Santorum Admits He Cannot Win The Nomination Without A Brokered Convention

Rick Santorum's campaign is starting to tilt at windmills.

Buzzfeed’s Zeke Miller has gotten his hands on a memorandum from the Santorum campaign wherein it essentially admits that the campaign’s strategy at this point is aimed not at winning the delegates necessary to win the nomination on the first ballot so much as it is at forcing a brokered convention:

Rick Santorum has conceded that he can’t win a majority of the delegates to the Republican National Convention outright.

In a strategy memo pushing back on Mitt Romney’s narrative that it will take an “act of God” to deny him the nomination, advisor John Yob argued that they have a strategy to win — at a contested convention.

Majority Needed for Romney, Not for Santorum

Mitt Romney must have a majority on the first ballot in order to win the nomination because he will perform worse on subsequent ballots as grassroots conservative delegates decide to back the more conservative candidate. Subsequently, Santorum only needs to be relatively close on the initial ballot in order to win on a later ballot as Romney’s support erodes.

The memo, to be distributed today, indicates that the Santorum campaign seems more concerned with arguing that Romney will not win a majority of delegates to the Republican National Convention, rather than making the case for why he will. Indeed, the over-2,000-word memo only addresses the possibility of Santorum reaching a majority in its final paragraph, and only as a throw-away.

Central to Santorum’s strategy are county and state conventions, which select delegates to the convention in caucus states. Santorum’s campaign asserts that they will outperform their caucus-night delegate shares because convention-goers are by-and-large more conservative than the average Republican voter. But they are making the (weak) assumption that Ron Paul’s libertarian army won’t try the same thing.

Of course, Paul’s supporters are doing exactly this and likely have been since long before the Santorum campaign thought of it. The idea is based on the fact that nearly all the caucus states choose their delegates not via the straw poll results that are announced on caucus night, but at a statewide party convention held many months afterward. In the case of Iowa, for example, the  caucuses sent delegates to County GOP Conventions, which will take place next weekend, which then send delegates to Congressional District Conventions in April, which then send delegates to the statewide convention in June. The idea behind the Paul and Santorum strategy is that concentrating on these county and district conventions with the idea that the delegates ultimately selected at the state level might actually support their candidates. I’m not aware of any examples in the past where this strategy has actually worked, but when you’re dealing with a fight over as many delegates as you can grab it might just be worth a try.

Ironically, a brokered, or to put it more properly contested, convention seems to be what Michael Steele was aiming for when he supported changes the GOP primary calendar and delegate allocation rules in 2010:

“I wanted a brokered convention,” Steele tells me. “That was one of my goals.” Why in the world would a party chairman desire apparent turmoil? To create excitement and shake up the party, Steele explains. So far this year, he has indeed succeeded in one regard: The Republican race remains unsettled. And that’s unsettling many within the party’s upper ranks.

Not all of the RNC officials at the time craved such creative disorder. Steele, recalls Doug Heye, then the RNC’s communications director, “said in a few interviews that as a political junkie, he’d like to see a brokered convention, and I counseled him that the party chairman may not want to advocate for chaos at a convention he has to manage.” But, in what now seems a profound miscalculation, the Romney camp backed Steele’s reforms—and helped create the monster that now threatens him and the party.

The logic behind Steele’s argument seems to have been the belief that Republicans convinced themselves of in the wake of the 2008 election that the long campaign battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama helped the party, and ultimately helped Obama when the General Election rolled around. Republicans, meanwhile, had wrapped their race up within the first month of the process and the race was effectively over when Mitt Romney dropped out of the race at CPAC in 2008. So, while Clinton and Obama continued to fight it out in what was without a doubt the most epic primary fight modern Presidential politics has ever seen, John McCain was reduced to going on a tour of the country and making speeches that got little media attention. The result was predictable, Obama started to rise in the head-to-head matchups against McCain. McCain wasn’t really able to reverse that until he picked Sarah Palin, and that bump in the polls ended when people started to get to know her and the economy crashed.

So, how likely is it that we’d see Santorum’s and Steele’s dreams come true? As it turns out, not very likely at all:

If and when Romney locks down the GOP nod, this weekend’s voting will mark a case in point as to how. Romney was decimated in the biggest contest held Saturday, in Kansas, with Rick Santorum securing an outright majority in a four-way field, and Romney struggling to hit 20 percent.

