Brokered Convention Fantasy

People who ought to know better are now concocting absurd scenarios to get around a really weak Republican presidential field.

People who ought to know better are now concocting absurd scenarios to get around a really weak Republican presidential field. UVA political scientist and ubiquitous talking head Larry Sabato tweeted earlier today, “A major impact of Gingrich victory tonight in SC will be the reopening of discussion about ‘a late entry’ in GOP sweepstakes. But who?” And the last couple “Morning Joe” episodes featured Joe Scarborough and his cast of rotating panelists talking about an Establishment Republican fantasy of creating a brokered convention by running “favorite son” candidates in upcoming states.

It. Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.

When I last checked some weeks back, it was all but mathematically impossible for a new candidate to get on the ballot in enough states to win enough delegates to get the nomination. The Rubicon may now have been crossed. Even if it hasn’t, however, Sabato’s question is pretty daunting: “Who?”

After all, if there were some candidate out there able to generate excitement, instant organization, and boatloads of money, why didn’t they join the race to begin with? Scarborough mentioned Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, and a couple of others. But, presumably, they either lack the fire in the belly necessary to put up with the scrutiny that comes with a White House run or they calculated that this wasn’t their year. Why would that have changed now?

The “brokered” convention scenario is a little less far-fetched, but only by comparison. It presumes that, not only will the party elders–most of whom have already endorsed Mitt Romney–so despondent at the prospect of nominating Romney or Gingrich that they are willing to throw a Hail Mary but that there are a bevy of major Republicans out there willing to sacrifice their political careers to help them. Not to mention that Republican primary voters would vote for a “favorite son” not on the ballot in other states in hopes that the ploy will work, rather than instead voting for their preference between Romney and Gingrich.

What if the fanciful scheme succeeded beyond all odds? Again, we’re left with Sabato’s question: Who? Who is it that could jump into the race on August 30th and beat an incumbent president with a billion dollar war chest and a rock solid organization? And, again, why isn’t that person already running?

Additionally, one imagines that some very large subset of the Republican base would be outraged at having the party elders come in and take the decision out of their hands. In particular, there will be people who spent months of their lives working to get Romney and Gingrich elected. They’re going to be angry at having someone who got fewer primary votes than Herman Cain simply handed the nomination.

The bottom line is that either Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich will be the Republican nominee. My bet remains where it has been all along, with Romney, because I think Gingrich is his own worst enemy. I can understand why people don’t like that fact, since I don’t much like it myself. I don’t know if either can beat Barack Obama. (Indeed, some significant percentage of us who normally vote Republican will vote for Obama if Gingrich is the nominee.) But we have to live in the real world, not a fantasy world.

UPDATE: Looking at the Related Posts below, I’m reminded how perennial this brokered convention fantasy is. Doug Mataconis wrote about it (“A Brokered GOP Convention? Not Likely“) back in November and I had two posts on it around this time last cycle (“Brokered Convention?” and “Huckabee Praying for Brokered Convention“)

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Political Theory, US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. FWIW Morning Joe wasn’t talking about a new entrant winning the primaries. They were talking about enough spoilers that none of the existing candidates (read Newt and Mitt) could roll in to the convention with a clear majority.

    I have no idea if that math works, but it doesn’t depend on a single new player winning all the delegates.

    I don’t see the protest factor being that large myself.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Mike Pence? That’s funny.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    Joe Scarborough is a good example of what happens to moderate/conservatives who move to NYC and starting spending all of their time hanging around liberal elitist.

  4. @superdestroyer:

    Scarborough wants/wanted Chris Christie for President. Librul!

  5. James Joyner says:

    @john personna: Right. I just see this and the Sabato thing as variants of the same fantasy.

    @Hey Norm: He said Mitch Daniels, not Mike Pence. I’ve corrected the post to reflect that.

  6. Scott O. says:

    James, you and I may have to live in the real world but there’s an awful lot of folks that have chosen to inhabit their prefered fantasy world.

  7. …. Brokered Convention Fantasy ….

