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How an open convention could reinvigorate Republicans.
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Meanwhile, I did not assume a successful challenge to the Arizona and Florida delegations. The Santorum team has said publicly that they can succeed even if they don’t win Wisconsin, but they are counting on winning the rules challenge in the two sun states. But to be on the safe side, I am leaving Arizona and Florida alone for now. Even then, again, the arithmetic shows Romney can be blocked.
Also to show restraint, I did not award wins to Santorum in other states where he is running relatively close, such as Oregon.
Again, this is not a wish list, but an honest assessment. Romney still isn’t a shoo-in; Santorum still has a real chance to force a second ballot at the national convention — and then, all bets would be off.
It must be acknowledged that there are a lot of people, “establishment moderates” and conservatives alike, who for some strange reason are scared stiff by the idea of a seriously contested convention. For decades, I have thought their fears are groundless, and that a contested convention could instead provide a huge boost to the party in which it happens. (Remember that it was only a week or two before the Democratic convention four years ago that Hillary Clinton finally had to admit she had lost to Barack Obama; somehow, that example of a close and fiercely contested nomination battle did not harm their party’s ability to win in the fall against a candidate, John McCain, who had several extra months to prepare and to consolidate Republicans behind him.)
To be clear, conservatives should not wish for a brokered convention. Technically, a brokered convention is one in which, yes, power brokers pull strings behind closed doors and shift entire blocs of delegates with them, as if the delegates are sheeple. This scenario, of course, would cause a public-relations nightmare, with the media going nuts sliming Republicans for resorting to tawdry deals from proverbial smoke-filled rooms.
But that’s not likely to happen. Party rules don’t lend themselves to those occurrences anymore. A lot of states at one point had something called the “unit rule,” which stated that a state’s delegate votes would be cast unanimously for whoever has a bare majority within the state. The unit rule is now a thing of the past. Also, huge numbers of delegates once ran as openly “uncommitted,” rather than even being informally pledged to a particular candidate. Again, those uncommitted delegates tended to be deliverable en masse by powerful party big-wigs. But far fewer delegates these days are now elected while openly “uncommitted” as part of a deliberate strategy to reserve power for the big-wigs.
Instead of a brokered convention, what is needed — and what is likely to happen if no candidate enters a convention with majority support — is a contested, open convention. This would be a good thing for the party.
First, the drama would be riveting. The convention would actually mean something rather than being a mere propaganda vehicle — a vehicle the public increasingly sees through, and increasingly tunes out. The public would watch, rapt, just as they watch so many types of “reality TV,” except that in this case, unlike in artificial scenarios such as in Survivor, the “reality” would actually be real. It would actually mean something, not just for those in the competition, but for the viewers, too. The fate of their country would hang in the balance; viewers would have a real stake in the fight.
Second, what the public would see would be anything but a bunch of politicians trading favors. Instead, what would soon become clear would be what has been lost in these last three decades of uncontested conventions: namely, delegates are mostly ordinary people, volunteers rather than party officials, who are in it not for perks or privileges but because they care deeply about their country. They are housewives, small-business owners, professional women, or retirees worried about their grandchildren. The media would be unable to draw nasty caricatures of delegates as a group, as they do at every quadrennial Republican confab; instead, when each individual’s vote actually makes a difference, the delegates would be interviewed exactly as the individuals they are — and viewers at home would identify with their dilemmas.
The public would see “ordinary Americans” making the momentous decision about who should be the nominee seeking the post powerful position in the world. The resulting impression would be a very good one for the party and the eventual nominee. Not only that, but the whole scenario would re-educate a now-cynical public in the idea that participation in civic life really matters, and that this is still a political system of and by the people. Result: A reinvigoration of the civic order, one that would especially inspire those who empathize with the conservative vision of the Republican Party.
The nominee who emerges from a contested convention could thus do so with a huge surge of momentum to take the fight to Barack Obama in the fall.
Therefore, if the voters of Wisconsin and following states decide to fight back against the establishmentarians and vice-presidential wannabes who tell them their votes shouldn’t matter, the very reasonable chance still exists for Mitt Romney not to sail to a first-ballot convention victory. Even if he does ultimately win on a subsequent ballot — a far from certain result — he might benefit as much as anybody from the magic a contested convention could produce.
The establishment is dead wrong to try to end this contest prematurely. The voters deserve to have their say.