Let me play Bill Kristol for a moment.
It is obvious that the Republican electorate remains unenthused about the candidates running for the Republican nomination. The turnout in the primaries and caucuses has been low. A late January Rasmussen poll showed that over a third of Republican voters wish a new candidate would jump into the race.
For all Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have to offer — and they each certainly have some impressive attributes — it is clear that we are not dealing with the GOP A-team. Each has glaring inadequacies that make their candidacy less than ideal.
So is there anything that can be done at this late stage? Well, yes: Another candidate could enter the race.
I know, I know. That’s ludicrous. We have been told it is far too late for that. And if the goal is to acquire enough delegates to win the nomination outright, it is too late.
But that may no longer be the game. For the first time there is serious discussion about the possibility of a brokered convention, meaning that no candidate in the race will acquire the 1,144 delegates necessary to win the nomination on the first ballot at the GOP convention in Tampa. (RELATED: Full coverage of the 2012 elections)
“[A] viable path to a brokered convention is beginning to emerge,” wrote Sean Trende, senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics, last week.
As he noted, we could see Santorum, Romney and Gingrich splitting states all to the way to Tampa Bay.
If that’s true, it doesn’t matter whether a new candidate entering the race has the potential to win enough delegates to win the nomination. If they got in the race in time to go on a winning roll at the end of the primary calendar, they would become the obvious choice for the nomination in a brokered convention.
“A well financed candidate would be able to get on quite a few late primary ballots, so the potential is there,” political guru Larry Sabato told me, confirming the possibility that it wasn’t necessarily too late for a candidate to enter the race.
Here’s how it would work. A new candidate would obviously have to be a big name — a huge name — with a rich financial base, as Sabato suggested. There are really only a handful of options, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and perhaps a few others.
Christie, of course, has already endorsed Romney. But Christie could say post-Super Tuesday on March 6, if the three top candidates all split states, that while he supported Romney, it has become clear that the former Massachusetts governor has been unable to unify the party. In light of that and because this election is so important, he is rescinding his endorsement and jumping in the race.
If a GOP contender got in as late as right after Super Tuesday, they could probably at least get on the ballot in the final 7 states with filing deadlines between mid-March and early-April (though they should probably begin building an organization beforehand to do so). The seven states, which include delegate-rich California, have 405 delegates in play.
But the number of delegates at play is somewhat irrelevant. If a new candidate was able to unify the party and win the final seven states (or maybe six, considering one of them is Romney-friendly Utah) going into the convention, they would become the front-runner, no matter whether they were the delegate leader or not.
Theoretically, a Jeb Bush or Chris Christie could get the nomination at a brokered convention without jumping in the race late. But getting in before the convention is preferable for at least three reasons.
One, if they were chosen as the nominee at a brokered convention, it would feel less like they were being foisted on the base if they came into the convention after winning a series of states. Two, it is important that the Republican nominee be properly vetted before they face off with President Obama in November. This way they could be. Finally, three, they would come into the convention with a political organization already in place to turn around and face President Obama in the general election.
Now, whoever would jump in late would be taking a big risk. It could be quite embarrassing should a big name candidate get in and then fizzle.
I admit this scenario is highly, highly unlikely — but much of what has happened in the 2012 race so far has been unlikely before it occurred. Who would have predicted at the beginning of December that Rick Santorum would have a legitimate chance to win the GOP nomination? I’m not sure even Rick Santorum would have.
So Jeb, Chris — the real question is why not?