The Republican Nominee is Already Running

No, some mythical candidate will not swoop in and save the day for the Republican Party.

Rhodes Cook, a “senior columnist” for Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, argues that the field may not be closed for the 2012 Republican race. In so doing, he demonstrates that, for all but practical purposes, the field is closed.

Such a scenario could not have unfolded in 2008, when the early January events were followed in short order by an early February Super Tuesday vote-fest that involved nearly half the country.

But the elongated layout of the nominating calendar this time provides the opportunity for a late-starting candidate to emerge. Should Mitt Romney stumble badly in the January events in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, another establishment Republican could enter the race in early February and still compete directly in states with at least 1,200 of the 2,282 or so GOP delegates. Many of them will be up for grabs after April 1 when statewide winner-take-all is possible.

My immediate reaction was Doesn’t this idiot know about filing deadlines? Several paragraphs giving examples of surges by candidates from decades past–before the modern primary system started–didn’t inspire much confidence. But, by and by, he offers this:

The main problem calendar-wise for late-starting candidates is there is often a lag time of two to three months between a primary filing deadline and the primary election itself. As a result, a candidate that jumped into the race early next February would still be too late to get his or her name on the ballot in all the primaries through early April, roughly 20 states in all. In these states, a late starter would have to be creative — “adopting” the Uncommitted line, for instance, in states where they are listed or mounting write-in campaigns in states where they are permitted.

But a late-starting candidate would be able to compete in caucus states immediately, where filing deadlines are rarely an issue. There will be fully a dozen states, plus territories, that will be holding their caucuses from Feb. 4 on. They will be offering a total of roughly 450 delegates.

And a candidate that entered the Republican contest in the wake of the Florida primary would be able to enter at least 15 primaries from April 24 on. It is a number that includes delegate-rich New York and Pennsylvania on April 24, Indiana and North Carolina on May 8, California and New Jersey on June 5 and Ohio on June 12. Taken together, this late array of primaries offers roughly 800 delegates, many of them to be awarded on a winner-take-all basis.

In addition, candidates that fall by the wayside as the primaries unfold often release their delegates, providing another significant pool for late-starting candidates to woo.

So . . . a candidate could swoop in after the key early states, immediately be more organized than most of the existing candidates, have more success getting on ballots than Newt Gingrich (the current frontrunner) and amass the needed 1142 delegates to win the nomination by essentially running the table in every remaining state? And this seems to wish away the fact that Super Tuesday is on March 6, less than a month after this candidate jumps in to save the day.

Here’s a handy dandy chart of the GOP calendar, complete with delegates and filing deadines:

You’ll note that the filing deadline has already passed for three Super Tuesday states and that the window is about to close in most of the others. The only ones left after January 9–a month before Cook’s proposed entry point–are some caucuses which award a whopping total of 125 delegates.

Indeed, most of the post-Super Tuesday states will have closed by early February, too. That includes the vaunted “delegate rich New York.”

And, seriously, this daunting obstacle is going to be overcome by creative use of the Uncommitted line, write-in ballots, and the kindness of strangers?

There’s one other small point: Who, exactly, is this candidate?

In order to swoop in and dominate the field at this late stage, someone would have to already have enormous name recognition, appeal across the wide swath of the Republican nominating electorate (we’re talking someone who can win Texas, New York, and California for starters), and raise or bring to the table boatloads of cash. Cook mentions Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie. I’ve also heard Mike Huckabee’s name bandied about lately. Presumably, there’s some reason that these people aren’t already running.

Like it or not, the guys showing up in the thrice-weekly debates are your 2012 Republican candidates. One of them will be the nominee.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, 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. cali says:

    Sarah Palin would be my dream; she understands the current issue better than anyone, and has stated so.
    Naturally, the establisment has no patience for one of our own choices. No more Bushes!