    Fantasy? Not so fast, Mr Joyner:

    How’s about Messrs Gingrich and Romney have a win apiece in South Carolina and Florida and keep right on slugging it out and because of all the proportional primaries, splitting the delegates all the way to convention time.

    That for sure, with Mr Paul buzzing about as well and particularly as no one actually likes either of the viable candidates, already — let alone by then — gathers and mixes all the ingredients of and for a brokered convention.

    In such — in case we’ve forgotten — a candidate’s delegates, selected during primaries, must vote for him only on the first ballot and if no candidate wins a clear majority on that first ballot, every delegate is then free to vote for whomsoever he wishes on the second and on every subsequent ballot. Any and every candidate — and there will be plenty, (Rick Perry; Jeb Bush; Chris Christie; Sarah Palin spring to mind and God alone knows who else) make no mistake — and his every spruiker and barker will be horse trading all over the arena

    Until we-know-not-whomsoever wins the required one thousand, one hundred and forty four (of 2,286) votes — and the Republican Party’s Nomination!

    Not a fantasy.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Yeah, you’re stuck with Mitt. An exposed, thoroughly-defined Romney. A Romney who will have struggled to barely get past a loathsome opponent. A Romney who is on tape now admitting that 1) Obama did not cause the recession and 2) Things are getting better.

    So relieved to hear that Jeb can’t come and rescue your party.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    Maybe the Republican establishment should just get it through their thick heads that their time is over with and due to mistakes made by Republicans in the past, the U.S. has become a one party state where no Republican stands a chance of being president.

    Maybe when the Republican establishment understands that they have been buried by demographics, government spending, and rampant credential-ism, they will understand what they can and cannot do in the future.

  10. John Burgess says:

    @superdestroyer: Thanks for casting your vote for the Tea Party as the successor to the Republican Party!

  11. superdestroyer says:

    @John Burgess:

    Just like there is not enough private sector employed whites to sustain the Republican Party, there are not enough to sustain a Tea Party. What part of low taxes and smaller government is going to appeal to any portion of the current Democratic Party. When a million people in Wisconsin, a state that is over 80% white, signed a petition that is a de facto petition to raise their taxes, expand the government, and increase the public work force, then it should be obvious that there is no room in the U.S. for any form of conservative party.

  12. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:


    When a million people in Wisconsin, a state that is over 80% white, signed a petition that is a de facto petition to raise their taxes, expand the government, and increase the public work force, then it should be obvious that there is no room in the U.S. for any form of conservative party.

    Perhaps these million Wisconsinites compared modern-day conservatism vs. the high-tax, big-government dystopia of your fevered nightmares and said, “You know, things just seem to work better when my taxes are a touch higher and more teachers are employed.”

  13. Hey Norm says:

    @ SuperDestroyer….
    Obama has cut taxes…effective rates are at historic lows… there have been a million public sector jobs cut in the last year. What Republican has done that? Obama is the most conservative President since Reagan.

  14. @superdestroyer:

    …. When a million people in Wisconsin signed a petition it should be obvious that ….

    Given it is in support of a lunatic Leftard move to remove from office a popular governor for carrying out exactly what he ran on and was elected to do and that ACORN and other elements of the vast RICO-racketeering organized-criminal hoards that prefer we call them by their street name: the “Democratic” potty, gathered the “signatures?

    Check every signature thrice — and then triple check them all again.

    Just for the record, though: Conservatives outnumber Leftists two to one in America and remain competitive despite that the abjectly corrupt Fascist (“formerly “mainstream”) Newsmedia shifts the nation 10 points Left and despite that the “Democratic” potty’s absolutely corrupt absolute ownership, operation and control of the nation’s electoral rolls and elections machinery shifts outcomes at least another 10 points Left

    This year’s coming ridding of the halls of congress and the public housing projects at 1600 Pennsylvania of the recidivist RICO-racketeering rascals reprobates ratbags and RINOs that at present comprise America’s Gangster Government and the coming clean up the world’s most absolutely systemically corrupt elections machinery and fiat courts and unconstitutional authoritarian-regulatory bureaucracy?

