“Too Late” Won’t Get Here For A While

Nate Silver wrote a recent article explaining how it’s not “too late” for a fresh face to enter the Republican Presidential field. I completely agree with that conclusion but disagree on the timeline Silver proposes. Rather than enter the race early in the delegate-selection process, I think the best chance a new conservative Republican (e.g., Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal) has at capturing the nomination is to enter later in the process, after Mitt Romney has appeared to clear the field.

Silver recommends to the candidate in question (he uses Sarah Palin in his example): “Devote all your attention to Iowa.” I completely disagree — Iowa is where the other conservative candidates, like Perry, Cain, and Bachmann, are spending their resources. Even a celebrity such as Palin would have to fight for attention.

Rather, a much better strategy is to wait for everyone except Mitt Romney to run out of money. Some Republican stalwarts will coalesce around their apparent nominee, but I have no doubt that the far right will experience serious angst. If Romney thinks he has the nomination sewn up, he’ll start moderating his issue positions in preparation for the general, and the Tea Party base will get even more uncomfortable with their new leader. Throw in some gaffes (to which Romney is fairly prone — see “Corporations are people” and OH Issue 2), and even loyal Republicans will start to have buyers remorse.

If you’re Bobby Jindal, you want all of the above to come to fruition by about-mid March. Considering Super Tuesday is March 6th, that timeline is tight, but possible. You then want to enter around March 20th, compete in Louisiana as a write-in on March 24 (how convenient — your home state!), and start filing for the April races (which start April 3rd). If Romney crashed-and-burned as quickly as, say, Rick Perry did, running the table would not be out of the question.

The beauty of the April-June races is that they are all winner-take-all (by rule). If you won all contests post-April 3rd (plus Louisiana), you’d garner 1,110 delegates — just shy of a majority, but possibly more than Romney had gained. (Aside: Perhaps you wouldn’t win Utah on June 26th, but some to-be-scheduled territory nominations might occur after April 1.)

Another quirk in the nominating process that would play to your advantage is that many states do not actually pledge all of their delegates to the person who earned them through the ballot box. Despite being the first state to hold a meaningful caucus, Iowa doesn’t pledge any of its delegates to a specific candidate. In effect, all of Iowa’s delegates are “superdelegates” (a term usually reserved for the Democratic convention). There are 162 unpledged delegates available to any candidate in pre-April contests. Those free-to-chose delegates plus April’s winner-take-all delegates would be more than enough to secure the nomination in Tampa.

There are two main ways this strategy could fail:

  • Romney has trouble clearing the field. Perhaps Cain is able to raise more money than the conventional wisdom suggests and he’s able to draw out the process — competing against Perry and Romney through the whole of March or later.

  • A conservative candidate (e.g., Perry) consolidates the anti-Romney vote and wins. Thus, there’s no Tea Party backlash and no need for a new conservative candidate to enter.

But neither of those scenarios are destined to occur; I’d say both are fairly unlikely (especially the former). Thus, there are many months to go before the GOP process crosses the Rubicon and the field is truly locked-in.

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