The GOP’s Increasingly Weird Delegate Math

It's looking increasingly unlikely that anyone will have the race for the nomination wrapped up any time soon.

We’re at the point now where pretty much all the conventional wisdom about the race for the Republican nomination can be thrown out the window. When January started, for example, it looked like Mitt Romney would win, perhaps even easily, three out of the four contests and put himself on an easy glide path to victory. That didn’t happen, of course. What looked like a narrow victory in Iowa turned out to be a loss, and South Carolina turned into an embarrassing loss. In the end, Romney had scored victories in Florida and New Hampshire, but neither one of them were enough to knock any of the serious challengers to Romney out of the race. So, instead of standing victorious above the field, the end of January saw Romney in much the same position he was when the month started.

February, in the meantime, was supposed to have been smooth sailing for Romney. It started out that way, with an expected victory in Nevada, but it didn’t stop Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich from nipping at his heels. After Nevada, though, things started going really bad for Romney. He lost three non-binding contests on the same night, at the very least an embarrassment and at the worst and indication of where the momentum in the race was heading. This week, even after Romney managed to pull off victories in Maine (which may not stand) and the CPAC Straw Poll, things continued to go the wrong way. Santorum is now leading Romney in polling in Michigan, Ohio, and nationally, and we’re already seeing signs of panic from the GOP Establishment.

And it’s no wonder they’re panicking, the once clear path to the nomination for Mitt Romney no longer seems to exist, and the longer this fight goes on the more likely it is that we could be dealing with a race that remains unresolved until the very end:

Play around with the CNN delegate calculator and you can see that even if Romney were to win every contest going forward with 100 percent of the delegates (that’s called kickin’ it North Korea-style) he still wouldn’t reach 1,144 until April 3. Under a similar extreme scenario, it would take Rick Santorum until April 23. Here’s the real kicker: If Romney and Santorum were to split the delegates going forward and each were to carry five of the 10 all-or-nothing contests, neither candidate would win enough delegates to clinch the nomination.

Add to that mix the fact that Ron Paul’s got very little reason to not go all the way to Tampa collecting delegates along the way—and Newt Gingrich has sworn less convincingly to do the same—and the math gets even more daunting for Team Mitt.

They have one ace up their sleeve—Utah. It’s currently scheduled last in the primary calendar, on June 26, with 40 delegates; winner-take-all in a state that is famously Mormon-dominated. It could serve as a backstop for Mitt, bringing him over the top at the last possible moment.

But if no candidate hits 1,144 by the end of the process, buy some tickets and head to Tampa, because this is going to be one wild and weird party convention. Remember, all delegates are released after the first ballot. The Ron Paul-ites have been fantasizing about this scenario, and Sarah Palin has started to talk in circles about how she just might be available to ‘help’ in such an eventuality.

America hasn’t seen a true brokered convention since 1952, when Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson emerged with the Democratic nomination despite Tennessee Sen. Estes Kefauver winning more delegates. One upside: in the age of social media, we’d have more access to what goes on in smoke-filled backrooms than ever before.

Some people’s fantasies are other people’s nightmares. There are conservatives earnestly hoping that a more perfect candidate will emerge from the August heat of Tampa. Democrats are watching the cage-match primary tactics with something like unrestrained glee. But it all must feel like a cruel joke to Mitt Romney. He is among the most disciplined and organized of men, and the creeping knowledge that the math might not add up in the end is enough to make him wake up in cold sweats.

There’s another factor to keep in mind when looking at the delegate math. With the exception of Nevada, all of the caucus states to date (and nearly all of the ones that will follow) have been non-binding when it comes to delegate allocation. In states like Iowa, Colorado, and Minnesota delegates to the convention in Tampa won’t be selected until the state party holds its convention. In Colorado that isn’t till April, in Minnesota it’s in May, and in Iowa it’s in June just before the final primaries. There’s no rule that says that any of these party conventions have to abide by the non-binding straw poll that took place at the caucuses. If no candidate has a majority of delegates at that point, you can expect each of these state party conventions to be subjected to heavily lobbying by the campaigns that still active, which at this point may just be all four of them.

