but it's close.

      Having Romney step down and having the New Loser lose is way down the list, especially if Rove can't keep his fingerprints off it.  And yeah, while most of the GOP can't stand Romney, the richees are fine with him.  And they would not be happy if Rove took their money and was in any way, shape or form responsible for screwing Romney over.

      Mitt Romney is a T-1000 sent back from the Future as a harbinger of the upcoming Robot Apocolypse.

      by mbayrob on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 12:01:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Too risky (0+ / 0-)

    Rove most likely is trying to get the Romney people to "come to Jesus".

    I can't imagine the GOP risking anything like forcing Romney out.  It would be total chaos, it would make the GOP look like the Banana Republicans they are, and while Romney may not be popular, he does have some level of support, and pissing those people off (especially the really rich guys who have been bankrolling this extravaganza) would have plenty of implications down ballot.

    So it will never happen, barring something becoming public very soon that would make Romney drop out.  Which Romney won't do (see: "tax returns").

    They're stuck with the mofo.  Folks like Rove are only trying to help.  Really.

    Mitt Romney is a T-1000 sent back from the Future as a harbinger of the upcoming Robot Apocolypse.

    by mbayrob on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 11:49:33 PM PDT

  •  There is a sound rule of thumb that advises (0+ / 0-)

    us to assume incompetence before malice unless we have compelling evidence otherwise. We don't. These losers are known to be incompetent. They cannot organize a conspiracy of the kind the Diarist proposes without leaking it.

    We had plenty of evidence of Republican malfeasance in Florida in 2000, and in the run-up to Iraq in 2003. Not enough to prevail, but plenty for those willing to know about it. That changed in 2006 and 2008. Unfortunately, Democrats sat on their hands in 2010, but we are back this time. Romney is seriously behind in the polls in the battleground states.

    We now have plenty of evidence that the Republican base and its self-appointed opinion leaders are rabidly racist, bigoted apologists for stealing from the poor and giving to the rich, for sowing fear and hatred across the world, and staying as far from facts as possible, especially including Romney's record on health care.

    Well, now we see that they can get out of the handcuffs they put on themselves. But only when it's funny.

    Hands off my ObamaCare[TM] http://www.healthcare.gov

    by Mokurai on Thu Aug 09, 2012 at 12:09:11 AM PDT

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