    And let’s see another lunatic looter Leftard ever again “win” an election on his merits!

  15. murray says:

    “A major impact of Gingrich victory tonight in SC will be the reopening of discussion about ‘a late entry’ in GOP sweepstakes. But who?”

    Simple … Steven Colbert.

    And he’s got everything ready to collect cash.

  16. superdestroyer says:

    @Hey Norm:

    But the Democrats would not have voted to extend the income tax reduction is Nancy Pelosi has returned as Speaker of the House in 2011. David Axelrod has orchestrated a push that virtually all Democrats are talking about raising taxes (on the rich), and the social security tax cuts is temporary.

    If the Democrats were in control of the House, taxes would be higher. If Pelosi returns as Speak of the House in 2013, taxes are going up. In addition, the Obama Administration has made few cuts and is still running over $1.25 trillion per year in budget deficits.

    As the demographic groups that support high taxes, high spending, and an ever expanding public sector grow and the percentage of people employed in the private sector decrease, no conservative party will survive.

    Remember, more than 50% of the adult voters in Wisconsin believe that is it the other guy who will be paying higher taxes but that they will get the benefits from the taxes. No conservative party can survive in a country where less than 1/2 the people pay taxes but that the government spends trillions a year.

  17. superdestroyer says:

    @Brian Richard Allen:

    Why go progressives believe that snark is the only thing required in politics?

  18. grumpy realist says:

    Um, the very fact that some of us are willing to vote to raise our taxes so that we can have the rudiments of what is considered necessary of a world-class economy doesn’t make us out to be evil, you realize. I get enough benefits from well-paved roads, a local library, the knowledge that the can of food I get at the store isn’t going to poison me, a well-educated population….making sure that poor and old people have a minimal sense of financial and medical security is pretty good as well.

    I really wonder what sort of society we would have if we cut back all taxes to the level that so-called “conservatives” feel is appropriate. We’re not living in the 1880s any more. Furthermore, we are now in direct competition with countries like China and India, who are churning out an incredible number of scientists and engineers a year. American “conservatives” may want to sit smugly in their little libertarian paradise where the government does as little as possible and puts no money into R&D or social support, but we’re going to be left behind in the dust very fast.

  19. superdestroyer says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The more important question is what kind of country and economy will we have when there is only one political party, taxes are very high, government spending is very high, most government spending is used to pay entitlements, payroll, and pensions, and politics is about who gets what from the government.

    The Republican establishment instead of worrying about their irrelevant candidates should spend their time discussing what is the maximum percentage of the GDP that the government can consume, what is the lowest percentage of adults that can be employed without the economy collapsing, where can the U.S. compete in the world economy given our debt, our education system, our demographics, and our legal system.

    What the Republicans need to realize is that the country only needs one big spending party and that role is currently filled with the Democratic Party.

  20. TheColourfield says:

    @Brian Richard Allen:

    Nurse! Get this man his meds quickly.

  21. TheColourfield says:


    “{No conservative party can survive in a country where less than 1/2 the people pay taxes but that the government spends trillions a year.”

    Bald faced lie that has been debunked repeatedly.

  22. superdestroyer says:


    Look at how the Republicans are collapsing. Look at states like Maryland and California where the Republicans are irelevant. As long as more than 50% of the population believe that they can get more out of government than they pay in, no relevant conservative party will exist.

    As the demographics of the U.S. changes, who do you think is going to walk away from the Democrats and their control of $3.5 trillion of budget dollars in order to support an irrelevant conservative party?

  23. Scott O. says:

    @Brian Richard Allen: Are you on that new paint chip diet?

  24. Moosebreath says:


    “As long as more than 50% of the population believe that they can get more out of government than they pay in”

    I suspect that the number who get more out of government than they pay in is extremely close to 100%. Unfortunately, we have one party that believes that if they pay less in, they will still get the same amount. Even more unfortunately, the party that thinks that deludes itself into calling itself conservative.