The irony of all of this, of course, is that the primary calendar that was put in place for 2012 was originally designed to help candidates like Romney. Rather than a race like 2008, where a few early wins by a candidate like John McCain made it hard for a candidate that appealed to conservatives, like Romney, the GOP set up a calendar that would make it difficult for any candidate to wrap up the nomination early by making nearly all the early contests one in which the delegates are awarded proportionally. Had this kind of calendar been in place in 2008, it’s at least conceivable that Romney would have had a reason not to drop out of the race after only a handful of contests and that the Republicans would have had been fighting their race side-by-side with the Democrats long into April, if not longer.

As it turns out, though, what may have helped Mitt Romney in 2008 is hurting him in 2012. The GOP’s new delegate allocation rules, combined with the rise of SuperPACs, make it far less likely that candidate who is trailing in the polls is going to drop out. They also make it harder for a candidate like Romney to exploit their monetary and organizational advantages in the same manner that they would have been able to in the past.  As a result, there’s more time for opponents like Santorum to chip away at Romney, and more reasons for Republican voters to find something wrong about the supposed frontrunner. And that’s why Romney is struggling, and why we’re once again hearing increasing talk of a brokered convention.

I still tend to think that the brokered convention is little more than a pundit’s fantasy, and the idea that the GOP would end up nominating someone who is not currently running is just fundamentally silly. Nonetheless, the delegate math that John Avlon runs through in the excerpt above is hard to dispute, and this election is starting to resemble the 1976 race between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan every day. In that race, neither candidate ended up having enough delegates to win the nomination outright. It was only after Reagan made a miscalculation by announcing that he would select a moderate Republican, Pennsylvania Senator Richard Schweiker, as his running mate that Ford was able to garner enough delegates to win on the first ballot.

As Avlon notes above, it’s easy to see how a similar scenario could unfold this year. If Romney manages to lose Michigan, or even only wins it by a narrow margin, and then ends up splitting Super Tuesday with Santorum and Gingrich, then the prospect that nobody will have the nomination wrapped up until the final primary becomes increasingly likely, as does the possibility that none of these candidates will walk into Tampa with the 1,141 delegates they need to win the nomination. At that point, the horsetrading and the backroom deals will begin. Would Romney make a deal with Ron Paul to get his delegates? Would Santorum try to do the same with Gingrich? It would be chaos, but it would be fascinating to watch.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 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. Commonist says:

    Would a brokered convention unite or split the GOP? Shirley the latter is more likely?

    What about That Woman? What are her approval ratings at right now?

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I’ve never entirely bought into the assumption that a brokered convention was impossible. It’s quite possible. And as a Democrat it worries me. There would be a huge spectacle and from that could emerge a ‘savior.’ At that point he/she wouldn’t have been vetted, we’d have little or no oppo, and we’d be thrown instantly on the defensive.

  3. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    Would Romney make a deal with Ron Paul to get his delegates?

    What can MittBot’s campaign possibly offer Paul? The latter’s supporters want to “end the Fed;” the former’ supporters have the Fed on speed-dial.

  4. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There would be a huge spectacle and from that could emerge a ‘savior.’

    I disagree, because if there was a non-candidate out there who might be regarded as a consensus savior* we would’ve heard of him (or her) by now. The “Draft (savior)” movement would be loud and unceasing. But it’s not happening, because that person doesn’t exist.

    * – I think it’s ironic that for all the “messiah” crap the GOP has dumped on Obama and his supporters, it’s the Republicans who are so desperately seeking a savior.

  5. Bleev K says:

    Hey Doug, Frankie Avalon, John Avlon 😉

  6. @Bleev K:

    I keep making that mistake. Fixed.

  7. @michael reynolds:

    The part of the scenario I find unrealistic is the idea that someone could come into Tampa without having participated in a single debate, primary, or caucus, and walk away with the nomination.

    As I note in the post, though, the possibility that this could come down to a situation not unlike 1976 seems increasingly likely.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    I think Christie or Rubio could do it. Maybe Paul Ryan. Jeb Bush would be the guy if his name was something other than Bush. The problem would be united Tea Party types with the traditional Greedheads. But in the aftermath of a train wreck people’s minds might be focused.