But Romney appears likely to walk away from the weekend with about as many delegates in his column, and possibly even more. Romney won overwhelmingly in the U.S. territories of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands; add that to the final set of caucus contests in Wyoming, and Romney got to wash out his big loss in Kansas.

That means a handful of contests where turnout is rivaled by class presidency elections in midsize high schools may end up being responsible for selecting the party’s nominee. To cite one example, 181 individuals attended the Guam Republican convention, according to the territory’s party. (In Kansas, turnout topped 30,000.)

Wins like this weekend’s did not happen by accident. Romney’s was the only campaign to prepare for the long haul of the race with detailed legal and structural plans for how to win delegates in every obscure corner. That work is now paying off, as the battle for 1,144 Republican National Convention delegates slogs on.

Romney has 454 delegates secured, according to ABC’s estimate, more than twice the 217 in Santorum’s column. Newt Gingrich, with 109 delegates, and Ron Paul, at 48, lag far behind.

The fact that most states don’t award all the delegates to a single winner makes it very difficult to amass enough delegates to clinch. But it makes it even harder for a lagging candidate to catch up.

This weekend’s outcome is a good case in point. Santorum scored a huge victory in Kansas and gained most of that state’s delegates. But Romney won in Wyoming, as well as winning caucuses in three American Territories (Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). At the end of the day, Santorum had won 39 delegates but Romney had won 36 delegates, meaning that the massive victory in Kansas only garnered Santorum a net gain of three delegates. In the end, the weekend resulted in Romney picking up more delegates to add to his total while the odds of Santorum being able to catch up, surpass, or even deny him a majority became longer. With each primary and caucus, that will continue to happen and while it might mean that Romney will have to wait until the last contest to put this race to rest, it means that it is becoming less and less probable each week that the scenario set forth in the Santorum campaign’s memo will play out the way they want it to, especially since they don’t have anything near the organizational structure that Romney does.

Even if we get to the end of the road and it doesn’t look like any of the candidates have a  majority of the delegates, that still doesn’t mean that we’ll have a contested convention in Tampa. In an interview with The Hoover Institution’s Peter Robinson, Michael Barone makes an analogy to the 1976 Republican Convention, where a deal was reached that gave Gerald Ford his majority long before the convention opened in Kansas City. That’s what’s likely to happen here. Romney’s people will make a deal, either with Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul, and Romney will be elected on the first ballot. All the rest is just political fantasy.

The Santorum campaign is absolutely correct about one thing, though. They cannot win the nomination outright at this point, that’s why they’re talking about a contested convention. Well, they could win under one circumstances. If Mitt Romney were to implode somehow that could probably be enough to shift support to Santorum as the last man standing. But Mitt Romney isn’t going to implode. He’s been running for President since at least 2007 and, for all his faults, he is a highly disciplined politicians with a tightly run campaign organization. The odds of his campaign collapsing at this point are somewhere between slim and none. Which is right about where the odds that Sanoturm will be the nominee stand at this point.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. MBunge says:

    “Romney’s people will make a deal, either with Santorum, Gingrich, or Paul, and Romney will be elected on the first ballot.”

    And what deal would that be? There is no way Gingrich or Santorum will hand the nomination to Romney without getting the VP spot in return. I doubt Paul would want that, but you can bet your bippy he’s going to ask for his version of the Sun, Moon and stars.

    Mike

  2. James Joyner says:

    My suspicions that Michael Steele is a frigging moron have been bolstered.

  3. @James Joyner:

    Indeed. If he’s really saying he backed these changes to bring about chaos then he’s either an idiot, or a secret Democratic Party operative

  4. legion says:

    The Santorum campaign is absolutely correct about one thing, though. They cannot win the nomination outright at this point

    Only in the innumerate, anti-education GOP could a candidate using basic algebra to “admit” he can’t do something that’s already mathematically impossible be “news”.

    Also, too, yes: Michael Steele was _never_ competent.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I wish Dems could take credit for the damage he did to the GOP. Unfortunately we just aren’t that good.

  6. DRS says:

    I would have said “…without a miracle” but it’s your post and I suppose it amounts to the same thing in the end.

  7. PogueMahone says:

    Don’t you think, however, that this is the kind of thing the GOP needs in order to right the ship? They need to clean house internally, and a contested convention would do wonders for disinfection.

  8. Tillman says:

    It’d be a strategy with intriguing prospects if, say, Gingrich dropped out of the running. But his presence divides the ‘protest’ vote between him and Santorum, and Romney benefits in the end.

