GOP leaders are growing increasingly concerned about the tone of the Republican primary, and many of them are starting to talk about the possibility of a last-minute candidate jumping in to save the race. I have written before about how the altered political environment makes a brokered convention an actual possibility in 2012. Changes in the Republican delegate rules and the ability of SuperPACs to refinance campaigns virtually overnight have made it increasingly likely that the GOP primary will drag on until June. Combine that with an electorate that is disinclined to fall in line with the Party Establishment and a divided convention starts to seem like a lot more than just bored pundit fantasies.
“It’s still not likely, but it is looking more and more like a possibility,” GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio told Business Insider. “A lot of it depends on what happens over the next couple of weeks.”
Fabrizio notes that the 2008 Democratic primary was not decided until June. But for Republicans in 2012, he said, “there are four candidates building up delegate counts, so it becomes more problematic.”
“The problem for Romney then is that [he] couldn’t put it away,” Fabrizio said. “If you look at the candidates he’s running against, they might decide that Romney is still their best shot. But if they decide to draft someone else, then [Romney’s candidacy] is dead. Then you’ll start to see them mention a lot of people.”
The perception problem is obvious, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that some of Romney’s most visible surrogates are some of the names party leaders are starting to toss around as potential White Knights. Business Insider has learned that at least one top Romney surrogate is being told to distance himself from Romney to prepare for a brokered convention scenario.
“No one wants to be caught standing on a sinking ship,” Fabrizio noted.
As long as the possibility for a brokered convention exists, Romney may also have a hard time picking up endorsements from the Republican Establishment. Jeb Bush, for example, turned down a spot as Romney’s national campaign chair, and has openly criticised the 2012 candidates for “appealing to people’s fears and emotion.” Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the consummate GOP powerbroker, has also stayed on the sidelines, and said last week that none of the candidates have effectively made the case that they can beat Obama in the fall. Mike Huckabee has also criticised the “toxic atmosphere” in the Republican Party.
GOP governors, gathered in Washington for the National Governors Association conference this weekend, similarly expressed displeasure at the candidates’ race to the right. Only 9 of the country’s 29 Republican governors have endorsed a candidate, and many indicate that they don’t plan to do so before the convention.
But party leaders have a strong incentive to wait and see how the race plays out. In the event of a brokered convention, these power players — and the governors in particular — could take on leading roles as kingmakers in the 2012 election.
“If it gets to that, state delegations are going to become a lot more responsive to Republican governors,” Fabrizio told Business Insider. “The governors could play very powerful roles when it comes down to who is going to hold sway over the delegates.”
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