Newt Gingrich Could Hand the Republican Nomination to Chris Christie
About the only job better than weatherman—where you can get it wrong half the time and still remain employed—is political pundit. These guys make an art out of looking dumb, and doing so with authority.
In the last few years alone, we have been told that Obama had zero chance of beating Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney was sure to be the GOP nominee in 2008, 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 Republican nomination, which the pundit brain trust is now telling us is a done deal after Mitt’s victory in Florida.
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.
And the most comedic part is that the “experts” don’t even know it. If they just took a walk outside 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 the winner. In fact, that’s a good bet since he has money and organization advantages over Gingrich. But to say it’s all but over is simply foolish.
Cutting through the pundits’ white noise, it is worth looking at where the race really stands. Never before have there been three different winners in the first three contests, so that alone should be a caution sign for traditional predictions. Mitt Romney has won two of the four contests, including the winner-take-all state of Florida, and yet the total number of delegates awarded so far amounts to just five percent.
Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, for various reasons, cannot win the nomination, but they can and will garner delegates, as many states award delegates on a proportional basis based on popular vote.
Without question, Gingrich will be in the hunt for the long haul. Following a disappointing fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, after which the “experts” wrote him off for good, he roared back to a thundering victory in South Carolina. In all likelihood, he will win a number of states on Super Tuesday, and in the contests he doesn’t win, he will post strong second-place finishes.
(There is another reason for Gingrich to stay in the race: the possibility that Romney will say or do something that would catastrophically implode his candidacy. Mitt came close this week when he said “I’m not concerned about the very poor … You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus.” Such blunders run in the family, as his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, crushed his quite viable presidential aspirations by stating he was “brainwashed” into supporting the Vietnam War. The game was over the very instant he uttered that word.)
Short of a Romney implosion, Gingrich won’t win the nomination outright, but the impact of his candidacy could be substantially greater: He may deny Romney the prize. If the three “challengers” to Romney can keep Mitt from attaining that “fifty percent plus one” number, it’s a whole new ballgame.
And while such a scenario was unthinkable to many pundits just a few weeks ago, it is becoming increasingly plausible.
An often overlooked but extremely important factor in determining the nominee is that many of the states have different legal rules concerning their delegates. A handful of states, including delegate-rich Pennsylvania, do not require their delegates to commit for the candidate who won the state. Put in layman’s terms, come convention time, delegates from the Keystone State can cast votes for any person they wish, whether or not the candidate won the state or even participated in the primary process.
Obviously, in normal election years, party unity is assured because the nominee is determined early in the process. But this year is anything but normal. And there is precedent for delegates breaking ranks.
In 1980, George H.W. Bush handily won the primary election in Pennsylvania over Ronald Reagan. The Reagan folks knew they weren’t going to win, so they pulled a coup by ensuring that the delegates elected were loyal to The Gipper. So despite Bush winning by 100,000 votes, Reagan emerged with roughly 70 percent of the state’s delegates morally committed to him.
Given that situation, a major concern for Romney is getting the right delegates to achieve the right majority. But since Mitt has been running for president for five years, spent hundreds of millions in that endeavor, and still can’t come close to getting 50 percent of GOP primary voters, that might be a daunting task.
While still a long-shot scenario, don’t be surprised if, after all the states have voted, no one emerges a winner. If neither Romney nor Gingrich can successfully make a deal with Paul or Santorum to acquire their delegates, the country may see two men who despise each other hold a joint press conference announcing that, for the good of the party, they are withdrawing from the campaign and releasing their delegates.
And then it would become the Wild West. Backroom conventioneering would take on a life of its own, with countless deals being struck to choose the most unifying Republican ticket to take on Obama.
And who might top that list? Well, put it this way. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would do well to start using a treadmill. More than anyone else, Christie’s ability to tell it like it is, take no prisoners, and bulldog his way to success—despite major Democratic majorities in the state assembly—make him a party favorite. He is one of a very few who commands respect by the establishment, rank-and-file grassroots activists, and Tea Partiers alike.
Republicans, Democrats and Independents may not always agree with Christie, but they always know where he stands, and his speak-from-the-heart style is a breath of fresh air in a world of sound bites, talking points and focus groups.
Christie may have foreseen this scenario, possibly explaining why he declined to run in the brutal primaries. And for those who predict Christie as a Romney VP, forget it. He is nobody’s Number Two, and almost certainly would not sign on to a meaningless ceremonial post when he could have, quite possibly, captured the top prize for himself had he wanted to do so.
Should Christie decline an offer made at a brokered convention, the list of frontline candidates grows relatively thin, but undoubtedly Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and—dare we say it!—Jeb Bush would certainly be in play.
This scarcity of good candidates is testament to what happens when a political party refuses to build its bench with folks who actually believe in things, instead promoting those whose “turn it is.” Look no further than Bob Dole and John McCain. It’s pretty sad that in the election many Republicans are calling the most important in American history, the GOP can muster so few viable contenders.
No matter how it eventually plays out, the battle for the Republican nomination will go on for at least the next four months, and that’s a good thing. Despite the conventional wisdom as postulated by pundits that divisive primaries only serve to weaken a party’s candidates and needlessly give an advantage to the opponent, the opposite is true. Combative and lengthy primaries make candidates stronger, sharper and better prepared for the rigors of a general election presidential campaign. Barack Obama proved that in his protracted battle with Hillary.
And given that Obama is in the driver’s seat to emerge victorious in November, a long primary season—and even a brokered convention—could be just what the doctor ordered to energize the Republican Party and unify what is now a very discontented base.
President Christie, anyone?