New delegate rules, a spaced out calendar and a resurgent Newt Gingrich could prolong the nominating contest until August.
With the Republican presidential primary starting to resemble an actual contest, there’s been renewed chatter about the prospect of a brokered convention. Some in the GOP are now contemplating the grim prospect of waiting until the summer to see who will emerge to take on President Obama. Democrats fretted over the same possibility in 2008, when the race between then-Sens. Obama and Hillary Clinton seemed poised for a stalemate.
If there is a prolonged, two-way race between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the possibility – albeit remote – exists that the nomination won’t be settled until the August convention in Tampa Bay. Most observers have dismissed the idea of a brokered convention, consigning it to the realm of fantasy because Romney will likely recover in Florida and seal the nod before Spring. But if events continue to break against him, the potential of a brokered convention will grow.
Here are three reasons why:
The primary process is more spaced out than before. In the past, the calendar made it easy for one candidate to amass momentum and gain a prohibitive advantage over his rivals by the end of January. In 2012, with the exception of a few caucuses, there is a month gap between the Florida vote and the next significant primaries in Arizona and Michigan. Moreover, the Republican National Committee has changed the delegate allocation rules. Most of the primary contests held before April 1 award delegates proportionally instead of winner-take-all. This slows down the momentum any candidate can generate.
The Ron Paul factor. A top reason why a brokered convention is more realistic this year is the success of Ron Paul and his movement. Paul is now the leader of a party within a party. While he won’t come close to winning the nomination, his following has grown to the point where the congressman could have enough representation at the convention to deny either Romney or Gingrich a majority of delegates. And the reality is a brokered convention would be a major opportunity for his movement to translate some of its ideas into planks in the Republican platform – an enticing opportunity for Paul.
Voters are more “self-aware” than ever. In 2008, conservative talker Rush Limbaugh mischievously encouraged his listeners to register as Democrats and vote in the primaries to prolong the hotly contested nomination fight between Obama and Clinton. While it’s hard to determine if this had any effect on the outcome, the idea behind “Operation Chaos” could be applied on a much broader scale this time if conservative discontent persists with a Romney nomination. If influential conservative media personalities were to champion a brokered convention, voters may respond by ensuring no candidate wins before August.
Chris Palko works as an assistant media analyst at Smart Media Group, a Republican political media buying agency in Alexandria, Va. He is a graduate of American University and George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
A version of this post was also published on Campaign and Elections’ blog, Campaign Insider