  9. Tillman says:

    The logic behind Steele’s argument seems to have been the belief that Republicans convinced themselves of in the wake of the 2008 election that the long campaign battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama helped the party, and ultimately helped Obama when the General Election rolled around.

    His logic wasn’t flawed per se. He just forgot to account for the temperament of your average Republican primary voter.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    You gotta admire his honesty…if absolutely nothing else.
    He also just admitted the lousy economy argument wasn’t working so well for the Clown Car Posse anymore, and they needed to double down on culture wars.

  11. Curtis says:

    Well, I basically agree, but I hate those delegate counts. So many of them could be flipped. If – and I know this is a long shot, but if – Santorum went on a major run and won tomorrow and then Illinois and then picks up the winner take all huge states like New York and California – then we will see lots of those “super” delegates switch ledgers. We will see lots of those state conventions pick delegates for Santorum instead of Romney.

    Now, it is a one in a million deal, but if the delegates become relevant, then the delegate counts that are out there are wildly inaccurate.

  12. Scott F. says:

    @Tillman:

    I don’t know if Republican temperament is to be blamed. Which came first – the Republican temperament or this roster of clowns? I don’t know if the riddle has been answered.

    This much I do know. A long, drawn-out primary can build excitement when the candidates are exciting (first viable woman vs. first viable African American), but a long, drawn out primary build disgust when the candidates are disgusting (serial liar vs theocrat vs blow-hard).

  13. Kylopod says:

    The logic behind Steele’s argument seems to have been the belief that Republicans convinced themselves of in the wake of the 2008 election that the long campaign battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama helped the party, and ultimately helped Obama when the General Election rolled around.

    I’m still amazed people fall back on this example. First of all, it’s not clear to me that Obama was helped by his extended battle with Hillary. He did go on to unite the party and win the election by a large margin, as many observers at the time had doubted he could do, but that doesn’t prove he would have done worse if he’d wrapped up the nomination more quickly.

    Second, if Obama was helped by the situation, it was probably unique to that particular race, and that particular candidate. As a half-term Senator who faced questions about his experience and qualifications, Obama used the primary process to become better known to voters and to demonstrate some political prowess that many people had doubted he possessed. At the time, many pundits thought it unlikely that a newcomer like Obama could possibly defeat what they called “the Clinton machine.” When he succeeded in this feat, it made him look stronger than they had anticipated.

    The same could not be said for Hillary. Her ratings plummeted during the primaries, and had she managed to beat back the Obama challenge and emerge as the nominee, she would almost certainly have entered the general election in a weakened state. Romney, as the early establishment favorite, seems far more in the Hillary category than the Obama category, and it’s therefore not surprising his ratings have suffered in a way that Obama’s in 2008 didn’t.

    All in all, this turns out to be yet another example of Steele’s incompetence.

  14. al-Ameda says:

    We can only hope for a brokered convention.
    That would be fantastic entertainment. I hope that the brokered GOP Ticket is:
    Santorum-Palin, Santorum-Bachmann, Bachmann-Palin, or Palin-Bachmann.

    If we’re going to go all in on bottoming out, now is the time.

  15. sam says:

    The fundamental flaw in Steele’s logic is his unspoken belief that Republicans can tolerate chaos in the way Democrats can (See, Will Rogers). Not that bunch of uptight stiffs.

  16. Tillman says:

    @Kylopod:

    He did go on to unite the party and win the election by a large margin, as many observers at the time had doubted he could do, but that doesn’t prove he would have done worse if he’d wrapped up the nomination more quickly.

    The problem with positing this counterfactual is that it’s nearly impossible to dream up the circumstances under which he could’ve become the apparent nominee in a short period of time. Nomination contests are only wrapped up quickly by established candidates, not dark horses.

  17. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Indeed there’s a cacophony of stupid emanating from GOP Land.

    Steele’s “strategy” is so wrong, so unnecessary, so feckless, so naive, it boggles the mind.

    Watching Santorum as this stage of his disintegration is like watching a former all-star point guard being left in the dust after they’ve blown out their knee in an off-the-field altercation.

    If he’s reelected Obama should send thank you notes to the RNC, to the GOP, and to Gingrich and Santorum. Probably the greatest irony there is they would not be able even to grasp the irony.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    My suspicions that Michael Steele is a frigging moron have been bolstered.

    You mean they weren’t already?

