Every four years, a small subset of political junkies starts salivating over the prospect that no one candidate will garner enough delegates to win his or her party's nomination for the presidency. That would lead to the junkie's greatest fantasy: a brokered convention.
The way the GOP primary is playing out so far this year is giving those junkies unusual hope. Over at National Review, Brian Bolduc crunches the numbers and concludes: "A brokered convention is possible, if improbable."
His spreadsheet of various primary outcomes splits the vote so former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney wins most of the northern states, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich cleans up in the South, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul and other contenders win just enough other delegates to cause trouble. So no one has the necessary 1,144 out of 2,286 delegates to claim victory at the convention. Cue the smoke-filled backroom.
The brokered convention fantasy has been given an unusual boost this year by the new GOP primary rules. Most primary and caucus contests held before April 1 will award delegates proportionally, rather than hand them to a winner in a lump sum as usual.
Of course, there are all sorts of complicating factors. As Bolduc puts it:
"Yes, even this implausible scenario has caveats: For it to work, the early primaries' delegates would have comply with the election results, though there's no legal requirement for them to do so. In states such as Iowa and Arizona, delegates aren't bound to vote for the candidates who win their states. Second, included in these delegate counts are the state-party chairmen and national-committee members, who also are allowed to vote however they want. Third, various surprises could throw it off. In Louisiana, for instance, if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in its primary, its delegates go to the convention uncommitted. Fourth, some delegates eliminated from the convention by the early-primary penalty may not stay eliminated. If all that stands between a candidate and the nomination is a state's full number of delegates, it's not inconceivable that they could push the party to drop the penalty."
And the entire scenario could be foiled by what happened over the weekend. The Republican party of Virginia tweeted that both Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry had failed to qualify for its March 6, Super Tuesday ballot.
Gingrich's "failure to get on the ballot in Virginia could also shake the confidence of voters in states that go to the polls before Virginia does. Why, his supporters in those states might ask, should I throw my vote away on someone who might not be competing in other critical states?"
Gingrich has told supporters he is still "exploring alternate methods to compete in Virginia."
"Newt and I have talked three or four times today and he stated that his is not catastrophic — we will continue to learn and grow, " national campaign director Michael Krull wrote on Facebook.
The Washington Post speculates that Gingrich could mount a legal challenge to what he regards as burdensome ballot-access rules.
Although Virginia only required 10,000 signatures to qualify — an amount that doesn't seem out-of-reach for someone running a national campaign — it added a host of other rules, requiring that signature-gatherers live in the state and that at least 400 signatures come from each of the state's 11 congressional districts, the Post reported.
So far, only Romney and Paul are on the ballot and able to compete for Virginia's 49 delegates. The state does not allow write-ins.
Krull likened the Virginia ballot snafu to December, 1941:
"We have experienced an unexpected set-back [sic], but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action. Throughout the next months there will be ups and downs; there will be successes and failures; there will be easy victories and difficult days — but in the end we will stand victorious."
So that means the Virginia Republican party has launched a sneak attack and given Gingrich his own Pearl Harbor? In any case, it sounds like a long slog ahead.