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There’s a Chance! Yes!

Could there be a brokered convention?

Mar 26, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 27 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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This lack of enthusiasm has reignited talk of a contested or brokered convention. “I’m pushing for a floor fight. .  .  . I’d like to see a good old-fashioned convention and a dark horse come out,” Maine Republican governor Paul LePage told Politico in late February. “I just believe we ought to go to the convention and pick a fresh face.”

Romney last week dismissed such talk. “We’re not going to go to a brokered convention,” he told Fox’s Bill Hemmer. “One .  .  . of us among the three or four that are running is going to get the delegates necessary to become the nominee.” But it’s a possibility, however slim, that Romney did entertain just two weeks earlier.

On Saturday, March 3, Romney stood with Santorum and Gingrich on the floor of a shuttered DHL warehouse in Wilmington, Ohio, next to a makeshift set constructed for a presidential forum hosted by Mike Huckabee. Each man had filmed individual question-and-answer sessions with Huckabee and panels of economic experts and local Ohio business owners. With a brief break before they gave their closing statements, Romney approached Santorum and Gingrich (Ron Paul was busy campaigning in Washington).

The three candidates discussed the nominating process. Romney raised the possibility of an unvetted candidate getting into the race and spoke of the perils such a scenario presented for the party. Not surprisingly, the other two assented and each agreed that he would reserve his support for someone now in the race. R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for Gingrich, said the consensus that emerged from the conversation was that the Republican nominee was among “the four of us” and not an outsider. Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney adviser, agreed with that characterization.

Despite the consensus that emerged from the discussion in Wilmington, Gingrich twice raised the possibility of a new entrant in an interview last week with Bret Baier on Fox News. Gingrich pointed to Romney’s difficulty winning support from conservatives. “I’m just saying analytically​—​the way we campaigned out here, the fact that two out of the three delegates from each state is not going to be for Romney​—​is a significant advantage. We can argue later on whether Santorum is the right person to nominate or Gingrich is​—​or something else may happen.”

Moments later, Baier asked Gingrich to describe his path to the nomination. “There’s a 60-day period between the last primary to the convention. We live in an age of television, radio​—​you know​—​YouTube, video .  .  . what have you. I could imagine a dialogue would break out that says, ‘Who’s the right person?’ And whether it’s one of the four of us or someone else​—​but the question is, ‘Who is the person who is capable of defeating Barack Obama?’ ” (Emphasis added.)

Is this just the rambling of a candidate with no direct path to the nomination? Perhaps. But even before he spoke, a prominent Republican strategist unaligned with any current candidate emailed me: “Can’t someone else get in?” 

Kirby Wilbur, chairman of the Washington state Republican party, says a convention fight that ends with a new candidate would be good for the party. Wilbur, whose position makes him neutral in the race, says those who argue that such a scenario would be disastrous are mistaken. “There’s simply not a real broad-based candidate that appeals to everybody in the party,” he says. “The longer this goes on with Romney winning small states big, but winning just 30 or 35 percent in other states​—​that’s not a mandate. They’re arguing: ‘Let’s accept inevi–tability.’ That’s not happening.”

The risk, Wilbur acknowledges, is a chaotic convention that sets up well for a proverbial white knight who never shows up. And the candidates most often mentioned as saviors have all said they’re not interested—at least for now. Wilbur says there would be two possibilities for a late entry: In the two months between the final primary in Utah and the convention, and at the convention itself. “If Romney doesn’t get 1,144 [delegates] and would go into the convention without a majority, I think then there’s a period of negotiation before Tampa where Romney approaches Santorum and Gingrich and Paul and negotiates for delegates. If they don’t agree to help him, and he doesn’t win on the first ballot​—​most delegates are released after the first ballot, and it’d be wide open. It’s not hard to see a Marco Rubio, a Mitch Daniels, or a Chris Christie​—​I’m not preferring any of them, but those are the names out there​—​and on the second ballot there’s an incredible sweep toward him.”

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