Pundits Have It Wrong About GOP Primary

Monday, 06 Feb 2012 09:30 AM

By Chris Freind

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The only job better than weatherman, where you can get it wrong half the time, is political pundit. These guys make an art out of looking dumb.

In the last few years, we have been told President Obama wouldn’t beat Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney would be the 2008 nominee, and now, the President can’t win re-election because Romney will beat him. That last prediction, of course, is predicated upon Romney winning the nomination, which the pundit brain trust is now proclaiming a done deal.

But just as it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor, as Blutarsky taught us in Animal House, this race is far from over.

If political observers emerged from their ivory towers, they would discover that there are still many elections, not coronations, yet to come, and that Newt Gingrich hasn’t been vanquished.

This is not to say that Romney won’t end up winning, since he has significant advantages. But to say it’s over is foolish. Never before have there been three different winners in the first three contests, so that should be a caution sign for traditional predictions. And the total number of delegates awarded is just five percent.

Ron Paul and Rick Santorum cannot win the nomination, but they will garner delegates, as many states award delegates proportionally.

Without question, Gingrich will be in the hunt for the long haul. Following a disappointing finish in New Hampshire, after which he was written off, he roared back to a thundering victory in South Carolina. He may win several states on Super Tuesday, and place second in the rest.

(Gingrich will also stay in on the chance Romney catastrophically implodes. Mitt came close this week by saying, “I'm not concerned about the very poor . . . [they’re] not my focus.” Such blunders run in the family, as his father, former Michigan Governor George, crushed his presidential aspirations by stating he was “brainwashed” into supporting the Vietnam War.)

Short of a Romney implosion, Gingrich won’t win the nomination, but he may deny Romney the prize. If the three “challengers” keep Mitt from attaining that “fifty percent plus one” number, it’s a whole new ballgame. And while such a scenario was unthinkable just a few weeks ago, it is increasingly plausible.

A key point is that a handful of states, including delegate-rich Pennsylvania, do not require delegates to commit to the candidate who wins the state. In normal election years, Party unity is assured because the nominee is determined early. But this year is anything but normal, and there is precedent for delegates breaking ranks.

In 1980, George H.W. Bush handily won Pennsylvania over Ronald Reagan by 100,000 votes. But the Reagan folks pulled a coup, electing delegates loyal to The Gipper. So despite Bush winning the state, Reagan emerged with roughly 70 percent of the delegates morally committed to him.

Romney must get the right delegates to achieve the right majority. But since Mitt has spent millions running for President for five years, and still can’t get 50 percent of GOP voters, that might be a daunting task.

While still a “long shot” scenario, don’t be surprised if no one emerges a winner. If neither Romney nor Gingrich can successfully acquire Paul’s or Santorum’s delegates, we may see two men who despise each other jointly announce that, for the good of the Party, they are withdrawing and releasing their delegates.

And then it would become the Wild West in an attempt to choose the most unifying ticket.

And who tops that list? Well, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would do well to start using a treadmill. Christie’s bulldog, take-no-prisoners attitude has proven immensely successful, despite Democratic majorities in the state assembly. A breath of fresh air in a world of sound-bites, talking points and focus groups, Christie is one of a few who commands respect by the Establishment, rank-and-file, and tea parties alike.

And for those who predict Christie as a Romney VP, fat chance. He is nobody’s Number Two, and almost certainly would not sign on to a meaningless post when he could have, quite possibly, captured the top prize for himself.

Should Christie decline such an offer, the list of frontline candidates grows thin, but would potentially include Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and, dare we say it, Jeb Bush.

This scarcity of good candidates is testament to a Party that refuses to build its bench with folks of conviction, instead promoting those whose “turn it is.” Bob Dole and John McCain are prime examples.

The battle for the nomination will go on for months. Despite conventional wisdom that divisive primaries weaken candidates, the opposite is true. Combative and lengthy primaries make candidates sharper and better prepared for the rigors of a general election.

And given that Obama is in the driver’s seat, a long GOP primary season and even a brokered convention could be just what the doctor ordered to energize the Republican Party and unify what a very discontented base.



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