    I think it’s a 1 in 5 shot that we end up with a brokered convention. And I think it would likely improve GOP chances because right now they got nothin.

  9. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    I think there’s a 1 in 5 shot a brokered convention results in violence and ends the GOP as we now know it.

  10. superdestroyer says:

    Since none of the Republican candidates have any chance of beating President Obama is does not matter. President Obama could be caught in the shower is a 10 y/o boy and he will still probably get more than 53% of the popular vote.

    In the long run, it just does not matter who the Republicans nominate. The only question now is how many seats are the Republicans going to lose in the House and how many seats are they going to lose in the Senate considering that Brown is already in the loss column for the Republicans.

  11. John Peabody says:

    …I’m investing in popcorn futures.

  12. WR says:

    @michael reynolds: This was sort of the case with McCain’s surprise announcement of Palin as VP. And for a couple of weeks, it seemed to be working. But there was plenty of time between the convention and the election for people to find out who Palin was… and there will be plenty of time for voters to come to despise whichever savior might be annointed.

  13. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The part of the scenario I find unrealistic is the idea that someone could come into Tampa without having participated in a single debate, primary, or caucus, and walk away with the nomination.

    Back to the smoke filled rooms heh Doug. Actually I broadly agree with you. The notion that those who have borne the heat of the day quietly walk into the night leaving Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush to pick up the crown is ridiculous. What’s more likely is that two of the candidates make a deal (LBJ/Kennedy style) so we end up with Romney/Santorum, Gingrich/Paul, funny isn’t it. A brokered convention that imposed a candidate would leave more blood around than the St Valentine’s Day massacre.

  14. @Gold Star for Robot Boy:

    What can MittBot’s campaign possibly offer Paul?

    What does any candidates have to offer Paul? Especially given that foreign policy, the only sphere the President really has any ability to deliver on, they’re all irreconcilable with him. You can’t have half a war with Iran.

  15. Jim Henley says:

    Does the GOP convention have any superdelegates? How many?

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    @WR:

    What wr said michael.

    I think Christie or Rubio could do it. Maybe Paul Ryan.

    Any of these would get the Dem oppo researchers salivating: Christie is a fat, loud mouthed @sshole (think “Rush”), Rubio makes stuff up about his parents (what else?) and Ryan…. Well, he’s Ryan.

    The Gop threw their only credible candidate (Huntsman) under the bus before the primaries even started. Jesus died 2000 yrs ago and the prophecies of Revelations have not yet been fulfilled. What you see, is what they got.

  17. Mary G says:

    I’m an independent voter in California who started out Democrat after Watergate. In the 1980s I bought a house. When I saw all the charges on the property tax bill for all those bond initiatives I’d always voted “yes” on (because, why not? Firemen, veterans, the environment, libraries, schools, all good things, right?), I suddenly saw a lot more sense in the Republican/libertarian/fiscal conservative point of view. I changed my party affiliation to “decline to state” and started voting for Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Green Party candidates depending on the office and the candidate.

    But the last ten years and especially this Republican primary are pushing me way back towards the Democrats. My main issue is competency. I don’t really care what your ideology is if you can do what you say you’re going to do and it’s not too out there. Now we have state parties unable to count their votes correctly for weeks after small, really small, numbers of voters have their say. Then Ron Paul’s people keep saying it doesn’t matter what the voters who actually bothered to vote want, that delegates can be won even by candidates who lost the primaries. This is idiotic.

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    The only people who thought Huntsman was a good candidate were Democrats who have never voted from him in the general election.

    There are no credible Republican candidates and no one in the pipeline. Thanks for the Bush Clan, there will soon be no conservative party in the U.S.

  19. Brummagem Joe says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Thanks for the Bush Clan, there will soon be no conservative party in the U.S.

    Dubya is just the symptom not the disease. He was promoted because he was seen as an easy to manipulate lightweight who would promote the ideas of folks like you. His father was actually quite a good president but wouldn’t pander to the Republican right which is why he’s anathema to most of them. The fault dear Brutus lies in you, not in the stars.