  25. superdestroyer says:


    The only way that 100% of the people get more out that what they put end if for massive deficit spending and is totally unsustainable. The Democrats believe that they can give 95% of the people what they want and only raise taxes on the top five 5%. A few Republicans realize that unlimited spending is idiotic. However, there are not enough of those people to sustain a political party.

    so the U.S. is faced with the situation of becoming a one party state where the Democratic Party is the one, dominate party and politics is about handing out government goodies. Image all of those Ivy leagues who plan on being poltical operations and want to run elections and mobilize people to change policy finishing school just in time for for all of that to become irrelevant.

  26. Moosebreath says:


    “The only way that 100% of the people get more out that what they put end if for massive deficit spending and is totally unsustainable”

    That’s where Republicans for the last generation have it exactly wrong. Indeed, the people who pay the most in taxes generally get far more out of government than people who pay less, as they gain more out of living in a society with the rule of law, no barriers to commerce and a populace who believes in the future and is not looking to change their lot by revolution. And yet, they take these things for granted, and complain about the costs they pay to maintain society, as if they get nothing out of it.

  27. superdestroyer says:


    There are rich in corrupt countries , there are rich in a generally poor country, there are rich in countries with little government.

    Who benefits the most from government are the middle class. The middle class to include the lower middle class. Those are the p[people who depend upon the government to protect them, to establish the rule of law, and to be impartial. However, the middle class are the people who are most likely to be abused by the government since they do not have the wealth to avoid the government. See how the middle class is stuck with the state of public schools and law enforcement while the rich have private schools and private security.

    However, the rule of law, infrastructure, and defense should cost much less than it does now. And it is the elites who want the government to be large because the rich can avoid the taxes while benefiting from the scope and size of the government.

  28. Racehorse says:

    Too bad. My personal favorites are Fred Thompson and Lamar Alexander.

  29. Jim Henley says:

    If Mike Gravel had won the Libertarian Party nomination last time we wouldn’t be in this situation. We’d be preparing for a second Gravel term in a universally appreciated paradise.


  30. grumpy realist says:

    @superdestroyer: You’ve served up a bit of a Palinist word salad with a few nuggets.

    Given what we standardly pay our judges/D.A.s and others involved in our court system, I can’t see how you can get the cost of law down any lower without it falling into bits, a.k.a. bribery. Suggest you look at the court system in any third-world country to see how well that works out. Lawyers? Yeah, lawyers cost a lot, but that’s the market system, correct? A good lawyer costs 200$ or more an hour but there’s a lot of people demanding his services, so he prices accordingly enough to clear the system. So I guess you’re against the free market when it comes to lawyers….

    I know there’s been a lot of squawking about how the law should be opened up to anyone who wants to practice law, get rid of the guild system, etc. Which I would agree upon EXCEPT we should at least have the legal equivalent of a driving test so we could be assured that people at least know the rudiments of law and especially civil procedure (there’s a very good reason why judges and courts hate pro se litigants in general). Second, I’m not so sure that this would cause any lowering of lawyer’s fees. California allows anyone to practice who has passed the California Bar exam, no ABA education required, but I don’t see California lawyers charging all that less than lawyers in other states…..(plus we get ditzheads like Orly Taitz, whose ineptness at the law is such that if makes one seriously wonder whether she sent in a ringer to take the bar exam for herself.)

  31. Gregg says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy: Actually no teachers were fired in Wisconsin due to the reforms of Governor Walker. Only schools districts that sold out to the teacher’s union and extended contracts without asking for a 5% contribution to their pension and 12% of their health insurance premium laid off teachers. The majority of these layoffs occurred in Milwaukee, where the union declined to renegotiate its new contract and make these slight contributions for benefits that would have saved all those “lost” teachers.

    Also, in Wisconsin there are about 4 million eligible voters, I find it incredible that one in every four signed a petition. It should be noted that petitions were being circulated at the Rose Bowl and there was no mechanism which limited people to sign the petitions only once. Finally, there was no requirement to show any ID prior to signing the petition. Bottom line that 1 million signature number is BS.