  2. An Interested Party says:

    The Republican Nominee is Already Running

    In other words, the GOP is already in deep $hit…

  3. The idea that someone can jump into the race in February and dive right into Super Tuesday and the rest of the March primaries is silly. For one thing, we’d be talking about a candidate that had not been vetted at all and, as Rick Perry can tell us, getting vetted on the fly doesn’t always turn out so well for the candidate. For another, we’re clearly at a point where a lot of Republican insiders, major donors, and campaign professionals have already chosen sides. It’s hard to tell where even a superstar would find the resources to put together a credible campaign.

  4. sam says:


    Sarah’s my dream, too. But I’d settle for Michelle.

  5. Hey Norm says:

    Very nice to see your by-line this morning, James.
    If these folks were going to run, why wouldn’t they have done it when there was plenty of time to file? Why in the world would you put yourself behind the eight-ball, and more importantly, why in the world would I vote for a person who puts themselves behind the eight-ball?
    Yeah…Sarah is my dream candidate too…though I suspect our reasoning differs. I do think her no-bounds-narcissism could still make her run a 3rd party campaign…although from what I have read she is willing to endorse either Mitt or the current Not-Mitt.

  6. de stijl says:

    James, hope you and your family are well.

    Who is the person in the second row, third from left in the caricature? It kinda looks like Richard Cohen after a shave.

    I also like the inclusion of The Rent Is Too Damned High guy on the bottom row. But wouldn’t he have to change his party registration?

    As to Cook’s column, with analysis of this caliber, heck, I should apply. I could probably qualify for “Super Senior Columnist” just starting out, and work my way up to “Mega Senior Columnist” lickety-split.

  7. Liberty60 says:

    Likewise, good to see your posting again.

    My takeaway is that the GOP base has allowed its platform to be simply “we don’t like Obama”;
    Even though any one of the candidates can offer a lengthy platform of sorts, the real energy in the base is just hatred of Obama and liberals.

    So anyone who pushes that button can immediately become a darling of the base, without really any other qualifications.

  8. Franklin says:

    @de stijl: I don’t know, but it sounds like you can tell me the top-right guy and the one below him. I suppose the Rent guy is included for more diversity??? I also appreciate the artist’s ‘name’.

  9. Kylopod says:

    Strange as it may sound, the Rent guy has been running for the GOP nomination. I remember reading about it several months ago. I don’t know if he’s still in the race.

    Okay, I see he is:

  10. anjin-san says:

    Sarah Palin would be my dream; she understands the current issue better than anyone

    Indeed. She understands the pulse of the times. “Grab all the cash you can and to hell with everything else.”

  11. OKDem says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    The only rational scenario for someone swooping in would go something like this.
    1. Newt wins the early primaries and Super Tuesday. [likely]
    2. Perry wins Texas and maybe Oklahoma. [Still fairly likely]
    3. The party elite pick their Not Romney and maybe run him in a few late primaries. Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, California. [Not likely- Romney is their boy but this is Plan B…]
    4.Newt has about 900 delegates, Romney about 300-500, Ron Paul, Perry and third guy about 100-200 each. [There are a lot less “winner take all” than in 2008.]
    5. PROFIT! I mean – Third guy is nominated on the 4th-6th ballot.

    The elite of the Grumpy old Paternalistic party are not going to chose Sarah or any female. That’a why I keep using male pronouns.

  12. Neil Hudelson says:


    Someone’s due to be the next Not-Mitt!

  13. Barb Hartwell says:

    I don`t think anyone else wants to be part of this circus, I think others are pretty sure Obama is going to win and will plan for a win in 2016. That is one I am most afraid of. I believe Pat Toomey will be the front runner in that campaign and he truly scares the bajeebers out of me

  14. Scott F. says:

    @de stijl:

    By process of elimination, that Cohen-esque guy has got to be Gary Johnson.

  15. de stijl says:


    Top right is Haley Barbour and below him is Tom Coburn.

    I’m thinking the second row, third from left guy may be Eric Cantor. But the hair is too gray and the glasses are wrong.

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Someone’s due to be the next Not-Mitt!

    Arguably, Mitt is Not-Mitt. Quantum Mitt – he’s a particle and a wave! Schrodinger’s Mitt!

  16. de stijl says:

    @Scott F.:

    Johnson is bottom row, third from left.

