Why are Republicans afraid of an open convention?

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According to most talking heads and political pundits, the race for the GOP’s presidential nomination is all but over, as former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has pulled away from the rest of the field over the last couple of months. Party leaders are urging the remaining candidates to stop trying to win votes and delegates. The oft-repeated refrain is that we must “unite the party” around Romney and avoid a brokered convention at all costs. The GOP establishment appears deathly afraid of having a convention that is anything more than a parade of pre-choreographed speeches and parties.

Yet, a truly open convention would increase the GOP’s chances of defeating Barack Obama in November. A brokered convention would spark very real interest among the party faithful and, even more importantly, among independent voters. And it would send a clear message to those who would rather preserve the status quo than nominate a candidate who might shake up that status quo.

In 1976, Republicans faced a choice similar to the one they face now. In one corner, there was President Gerald Ford, a moderate who fell into the White House after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. In the other corner, there was an exciting conservative former governor by the name of Ronald Reagan.

There was talk of a brokered convention thanks to Reagan’s strong challenge from the right. However, Ford narrowly averted this — winning 117 more delegates than Reagan, then losing the general election to Jimmy Carter.

Thankfully, Reagan came back four years later and became not just a conservative icon, but a president considered by many historians to have been among the best of the twentieth century and a leader even many Democrats were able to get behind. If there had been a brokered convention in Kansas City in 1976, Reagan might have reached the White House four years earlier and changed the course of history for the better (recall the Iran debacle that resulted largely from Carter’s ineptitude in understanding and managing international affairs).

The fact that the establishment has decided that Mitt Romney is the next in line to be the GOP nominee does not mean that conservatives must accept that decision. A brokered convention, which is so feared by the supporters of the status quo, may be just what the doctor ordered and exactly what the party needs to produce a strong candidate who can draw a clear contrast between himself and President Obama, not just in style but in substance.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.