Mr. Surprise (or: Are They Doing it on Purpose?)

February 23rd, 2012

A follow-up to Can’t Find a Better Man, inspired by the continuing disaster that is the GOP primary.  Maybe the GOP Establishment can find a better man (read my detailed analysis after the theme music clip for more on that).


There hasn’t been a brokered convention since 1952,

Mostly because it’s a very difficult thing to do.


But this time, it may happen, and may even be the GOP design

To bring in the White Knight for whom Republicans pine.


Maybe they can, and in fact plan

To find themselves a better man.


Here’s your theme music, Better Man from Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy CD.  Maybe the GOP Establishment can find a better man (read my analysis below for more on that).


It just occurred to me that the GOP’s new electoral strategy may increasingly be to deadlock on delegates and go to brokered convention ON PURPOSE, picking a new nominee (e.g., Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, etc.). That way, the ultimate nominee would be subject to the spotlight for the minimum period of time, which might (in conjunction with a massive influx of corporate cash) give him (and it will definitely be a him) a chance to defeat Obama. The ultimate nominee would also not be burdened by all the negative advertising that has been the GOP primary’s hallmark, nor by all the extreme positions he’s taken in order to win the primary.

This may happen on its own anyway, but I’m starting to get the feeling that the GOP “Establishment” is coming to the conclusion that this outcome might be better than either (1) Romney squeaking by with a bare majority of delegates, or (2) a brokered convention in which one of the then-remaining final candidates is selected.

Since the Republican base’s attention span now seems to be 7 weeks (that’s apparently how long it takes for them to find something they don’t like about a given candidate), early September would be the ideal time for this switch-up to happen. And coincidentally, the convention is the last week in August, so this matches almost perfectly.

It is true that it’s harder to sell oneself to a general electorate than to a primary one, and that one should ideally have more time to do so. But in this cycle, with these candidates, the longer a candidate has been exposed, the more negative views on him (or her, in Michele Bachmann’s case) have become, including in the case of putative leader Mitt Romney.

Alternatively, the white knight candidate (and he will certainly be white) could jump in prior to the convention in an attempt to amass some delegates of his own, but I think that is less likely than a last-minute convention surprise. That’s because a new entry would at this point be extremely hard-pressed to create the machine and infrastructure to get on and win remaining ballots (having already missed many of them), in addition to subjecting the new candidate to a longer period of public scrutiny. Coming in at the convention would allow the candidate to avoid the need for that primary machine. For the general, the nominee could then rely on the Party’s machine. (An additional possible twist: by adding one of the current candidates to the ticket as VP, the convention nominee could also piggy-back on his machine.)

Party leaders will not announce this plan, nor do they have to. Instead, they will wait and watch, seeing how things develop with the current candidates, their delegate counts, public opinion of them, the match-up with President Obama, and the economy. The key to this plan is in fact that it remain secret, or at least unconfirmed. The final decision on whether to operationalize will then probably not come until the convention, or immediately before it, depending on the specific situation at the time.

How would the GOP “Establishment” operationalize this plan, and what evidence can we look for to see if it’s happening? Even though there won’t be an announcement, there will be signs.

1)       No pressure will be brought to bear by Party elders on the non-Romneys to drop out in order to allow Mitt to clinch the necessary number of delegates (or conversely, on Romney to drop out if one of the non-Romneys establishes himself as a strong leader), thus significantly increasing the likelihood of a brokered convention;

2)       Secret conversations will begin with folks like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush to secure their commitment to get into the race in the event of a brokered convention;

3)       The Party (via intermediaries, so the cat’s not let out of the bag) will start polling to see how various alternatives stack up against the other primary candidates and President Obama;

4)       November infrastructure-building will proceed at the Party level, independent of a candidate.

If these things start to happen, that’s a strong indicator that the GOP party leadership is not only preparing for a brokered convention, but is actually hoping for one so that a new, unsullied nominee can be run.

There is one recent precedent for this, and it’s not what you think. If the GOP does adopt this approach, it will in effect be following the example set by Americans Elect, for all intents and purposes serving as a ballot access vehicle for a nominee selected at the last minute.

Tactically, waiting for the convention may also be superior. When the time comes to assemble Mr. Surprise’s delegates, the Establishment’s best chance is to come in fast, hard, and with the element of surprise. Party elders will create a “get on board fast or lose” mentality, presenting each delegate holder with a perceived choice between instructing their delegates to vote for Mr. Surprise  and getting something in return (different goodies will appeal to different candidates, e.g. platform planks for Ron Paul, a cabinet post and/or the Party’s good graces for Romney, the VP slot for Santorum, positive PR and guaranteed high level access for Newt, etc .), or resisting and earning the Party’s and Republican electorate’s enmity. That stark choice, when presented as a limited time offer that precludes comparison shopping, creates a powerful incentive to play ball.

A further advantage of the convention candidate: even if Mr. Surprise loses to President Obama, the party will benefit from the last-minute excitement and media attention at the Congressional level, which would hopefully (for the GOP) attract Republicans and Independents to the polls (and to the GOP ticket) who otherwise might have been too turned-off to vote Republican, or at all. And for Mr. Surprise? By coming in at the last minute and against the odds, he’ll be a hero. As a reward for his heroism and self-sacrifice, he will be virtually guaranteed the 2016 nomination, even if he loses (Mr. Surprise wouldn’t be tainted with the loss as would any of the current candidates, since he’d have an excellent excuse for that loss).

Will it happen? We’ll have to wait and see. But I believe they’re at least thinking about it.

And what might this mean for Dems? It means that the Obama campaign should start its oppo research on Chris and Jeb… if they haven’t already.


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