With three different candidates winning the first three contests, the Republicans have established that the race to their party’s presidential nomination will not be decided early in the process. While the lesser lights (Cain, Bachmann, Huntsman, and Perry) have all bowed out, four intrepid souls are still very much in the game as the first big-state primary in Florida is set to occur next week.
One of them will most probably end up as the party’s nominee, but any number of scenarios might lead to that result. Or, someone not even in the current field could emerge with the party’s nomination. Here are a few possible scenarios that could develop, unlikely though they might currently appear:
Newt Gingrich again loses favor with the voters, the result of a steady barrage of anti-Gingrich ads (mostly from Romney and his Super-PACs) and his own “grandiosity,” as when he says something like, “Social Security enslaves more people today than the South did in the pre-Civil War years.”
Looking desperately for an alternative to Romney, the rank-and-file coalesces around Rick Santorum, who manages to avoid speaking his mind on social issues and instead sounds like an economic populist. His campaign picks up steam and Romney continues to get no more than 30 percent of the vote in primaries and caucuses. Ultimately, Gingrich, unable to pull off yet another Lazarus act, drops out, endorsing Santorum as he does.
Santorum locks up the nomination with a big win in California, where, ironically, wild-eyed Republicans reject Romney as too much a product of Hollywood packaging.
Santorum, handicapped by a lack of funds, runs poorly in Florida, finishing a distant fourth. He reluctantly “suspends” his campaign, never to be heard from again. In his absence, Gingrich builds a sizeable anti-Romney following. He continues to score well with the voters by attacking the liberal media and the socialist Obama while claiming that Romney is a liar and a fraud.
Romney responds by parading a dozen current and former members of Congress before the press. They all claim that Gingrich was an incompetent Speaker and that he would be a dangerous president because of his lack of leadership skills and his massive ego.
As the two battle viciously against each other, Ron Paul gets more attention from the voters. He softens his positions ever so slightly (sounding a little less like a pacifist and a little more like an economic centrist), and thereby begins to gain traction in the mainstream media.
The three arrive at the convention in August with Romney and Gingrich each holding about 40 percent of the pledged delegates and Paul holding the other 20 percent. Paul makes a backroom deal with Romney, securing the VP slot for his son Rand, and Romney gets the nomination.
Gingrich pokes Romney in the eye again in Florida, leading the Republican establishment, which has to this point been firmly in Romney’s camp, to reassess his “electability.” But, still disdainful of Gingrich, and believing him to be a certain loser who would drag down the party’s House and Senate prospects, the party’s leaders seek to get a late entry into the race. As a result, a sudden “draft-Christie” movement materializes that presents the New Jersey Governor with yet another opportunity to weigh his “interest and readiness” for a national campaign.
Christie has been firmly in the Romney camp, but political alliances can shift quickly, especially when one of the allies is suddenly imbued with “presidential fever.” In this scenario, Christie stays out at first, waiting to see if Romney can recover.
But when Romney, despite his massive financial war chest, is unable to rebound by the end of the February contests, Christie starts putting out subtle messages about his willingness to “accept a draft.” With establishment support pushing for him to announce his candidacy, Christie finally does jump in.
Despite his late entry into the race, Christie wins the primaries and caucuses he gets into. As the nominating contests come to a close, he has 20-25 percent of the committed delegates, as do Paul, Gingrich, and Romney. Santorum has the rest, and he throws his support to Gingrich.
The convention goes through four ballots before Romney loses his delegates to Christie, who then gains enough additional votes to secure the nomination on the sixth ballot.
Romney rebounds from his South Carolina defeat by winning decisively in Florida. He then prevails in the super-Tuesday contests and is declared the presumptive nominee by the media. Following a few more contests with similar results, Santorum first and then Gingrich drop out, throwing their support to Romney.
Paul announces that he will not abandon his cause and will instead accept the mantle of presidential candidate on the Americans Elect ticket. Americans Elect has by then succeeded in gaining a spot on all 50 state ballots and, at its convention, nominates Paul as its candidate. Paul selects South Carolina’s junior Senator, Jim DeMint, as his running mate, planning a Southern/tea party strategy for the fall campaign.
That last scenario may not be as bizarre as it sounds. Americans Elect is a serious grass-roots movement (funded primarily by a wealthy individual named Peter Ackerman) that is planning an Internet convention whereby everyone will be able to vote for a presidential ticket to run as a third party in all fifty states. To date, the organization has gained official ballot status in 15 states, but it appears on track to secure that status in most, if not all, of the remaining states.
Assuming it does, someone will be its standard-bearer. Ron Paul hasn’t shown any overt interest yet, but Paul is the kind of ideologue who will easily eschew his party label if he believes he can gain a viable platform to air his views. Americans Elect could well be that platform.
Which of these scenarios will ultimately lead to the fall campaign? Maybe none of them; but if one of them does unfold more or less as I’ve suggested, please remember where you first saw it mentioned as a possibility.