I’m still on record with my prediction that Romney will ulimately be the GOP nominee. While I’ve been writing a lot about ways that he might lose or go to a brokered convention, the math is on his side. I wrote earlier today about the Romney camps difficult position at this stage in the game – they know they’re running ahead with a good path to the nomination, but it’s going to a long slog, and the only real argument they have is “math” and “a convention would be bad for the party.” Neither of those arguments is really set up to fire up the base or change Romney’s image as a stiff-shirt.
That said, I think Santorum still has a fighting chance. As I’ve written before and as other people are starting to realize, Gingrich dropping out to make a two-man-plus-Ron-Paul race isn’t necessarily the best thing for Santorum. There are already signs that Gingrich is thinking along the lines of a tag-team strategy, but they wouldn’t have to go that far – just a joint recognition that they’re both interested in keeping Romney from the top spot.
Most of the calculations that follow are based on the NYT’s 538 blogs calculations from last week – while this particular calculation pre-dates Tuesday’s primaries, they accurately predicted the results, so are good enough for my purposes.
Everything comes down to that – Romney needs 1144. None of the other guys can hope for it, so their only goal is keeping him from getting there. Gingrich can help with that goal more by staying in the race than by getting out – up to a point. In contests where delegates are given proportionally, Gingrich can help bleed delegates from Romney – he’s also bleeding delegates from Santorum, but that doesn’t matter as much as keeping Romney’s total lower.
The next key thing to note is that the last real* contest of the race takes place on June 5 – there are 5 states voting and nearly 250 delegates up for grabs. The bulk of those (nearly 220) come from just California and New Jersey. If Romney can’t close the deal before then, the last two weeks of May will be interesting to watch. Santorum will probably have a series of wins in Arkansas (5/22), Kentucky (5/22) and Texas (5/29). Then there will be a week where everyone realizes that if Romney doesn’t win big on June 5, he won’t get to 1144.
To me, THIS would be the time for Gingrich to step aside and support Santorum. Both of the key states in the June contest are winner-take all – Gingrich could then drop out, endorse Santorum, giving him a shot in the arm when he needs it most.
Where I think this strategy breaks down is I don’t think it will work – Romney is polling at 50% plus in both NJ and CA, so it would take a major swing in momentum to put those States in the Santorum camp and put this thing into overtime, even with a well-timed and pitched endorsement from Gingrich. That said, the math going into those contests will be straight forward – everyone will know that those states are the key to a brokered convention. The psychology behind the GOP electorate that point in time is hard to predict – they may decide that this thing has gone on long enough and it’s time to put it away and get to campaigning. Or, they may decide that if Romney is so weak he can’t get the nomination, then a brokered convention is exactly what the GOP needs to get excitement back up. I think the latter scenario is unlikely – I think Romney will win CA and NJ and get the nomination on the 5th.
There is likely, however, to be a couple of weeks where everyone KNOWS what has to happen in order to either put it away or send it to the convention – and that could make for some major upsets.
*:There’s another primary at the end of June, but that’s the Utah primary which can safely be put in the “Romney” column.