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Posted by on Feb 24, 2012 in Politics | 40 comments

For Romney, There’s Nowhere To Go But Down. Then There’s The Convention.

The latest Republican-centric Rasmussen nightly tracking poll is out and it’s bad news for the struggling Mitt Romney: For the first time, he dropped below 40 percent against President Obama despite a strong performance in the Arizona presidential debate.

Rasmussen tracked the incumbent at 49 percent while Romney got 39 percent, and if the pattern of tit-for-tat primary victories — with Romney taking one or two and then Rick Santorum taking two or three — continues, the likelihood of neither candidate having the requisite 1,245 delegates to secure the nomination in Tampa grows.

This, of course, raises the exquisite prospect of a brokered convention, but Republican Party elders who are desperate for a Romney-Obama face-off must surely realized that the GOP has been turned on its ear since the last brokered convention in 1976 when party deal makers sealed the nomination for President Ford over an up-and-comer by the name of Ronald Reagan.

That was when party leaders in the form of monied conservatives, state chairman, governors and influential congressfolk had the clout to broker the outcome, but in acceding to a toxic cocktail of Christianists and Tea Partiers in recent years in the service of short-term electoral gains, they also acceded power, which in the GOP is now pretty much from the bottom up and not the top down.

Long story short, the people with torches and pitchforks do not take orders from party elders.

This is very bad news for Romney and very good news for Santorum since the former Massachusetts governor is anathema to the new party base and the former senator from Pennsylvania is a far better fit even though only Romney has a chance of beating President Obama.

As Dick Polman writes at NewsWorks:

“Elected leaders used to have a lot of sway when the chips were down. But who, down at the grassroots, is going to take direction from John Boehner? Or Mitch McConnell? Or the Bush family? Or any of the governors (Chris Christie, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels) who have already fled center stage in 2012? None of them can speak for the party, much less knock heads together.

“Maybe Fox News chairman Roger Ailes is a pillar of a new kind of establishment. Or Sean Hannity. Or Rush Limbaugh. Or radio host Mark Levin. Or Karl Rove, assuming he has sufficiently distanced himself from the wreckage of the Bush administration he brought to power. But none of those people are brokers, in the traditional sense. They are agitators, not conciliators. If the GOP winds up this summer with a nominee who can’t unite the party — or no nominee, mathematically speaking — those people are likely to gin up the frenzy, not staunch it by seeking a solution.”

Political scientist Larry Sabato offers a compelling alternative: If no candidate wins a delegate majority, the brokers may well be the candidates themselves.

Writes Sabato:

“Their delegates are bound for at least one ballot, and most are personally loyal to the candidate and may follow his lead for multiple ballots, if it comes to that. Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul will have slogged through all 50 states by convention time. Why would they permit someone who slept in his own bed and had regular meals for the past year to swoop in and take the big prize? More likely, perhaps through trusted intermediaries, the four contenders would negotiate a solution — a ticket, platform and prime-time speech schedule.”

The alternative, Sabato notes, is chaos, and that would be disastrous after a lengthy primary season that has been the very definition of chaotic.