  20. superdestroyer says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    Neither Bush Presidency managed to produce any new stars for the Republicans. The reason that Bush II was nominated is there were no other good candidates. Bush I wasted his VP pick on Quayle. Bush II wasted it on Cheney. Neither were ever going to be leaders in the Republican Party. Both of them filled their staff with lackies while failing to either identify or develop talent.

    Also, anyone who says that Bush I was a good president needs to remember he received less than 38% of the vote because he had zero interest in domestic policy and was too stupid to either read his briefing books or understand what they said.

    Look at the push for Jeb Bush now. The Bush clan was arranged the Republican party as their own personal political machine and refuse to share with anyone else.

  21. Brummagem Joe says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Neither Bush Presidency managed to produce any new stars for the Republicans.

    Are the Bush family a talent agency…what stars did Saint Ronnie produce other than Bush senior.

    Also, anyone who says that Bush I was a good president needs to remember he received less than 38%

    Er no this is because there was a notable third party candidate….short term memory loss?….And Bush senior was a wonk who’d spent most of his career in govt service…folks like you hate him because he ruled in the national interest not to further the creepy agenda of far rightists.

    Look at the push for Jeb Bush now. The Bush clan was arranged the Republican party as their own personal political machine and refuse to share with anyone else.

    Yes…sure the current shambles is all a Bush family conspiracy nothing to do with people who think like you.

  22. superdestroyer says:

    Bush I was a fool who was easily rolled by the Democrats and lost in a rout because he went along with the Democrats on tax increases. Yet, the Democrats demagogged Bush I for those same tax increase. Bush I is a good example of why making deals with Democrats never works. The Republicans always lose in such deals and the Democrats always win because Democrats are never going to come through with their side of the deal. That is also why Clinton had to throw the Congressional Democrats under the bus during his adminstration. Congress Democrats are just too undependable.

  23. JohnMcC says:

    Talking about a ‘brokered convention’ is just talking rubbish. There are no more ‘brokers’. When ‘brokered conventions’ were possible was when a Mayor Daley could bring the Illinois Democratic delegates to the convention knowing that the entire delegation would vote for whomever he told them to. He could then shop all those votes to the highest bidder.

    In my state of Florida, Gov Scott was elected by overturning a ‘regular’ Repub and coasting to office (just by the skin of his teeth) on a magic carpet of TeaParty sentiment and millions upon millions of his own dollars. He has absolutely no chance of ‘leading’ a delegation.

    If no one can effectively ‘broker’ convention delegations, what you have is not ‘smoke-filled-back-rooms’, you have a chaotic convention that in — what? — three days has to resolve all the crises, controversies and contradictions that are wrapped up in what we call ‘The Republican Party’. Good luck with that.

    Much more likely is that two candidates would emerge from such a convention each claiming to be the ‘real’ conservative and/or ‘real’ Republican and each with some coalition of Billionaires to fund their ‘campaign’.

    As a Dem who loves unintended comedy, I think I’ll probably enrich our friend Mr Peabody (?and his boy Sherman) by driving up the price of popcorn.

  24. Cycloptichorn says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    You’re right – this is a pipe dream. What’s FAR more likely is that a brokered convention ends up with one of the current candidates winning.

  25. Cycloptrichorn,

    Which is in some sense what happened in 1976, although it’s not entirely accurate to call what happened in Kansas City that year a “brokered” convention.

  26. Brummagem Joe says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Bush I was a fool who was easily rolled by the Democrats and lost in a rout because he went along with the Democrats on tax increases. Yet, the Democrats demagogged Bush I for those same tax increase. Bush I is a good example of why making deals with Democrats never works. The Republicans always lose in such deals and the Democrats always win because Democrats are never going to come through with their side of the deal. That is also why Clinton had to throw the Congressional Democrats under the bus during his adminstration. Congress Democrats are just too undependable.

    Yes I can see you live in the reality based universe (btw Saint Ronnie raised taxes 11 times!!). It’s folks like you that caused me to stop voting for Republicans but don’t let me stop you working that old black magic on the GOP. It’ll be the death of them.

  27. Brummagem Joe says:

    @Cycloptichorn:

    Precisely….Romney/Paul anyone?