    BTW, whenever I see you comment, I always get a little weirded out – my name is also “Scott F.” IRL, so when I start reading what your comment, my brain immediately flashes to – “I don’t remember writing that – oh yeah, I comment under “de stijl”.

  17. Scott F. says:

    @de stijl:

    Surprisingly, my middle name is “de stijl”, so my reaction is the same 😉

  18. Franklin says:

    @de stijl: Thank you. Before I posted I did guess at Tom Coburn (whose face I didn’t really know) and couldn’t make that one look like him. And I can’t make mystery man look like Cantor, either.

  19. Scott F. says:

    @de stijl:

    I don’t think that is Cantor. It may be Buddy Roemer.

  20. rodney dill says:

    @de stijl:

    Schrodinger’s Mitt!

    Both electable and unelectable at the same time.

  21. Xenos says:

    @sam: Michelle? You mean Michele, right?

    I am a huge fan of Michelle, but I doubt you are, too.

  22. de stijl says:

    @Scott F.:

    I’m leaning towards Roemer too, but the glasses are wrong. At this point, I’m willing to write it off as something I’ll never know.

    Surprisingly, my middle name is “de stijl”, so my reaction is the same 😉

    Cousin Scott, is that you?!? How’s Uncle Piet doing?

    @rodney dill:

    He’s a dessert topping and a floor cleaner!

  23. rodney dill says:
    This link has a slightly different picture, but I believe the same artist, and the names are listed. Making the one to the left of Bachmann, Fred Karger….

  24. rodney dill says:

    Haley Barbour still looks more like John Madden to me than anything else.

  25. Peacewood says:

    Glad to have you back, James. Hope all is well.

    David Frum wrote that the reaction to Gingrich’s nomination by the establishment Republican party would be “full unconcealed panic”. I guiltily confess that I’m hoping for just that, but it seems to me far more likely that the establishment types will just swallow hard and give full support to whoever is nominated, even Newt.

  26. MM says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Why in the world would you put yourself behind the eight-ball, and more importantly, why in the world would I vote for a person who puts themselves behind the eight-ball?

    From a candidate’s point of view, it’s a dream. No arduous slog through Iowa for a year, greeting every damn caucus-goer on earth and eating corn dogs and funnel cakes. No year plus of debate prep and dealing with oppo research or being vetted.

    It plays well with the media because of the Pundit’s Fallacy, and at the moment more so with the Right-wing media because they are dissatisfied with the current crop of candidates. Logistics notwithstanding, any candidate how was to swoop in at the last minute would have the same issues that the existing candidates have.

    Bloomberg’s a RINO, Christie is a squish and someone even more to the right of the current crop is unelectable.

  27. de stijl says:

    @rodney dill:


    Looking at a picture of Karger (I had no idea who is let alone what he looks like) I can see the match.

    Funny, I expected Fred Karger to look a little more scarred and wearing a striped sweater, fedora, and a glove with knives on the fingers.

  28. rodney dill says:

    @de stijl:

    Funny, I expected Fred Karger to look a little more scarred and wearing a striped sweater, fedora, and a glove with knives on the fingers.

    Heh heh.

  29. Good to see you posting again, James. Pretty much agree with you %100.

  30. john personna says:

    Schrodinger’s Mitt!

    If Mitt could figure a way top be not-Mitt he’d be home free …

  31. sam says:


    I am a huge fan of Michelle, but I doubt you are, too.

    New here, are you?

  32. Hello World! says:

    ….and Chris Chisty is already the VP nom.

  33. Rochester says:

    Only a small handful of my Republican friends fall into the wingnut category, and we don’t talk politics, because I don’t like to set them off. Although mostly decent people, they’re angry, poorly educated, and somehow impressed by whack-a-doodles like Bachmann and Palin.

    But the vast majority of my friends who are Republican have already made up their minds: they will either re-elect President Obama, or sit out the vote.

    I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re pretty embarrassed.

  34. FeartheSame says:

    Who’s the guy next to Palin that looks like Howard Dean?