Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Will the GOP Race Go to the Convention?

The dramatic GOP presidential race - which has so far failed to produce a clear frontrunner - has raised a good deal of speculation that we might see a brokered convention in 2008.


The party is divided among its three wings: the anti-taxers, the evangelicals, and the foreign policy hawks. No single candidate has so far been able to unify these disparate factions.

Adam Nagourny,
over at today's New York Times, argues that Republicans have failed to restore the voting coalition that propelled Ronald Reagan's two terms in Washington. Mitt Romney's win in Michigan yesterday dramatically illustrates the point:

On the most tangible level, the vote on Tuesday was proof from the ballot box of what polls have shown: this is a party that is adrift, deeply divided and uninspired when it comes to its presidential candidates and unsure of how to counter an energized Democratic Party.

Even in victory, Mr. Romney stood as evidence of the trouble the party finds itself in. He won, but only after a major effort in a state he once expected to win in a walk. That was before he lost Iowa and New Hampshire, two other states where he had campaigned all out.

More than any candidate in the Republican field, Mr. Romney has made a conscious effort to reassemble the coalition of economic and social conservatives that came together with Ronald Reagan and that President Bush kept remarkably unified in his two campaigns and through much of his White House tenure.

Mr. Romney’s uneven performance has highlighted the strains in that coalition, and a central question about his candidacy is whether he will be able to rally its fractured components to his side. It was no coincidence that he invoked Reagan more than once in his victory speech on Tuesday, though it was perhaps equally telling that he also invoked the first President Bush, who like Mr. Romney struggled to convince Republicans that he was Reagan’s rightful heir.
It's still too early to tell whether Romney's the man to unite the fragments of the Republican Party coalition. A second win for either Mike Huckabee or John McCain in Saturday's South Carolina primary might clarify the race a bit, but it's probably going to be February 5 - and the 22 contests showcasing then - when we'll know whether we're headed for a backroom showdown in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Ruth Marcus at today's Washington Post addresses the prospects of a brokered convention this year for both parties. While Marcus mostly discusses the dynamics on the Democratic side - where there is greater proportional representation in delegate selection, and the superdelegates might decide the race before summer - the chances for a real decision-making convention on the Republican side look even greater.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Following the 1968 election, when Hubert Humphrey secured the Democratic nomination without entering the primaries, the McGovern-Fraser Commission created the modern presidential primary process, which required candidates to win a majority of convention delegates in state caucuses and primaries.

The Democrats have not chosen a nominee at the convention since then (although the GOP selected Gerald Ford over Ronald Reagan in 1976 on the first ballot, the last time in the post-1968 era that a nominee of either party was selected after the primaries).

Jay Cost,
over at Real Clear Politics, provides an analysis of the delegate selection process for this year's Republican National Convention. It's not too early to begin political horse trading.