There seems to be a determined chorus coming from Republican party leaders and insiders pushing the idea that it’s time for Rick Santorum to get out of the primary race and arguing the inevitability of a Romney victory. The strategy now seems to be to just discourage Republican voters, telling them Romney is going to win so there’s no point in even looking for alternatives. It’s a desperate kind of strategy which might lead to many Republicans staying home in November..
The lead cheerleader for throwing in the towel and giving it all to Romney seems to be Karl Rove who is likely to be acting as a flak for the establishment, describing Santorum as a desperate, fading candidate.
Rove may be right about the hopelessness of Santorum’s campaign. The latest poll shows him losing his own home state of Pennsylvania to Romney, and prospects are not good for him in many of the major remaining states. But the inevitability of a Santorum defeat is not the inevitability of a Romney win, no matter how much the insiders climbing on his bandwagon want it to be.
The problem is that despite the hopeful claims Rove is making, the delegate math just doesn’t support his theory of inevitability, and the ongoing chorus of big name endorsements doesn’t seem to be helping Romney much either, since the same concerns which have alienated much of the party from Romney also make them unresponsive to establishment leaders.
Take a look at the numbers. There are 1089 delegates to be assigned in the remaining primaries. To reach the magic number of 1144 Romney needs 588 more delegates. That’s 53.9% of the remaining delegates. That seems achievable. By the accepted estimates Romney has averaged 60% of the delegates so far. In theory, if that trend continues, he will eventually end up with 653 more delegates for a total of 1231, 42 more than he needs.
The problem with this theory is that it assumes that delegate estimates largely based on the initial popular vote in past primaries are accurate. Yet in most of those states there is only a very rough relationship between the popular vote and how delegates are assigned. Delegates are actually chosen through arcane hierarchies of caucuses and conventions which give an advantage to candidates with strong grassroots support, which is Romney’s weak point.
While most media estimates put Ron Paul’s delegate count at around 30-50 delegates, there are reliable reports from a number of states that Paul has far more delegates than most estimates give him – by as many as 70 or more at this point. Despite shameful attempts to manipulate the system it appears that states whose delegates were credited to Romney are actually going in part or total to Paul. Not enough to win Paul the nomination, but enough to deny Romney the inevitability of his victory.
In fact, the actual delegate totals from most of the states where the elections ended months ago, won’t actually be final until later this summer, and in the meantime only Paul has people on the ground working in every state to advance his interests and increase his delegate count. They are chipping away at the other candidates and when real, final delegate numbers are revealed it seems quite likely that Romney will be much shorter of the mark than anyone realizes.
To a large extent the goal of all of the players except for Romney is to avoid a first-ballot win. If they can get to the convention with no clear winner, then deals can be made and votes can be changed on later ballots and there will be concessions to be won by someone. Romney may indeed end up being the nominee, but no one wants him to get there too easily. And in the end it’s quite likely that the big payoff will be to Ron Paul, because if he has enough delegates to get Romney to 1144, then a deal with him would be much more attractive and require fewer hard to swallow concessions than a deal with one of the other candidates.
The purpose of the “inevitability strategy” is to avoid the outcome of a convention where deals have to be made. Deals benefit the grassroots. They mean safeguards and accountability and concessions to groups which don’t like the party establishment much at all. It’s a strategy which might give Obama the win in November, but those who are pushing it would rather keep control of a losing minority party than make concessions and give up some of their control to what they see as barbarians pounding at the gate, though others may see them as a hopeful future for an aging and increasingly irrelevant party.
This article appeared in somewhat different form in Blogcritics Magazine.