  32. Liberal Capitalist says:


    Well, that’s the nice thing about one million signatures… They only needed 500,000

  33. superdestroyer says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    the quesiton is why have so many people in Wisconsin signed a petition that is a proclamation to raise taxes, give the teachers unions whatever they want, and increase the size of the government.

    School spending has doubled, after inflation, in the last 20 years but there has been no measurable improvement in education. However, the number of people who work in education has gone up, the number of non-traditional students has gone up, and the amount of social engineering has gone up.

    Wisconsin is sending a clear signal that they have no interest in the private sector and that the public sector is the most powerful political force in Wisconsin. The real question for the public sector is who will pay the taxes to fund all of the government spending?

  34. Stan says:

    @superdestroyer: I haven’t checked Wisconsin’s history of public school spending, but the most recent figures I found showed that it ranks 18th nationally on a per capita basis. It’s 21st in per capital income. So I question your figures about a surge of education spending. It seems to me that Wisconsin’s K through 12 spending is pretty much in line with its income.

    I also question your strategy. You seem to feel that conservative principles are doomed because of demographic factors. If so, why don’t you favor adjusting the Republican party’s rhetoric to avoid antagonizing minority groups? I’m not suggesting that the Republicans actually change their positions. All they have to do is to quit demonizing non-Cuban Hispanics as wetbacks and African-Americans as shiftless welfare cheats. Or is it your feeling that exploiting ethnic tensions is part of the Republican DNA? Just asking.

  35. superdestroyer says:


    There is no way that a any conservative can appeal to blacks Hispanics, jews, academics, or homosexuals. Those groups have a culture of being liberals. Blacks interpret what conservatives are saying as racist and antagonistic because what the conservatives are saying is basically the opposite of black culture in the U.S.

    The reason that the U.S. will soon be a one party state and the reason that the Republican establishment is powerless to stop it is that blacks are the most liberal group in the U.S. along with homosexuals, Jews, academics, and Hispanics being very liberal.

    The only way to appeal to them it so be very liberal and give up the idea of smaller government, less regulation, personal responsibility, and a larger private sector.

  36. grumpy realist says:

    @superdestroyer: Maybe the reason that most African-Americans aren’t “conservative” are because they hear all the dog-whistles and see all the pandering to the “get back in yo’ place, niggah boy!” white trash that thinks it’s jus’ faaahn to put on their state flag an emblem of a treasonous rebellion. They hear all the stuff that gets said about our President, they see the requirements that have been demanded of him that have never been asked of any other Presidential candidate in history, and yes, they can add 2 + 2.

    And if you remember that up until a few years ago all positions of power were held by white Anglo-Saxon males, you can see where “conservative” looks less like prudent and cautious abeyance and far more like selfish “I don’t want to allow the privileges I have to be extended to anyone else.”

  37. superdestroyer says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Blacks are been very loyal Democrats for over 50 years. Most blacks alive today have probably never voted for a Republican in any election cycle.

    There is not way that any conservative can be seen as non-racist when the Democrats insist that everyone support quotas, affirmative action, racial set asides and the rest of the racial spoils system in the U.S.

    Any political party that would appeal to blacks would have to be very liberal, would have to support separate and unequal government standards, and would have to support high taxes. There is already a party that does that and it is the Democratic Party.

  38. Grant says:

    Personally I have serious doubts as to whether most Americans have the faintest idea of where they stand on the Left/Right spectrum compared to the world. When people in the U.S talk about conservatives and Socialists the South American, European, African and Asian voters collectively say ‘huh?’

  39. Schedlinski says:

    “After all, if there were some candidate out there able to generate excitement, instant organization, and boatloads of money, why didn’t they join the race to begin with?”

    She didn’t join then because the reality show was taking up a lot of her time. Shooting schedule is over. Be ready for the Thrilla from Wasilla any day now.