    If he’s reelected Obama should send thank you notes to the RNC, to the GOP, and to Gingrich and Santorum.

    Such a note should be sent to you as well, as you’ve been just as dismal as they’ve been in trying to damage the President…

  19. Kylopod says:

    @Tillman: First of all, Obama was not a “dark horse.” That’s a term for candidates who appear practically out of nowhere in an election year to grab the nomination (Wendell Willkie in 1940 is one example). Obama was considered one of the top candidates since early 2007; just a lot of people doubted he could beat the top candidate.

    Second, the Hillary-Obama battle was unusually long and drawn out; it could have been wrapped up much more quickly and still not taken a “short period of time.” If Hillary had not achieved her (narrow) win in New Hampshire, the nomination contest would probably have been settled much sooner than it was.

  20. legion says:

    The only imaginable way Gingrich drops out before the convention (or even during) is if someone writes him a ginormous check to shut up & go away. The closer we get to a brokered convention, the higher the odds are that someone will be named “Romney”.

  21. Canda says:

    A brokered convention indeed. All this to appease the media. I do not believe the RNC under Steele meant to create the nightmare they did. I also don’t think their intention was to assist Obama in his reelection campaign, but their stupid moves have accomplished all of the above. We have a media that wants Obama to get reelected that is a given. Anyone who doubts that should join Newt on his moon colony. We have 2 guys who decided to run for president and then without any thought, organization, or viable experience threw their hats into the ring. They are both so engrossed in feeding their over-sized egos that the thought that staying in the race is hurting the country is of little consequence. They and people like Sarah Palin really live in a fantasy world where someone gets picked at the end of August and runs a national campaign for 8 weeks and beats Obama. Give Me A Break! Those 3 clowns all work for, or worked for Fox, and getting Obama reelected would insure their jobs for another 4 years. I feel the same way about Hannity, Greta, Limbaugh, & Levin. They all are about job security, not saving America. The only 2 people who have proven their worth in this GOP season are Paul and Romney. They both are organized. Newt & Rick wouldn’t know what orgaization even looks like. When you think about the stupid way the party caucus/primaries have been set up, the fact that the non-Romney issue was invented and promoted by the media, (especially Fox), it’s amazing that his campaign is still standing. Santorum, Gingrich, and Palin all need to go sit on the sidelines. They’ve done enough damage to the party.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    @Canda: Tell all of that to the GOP base, who view Romney with extreme suspicion…

  23. Tlaloc says:

    My suspicions that Michael Steele is a frigging moron have been bolstered.

    He’s too much of an idiot to have intended this to play out this way. It’s easy in retrospect to say “that’s what I meant to happen the whole time!”

  24. JohnDavis says:

    Santorum is delusional. Romney is too well organized to allow his delegates to switch. How do I know that? I am in the process of being vetted as a potential delegate.

  25. K N C says:

    I am a 39 year old married woman with kids & I prefer Santorum over Romney. I met him several years ago when I worked at N R A and he seems like a good, normal person. If Romney gets the nomination, I may not end up voting Republican – he does not seem honest or likeable. Even if Santorum has less delegates, I truly hope the Republican nomination goes to Santorum. Please consider this…

    For women worried about his views on abortion – nobody is going to change a law related to that…we have too many other things going on in the world to worry about that…

  26. Mr. Izz says:

    @K N C: K N C … He’s talking about social issues, then curses the media for asking him about the social issues he keeps bringing up. He isn’t talking about the big issues: economy, jobs, etc. He is talking about things that the republican “base” like to hear. That’s why he is getting the support from the base. If beating Obama, and the economy were truly the things Republicans were voting for, then the primaries would have been over a while ago. The base dislikes Romney’s religion, and don’t believe he is conservative enough. Santorum will drive independents, and moderate republicans (like myself) away. He will do so because he is opting to go all out on the social issues that the base (30% of America) love, but that 70% of America disagree with.

  27. packeryman says:

    @K N C: The only candidate who has appeared to be presidential is Romney. Both of the other candidates were whiners, peddled influence through the revolving doors in Washington after being thrown out of office. Santorum can never become president because of his fanatical religious views.The man is insane on social issues, that does not win elections. What I don’t understand about the self righteous religious fanatics, when they know that the administration knows that Santorum is the weaker candidate(Dem’s urged voters to crossover and vote for Santorum in Michigan to help and defeat Romney), why would they still vote for him? It is obvious , thier elevators don’t run to the top.You guys will reelect Obama.