  28. An Interested Party says:

    Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, Christie, Rubio, Ryan, and, of course, That Woman…the President must be quite terrified of the potential opponents he might have…

  29. superdestroyer says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    the reality is that Bush I received 38% of the vote and that James Carville made it a point to beat up Bush about raising taxes.

    High taxes, high spending, high entitlements makes the Democratic Party stronger and the Republican Party weaker. The best way to ensure that people will pay higher taxes tomorrow is to refuse to cut spending spending today.

    I know that the Democrats are doing to be the one relevant party in the future because they are the one relevant party today. All the Republicans get out of any compromise with Democrats is the blame when the programs fail.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    All the Republicans get out of any compromise with Democrats is the blame when the programs fail.

    Awwwww….those poor, mistreated Republicans…they deserve all our sympathy because they are constantly outsmarted by those dastardly Democrats…

  31. Brummagem Joe says:

    @superdestroyer:

    the reality is that Bush I received 38% of the vote and that James Carville made it a point to beat up Bush about raising taxes.

    Gawd help us….that was because there was a notable third party candidate who was in many ways to the right of Papa Bush. Without this Clinton probably would have been beaten. Man…you’re about as sharp as a butter knife.

  32. superdestroyer says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    I guess progressives have nothing else, they will use insults and snark.

    Even the left leaning media knows that Perot did not cost Bush the election. Bush cost himself the election by being stupid, short-sighted, and by giving the Democrats what they wanted. Maybe you should rewatch the movie “The War Room.” Carville and Begala beat the crap out of Bush because he raised taxes.

    The most interesting this about the 1992 election is it showed that the base line for the Democrats was 43% and the Republicans was 38%. Since then the demographic groups that automatically vote for the Democratic Party have grown since then and the demographic groups that tend to vote for Republicans has gone down. That is why the U.S. will soon be a one party state: The percentage of the voters who will vote for Democrats no matter what will soon be above 50%.

  33. Brummagem Joe says:
  34. Brummagem Joe says:

    @superdestroyer:

    The most interesting this about the 1992 election is it showed that the base line for the Democrats was 43% and the Republicans was 38%. Since then the demographic groups that automatically vote for the Democratic Party have grown since then and the demographic groups that tend to vote for Republicans has gone down. That is why the U.S. will soon be a one party state: The percentage of the voters who will vote for Democrats no matter what will soon be above 50%.

    Oddly enough I sort of agree with this although as usual you’re exaggerating. But you’re lying again about 1992. It’s a widely held view in the media and elsewhere that Perot cost Poppy (who I voted for) the election.

  35. superdestroyer says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    I do not know how have been reading in the media but I suggest trying almost all o the rest of the media.

    http://www.salon.com/2011/04/04/third_party_myth_easterbrook/

    If Perot had not run Clinton would have been well above 50% of the vote.

  36. Brummagem Joe says:

    @superdestroyer:

    I do not know how have been reading in the media but I suggest trying almost all o the rest of the media.

    What seems to have escaped your notice genius is that this is the opinion of one writer who as he himself points out is in disagreement with much of the opinion on left and right about the effect of Perot’s candidacy thereby proving that this was just another of your misprepresentations. Viz.

    Even the left leaning media knows that Perot did not cost Bush the election.

  37. superdestroyer says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    If you are going to insult people, the least you could go is provide your own links instead of nitpicking othes. However, I understand that progressives almost never provide links but believe that snark replaces the needs for references.

    However, even wikipeida disagrees with you.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1992#Analysis

    Please provide your own links before you insult others.

  38. Brummagem Joe says:

    @superdestroyer:

    If you are going to insult people, the least you could go is provide your own links instead of nitpicking othes.

    Apparently it’s off limits and insulting if you point out that a poster’s own links contradict him.

    Please provide your own links before you insult others.

    Can you make this guy up?

  39. superdestroyer says:

    @Brummagem Joe:

    If a view is widely held in the media it should be very easy to find cites for your position. That you cannot find a single reference for your position means that you are arguing a very weak position.

    However, when one resorts to insults instead of cites, one is just playing the progressives playbook.