The Republican presidential primary may not be the coronation that many were expecting.
Instead, we could be in for a summer-long slog of sound bytes and political gimmickry that could eventually lead to the political equivalent of a nuclear option--the brokered convention. Conservative insiders and pundits are sticking to their talking points and still saying this is impossible, but with ten states casting their ballots on Super Tuesday and four viable candidates left in the field, any scenario has to be taken into consideration.
Essentially, a brokered convention is a lot like the Papal Conclave--and there is about an equal percentage of old white men pulling the strings. Two things have to happen for a convention to be considered brokered: 1) One candidate does not clinch the required amount of pledged delegates during the primary process; and 2) One candidate does not claim the requisite amount of delegated during the first ballot of the convention. This year, the GOP convention is being held August 27-29th in Tampa.
Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have allowed for a brokered convention to take place since 1952; the last winner of a brokered convention to become president was Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Being unable to coalesce around one candidate would make the Republicans appear ideologically divided and disorganized. Also notably, whichever candidates are still standing by the time August rolls around will have exhausted their financial resources to the point where it will be nearly impossible to compete with the Obama money machine, which by then will be raising money at a grueling pace.
In brokered conventions of past political eras, the convention would be resolved after a flurry of backroom political deals struck in smoke-filled rooms. In 2012, this would be no different. If Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were to enter a brokered convention deadlocked, for example, expect there to be a patronage-filled compromise that involves cabinet positions, policy compromises (constitutional amendment to ban contraception, anyone?) and, possibly thousands of shares of Bain Capital stock options.
This kind of situation makes it highly advantageous to be the guy in third place, as well. If Santorum and Romney are deadlocked, but Newt Gingrich is able to stay mathematically alive, he could find himself in the position of kingmaker. He could use his delegates as sufficient currency to purchase himself a vice presidential nomination. If Ron Paul finds himself in the same position, America could be switching to the gold standard in 2013.
Another outcome could be that the GOP establishment decided that all of the remaining candidates are too damaged to be considered electable. This could pave the way for another candidate--such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or Florida Senator Marco Rubio--to be "nominated from the floor" and gobble up enough candidates to swing the gathered electorate in their favor. This, of course, would allow someone to bypass the months of vetting and questioning that goes on during the primary process, so a candidate with major skeletons in the closet could end up receiving the nomination.
So, who would be to blame for this kind of tomfoolery coming to fruition? The easy answer would be Mitt Romney, who was supposed to have the nomination wrapped up by Groundhog Day. However, there are deeper more divisive forces at work within the Republican Party. We now live in a world where the Tea Party is the tail that wags the Republican dog. As a result, ultra-conservative-values-obsessed individuals (like Santorum) have been quickly overrunning fiscally conservative moderates (like Romney) and driving their message towards the right side of the spectrum. This kind of division has caused a series of regional and ethnic divides that make coalescing around a single candidate very difficult. Can the party of Reagan find a way to play well in the sandbox? Or will they self-destruct over a harsh and draining brokered convention? Only time will tell.