Will mathematics trump Gingrich, Santorum, and Michael Steele?

If the prolonged slog of the Republican nomination process has you down, David Corn provides you with just the man to blame.  In his two years as the RNC chair, Michael Steele pushed through the rules changes that has kept Mitt Romney from locking down the nomination despite having won the most contests at this stage of the race.  Steele also had high-profile support for those changes:

In January 2011, Steele, the first African American chair of the Republican National Committee, was unceremoniously denied a second term by the party’s governing council, after a tumultuous two-year stint marked by the historic GOP takeover of the House but also multiple gaffes (Steele called Afghanistan “a war of Obama’s choosing”), blunders (spending $2000 in party funds at a West Hollywood bondage-themed nightclub), and charges of profound financial mismanagement. But during his rocky tenure at RNC HQ, Steele pushed for and won significant changes in the rules for the party’s presidential nomination process and shaped this year’s turbulent race.

These reforms are now bedeviling front-runner Mitt Romney and the Republican establishment by preventing Romney from wrapping up the nomination and keeping him mired in a nasty fight for the support of the party’s hardcore base voters, an ugly and grinding tussle that is defining Romney (and the party) in a manner that’s not bolstering his fall prospects (or the GOP’s). Moreover, the rules Steele bequeathed the party could yield an outcome in which Romney finishes with the most delegates, but not an outright majority, necessitating a brokered convention.

“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.

We’ll come back to the value of those changes in a moment.  The better question is whether the race will reward Steele’s purported desire for a brokered convention.  According to ABC’s Rick Klein, the answer is almost certainly no — thanks to the rules Steele put in place, and Romney’s mastery of them:

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. …

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.

In other words, math giveth — and math taketh away.  In previous cycles, a candidate who won binding primaries in New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, and Michigan would already be planning their acceptance speech for the convention and choosing speaking times for his erstwhile competitors.  The new rules give more opportunity for trailing challengers to stay in the race longer (as do super-PACs, a new wrinkle for 2012), but they also make it easier for Romney to remain far ahead in the delegate count.  When it comes to the winner-take-all primaries that mainly start in April, Romney can expect to dominate in states like Maryland, Delaware, California, New Jersey, Washington DC, and Utah, and might win in Wisconsin as well.  That would add 377 delegates to his total even without considering the haul he’ll get in proportional allocations from now until the end of the process.  Unless something changes fast in the race, Romney’s on pace to win the nomination outright.

With that in mind, let’s return to the question of whether to blame Steele for the process this cycle.  In 2008, John McCain’s early anointing as the nominee angered a lot of Republicans, most of whom never got the chance to cast a meaningful vote in the primaries.  Steele didn’t just change the rules in a vacuum; there was a lot of pressure on Republicans to revise the process so that a handful of states didn’t get to make the same decision in 2012.  To that extent, the rules worked.  After tomorrow, we will have had 30 contests in the primary battle — not all of which are binding, but all of which allows for voters to have some impact on the nominating process.

We need a better nomination process in both parties, one that allows for more participation with more choices for more voters.  That means getting away from “first in the nation” bragging rights, especially for caucuses, and focusing on regional sweeps that rotate from cycle to cycle — or to a series of national primary voting days that allow for elimination of lower-scoring candidates.  However, the 2012 process still improved on the 2008 cycle, which by this time had all but ended the competition and produced a candidate that wasn’t up for the tough slog of the 2008 campaign.  At least this time, we’ll know that the eventual nominee will have that experience.

About Albert N. Milliron 6987 Articles

Albert Milliron is the founder of Politisite. Milliron has been credentialed by most major news networks for Presidential debates and major Political Parties for political event coverage. Albert maintains relationships with the White House and State Department to provide direct reporting from the Administration’s Press team. Albert is the former Public Relations Chairman of the Columbia County Republican Party in Georgia. He is a former Delegate.

Milliron is a veteran of the US Army Medical Department and worked for Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Psychiatry.

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