After the exhilarating 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, the Grand Old Party decided it wanted a bit of that next time around.
No more of this establishment-candidate-secures-nomination-by-March stuff, the Republicans wanted four all-out quarters from its boys (and girls), with twists and turns, upstarts and up-and-comers, surprises every Tuesday or Saturday, the candidates grinding it out through April, May and into the hard hot summer. And for God’s sake, let’s get some new faces in there while we’re at it.
There’s just one thing they forgot: dynamic candidates. In 2008 … no, even before that, all through 2006, 2007, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was The One. She had everything - a brilliant mind (and make no mistake, she’s one sharp lady); the Clinton Machine behind her (a Rolodex of a million big-money players goes a long way); and the feel of a foregone choice about to be validated, finally.
But soft, what light in yonder window breaks? It is Barack, and Barack is The One. Arise, The One, and kill the envious moon, who is already sick and pale with grief that thou, Barack, art far more fair than she.
But lo, what did the GOP miss in 2012? Oh wait, right: It doesn’t have a dynamic out-of-the-blue-first-black-man-for-president citizen of the world with ties to every part of it versus a former first lady/senator who works 70 hours a week and is destined - destined - to smash the glass ceiling.
No, instead, Republicans have a dog strapped to the roof of a car and two mutts chasing him down the highway - and the two mutts have no idea what they’d do if they actually caught the car.
Now, mind you, this is exactly the scenario Republicans set up in 2010. Party leaders felt the process was too front-loaded, tilted too far to establishment leaders. So, to extend and open up the nomination, the leaders moved from mostly winner-take-all primaries and caucuses to proportionate distribution of delegates based on popular vote.
“There were a lot of people on the [Republican National Committee] and other places who were not very happy after ‘08,” David Norcross, chairman of the party’s Rules Committee when the changes were made, told the Daily Beast. “We didn’t think it was right that four or five states got to pick the nominee. It was slam, bam, thank you, done - and I think we were not helped by that. In fact, some of us think [Sen. John] McCain was not helped by that because he was not forced to sharpen his candidate skills. It was over and he went on to wait for the Democrats to produce a candidate. Just sitting around waiting.”
The new system established hefty penalties for any state that sought to move up on the calendar, in essence halving the number of delegates a state could award if it were so brash. It didn’t work; Florida moved its primary up anyway, with disastrous results.
But the new system also suggested the stakes be ramped up after April 1. The idea was for states holding primaries and caucuses after that date to be winner-take-all. But many of the late-date states wanted the nomination battle to still be alive when their date came up, so they stuck with the proportional setup.
That is why, almost into April and just halfway through the primary calendar, front-runner Mitt Romney has less than half the 1,144 delegates needed to secure the nomination. And while everyone’s math differs, it looks as if he has to win about half of all delegates from now until the final primary in Utah on June 26.
Another massive miscalculation by the Republicans was the emergence of the super PAC. In past nomination battles, candidates have dropped out almost immediately after they lose a few primaries or caucuses in a row for one simple reason. Money. Nobody wants to back a loser, so the money would dry up fast. That’s why last time around, the candidate who won Iowa, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, dropped out March 4 after it became clear he couldn’t keep pace with Mr. McCain.
Not so this time around.
One candidate, Newt Gingrich, has been able to stay in the race almost exclusively because of a super PAC funneling him cash. Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson gave $21 million to a group called “Winning Our Future,” which is backing the former House speaker.
Yes, the 2012 GOP nomination is effectively over, and far earlier than the June 7 end of the 2008 Democratic battle. And probably, Mr. Romney will be stronger for the fight he was forced into (although apparently the mainstream media is more interested in covering Etch A Sketches).
Still, the system leaves much to be desired and likely will be revamped all over again. Who knows what the Grand Old Party will come up for 2016, but, judging from the way it has been doing things lately, it’ll be one colossal mess.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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