National Commentary

GOP Headed to a Brokered Convention?

Coming out of Tuesday’s GOP caucuses in Iowa, it never ceases to amaze how myopic the major media pundits are.

There is nothing yet to establish that the latest GOP “flavor of the week,” Rick Santorum, will not experience the same pratfall as most the party’s other presidential hopefuls have experienced, surging to prominence only to fall back almost as quickly.

It’s just that Santorum peaked right before Tuesday’s caucuses, and has not yet been tested against the kind of ferocious super-PAC assault that was unleashed against Newt Gingrich in the last two weeks.

Santorum’s “Achilles heel” is rooted in the radical extremism of his views on abortion and homosexual rights, with tinges of racism thrown in. Anyone primarily concerned about defeating President Obama in November should be horrified that Santorum might actually claim a spot at the top of the GOP ticket.

But, of course, the problem for the Republicans is the apparently-stubborn resistance in their base to the candidacy of Mitt Romney. His inability to break out of the 25 percent range of support, including in Iowa Tuesday, is indicative of a deep and endemic problem.

While Romney fits the mold of all the Republican nominees since Reagan, from the Bushs to Dole to McCain, the party has consistently been moving toward the radical right, with momentum boosted by the Wall Street-backed “grasstops” Tea Party effort in the last couple of years. Nothing demonstrates this more than the surge of interest in the radicalism animating the candidacy of Ron Paul.

Paul revealed the extremism of his views during his speech in Iowa Tuesday night, evoking the radical free market theories of the Austrian school of economics and a Great Depression-insuring return to the gold standard. The sympathy his candidacy is winning from some anti-war and anti-Wall Street activists has to be balanced against his call for an end to Social Security and an end to any government regulation to constrain Wall Street and big bank larceny.

The party’s traditional presidential election strategy of appealing to reasonable, pro-business mainstream conservatives, while maintaining its right flank, is eroding quickly, and there’s nothing that the Obama camp looks forward to more than facing someone like Santorum in November.

Barely repressing their glee, pro-Democratic pundits commented favorably yesterday about the energy and sincerity of the Santorum effort. Meanwhile, the Democratic apparatus continues to focus its fire on Romney, by far the most serious threat to Obama were he to get the nomination.

The good chance that Santorum will experience the same rise-and-fall scenario as most of his opponents in recent months means that Rick Perry could still become a major player as the process wears on.

Within that scenario, the Gingrich and Ron Paul campaigns may become very intriguing, each apparently fearless to call out their opponents with harsh “truth telling.”
If all these candidates hang in and continue fighting, then one cannot rule out the fact that there may be no one going into the GOP National Convention in Tampa in late August with enough delegates to win on the first ballot.

That could lead to the first “brokered” convention the memory of most Americans, the first since 1952. The last time a candidate nominated at a brokered convention won the presidency was in 1932 (for FDR’s first term). The last major effort to create a brokered convention was in 1980, when supporters of Ted Kennedy at the Democratic convention in New York backed a vote to change the rules, but they fell short.

A brokered convention could wind up nominating anyone, with some predicting that in such a case Chris Christie or Jeb Bush could wind up getting it.

The most memorable brokered convention had to be the Democrats’ in New York in 1924, when it took 103 ballots to agree on a candidate. On the first ballot, the eventual winner John Davis was seventh, far behind front-runners William McAdoo and Al Smith, and he gradually gained votes on subsequent ballots over a 17-day period.

Davis was crushed by incumbent Calvin Coolidge in the general election, but who knows, the Great Depression, begun five years later, might have been averted had he won.