Don’t let Mitt Romney’s win last night in Florida’s GOP primary fool you: the fight for the Republican nomination is far from over, and the delicate dance for delegates is only just now beginning. This detailed graphic from The Washington Post puts things in perspective.
With Romney only at 87 GOP delegates as of yesterday, Gingrich at 26, Santorum at 14 and Paul at 4, all are still nearly two months away from getting to the magic number of 1,144. Especially since it’s not yet clear that he can win the upcoming caucus states, Romney can’t easily dismiss Gingrich’s promise to march on toward the convention in an attempt to replicate Reagan.
Margaret O’Mara, a UW professor of modern-American history, says that Gingrich knows his history.
“He also sees an opportunity, which is that the base simply does not like Romney, and the establishment is lukewarm on him,” she said. “He is paying attention to Barry Goldwater, that is for sure, and he believes he can have a different outcome.”
Goldwater’s win of the 1964 GOP nomination, despite concern from establishment moderates that he was too conservative, provides one of the better analogues (in that case they were right–he went on to lose the general election in a landslide). Ronald Reagan’s loss to Gerald Ford in 1976 provides another good example of a candidate riding the support of staunch conservatives far into the nomination race.
A century ago, in 1912, the GOP was in similar upheaval. “The convention effectively went against the results of the primaries and voted in Howard Taft rather than Teddy Roosevelt as the nominee,” O’Mara said. “Roosevelt goes on to mount a third-party candidacy; Woodrow Wilson wins.”
While the Tea Party may not be the Bull Moose Party, the GOP is not immune to the periodic rebellions that divide its base from its more urbane elements.
“The primary system makes things rather different, but candidates can certainly make plenty of noise and disrupt the crowning ceremony — and perhaps derail it altogether,” O’Mara said.
It has happened on the Democratic Party side as well. George McGovern rode the support of anti-war liberals to the 1972 Democratic nomination, and then was crushed by Richard Nixon in the general election. And in 1992 there was a serious competition for the party’s nomination too.
“Jerry Brown did this in 1992 with Bill Clinton, but by that point he really didn’t have the votes,” O’Mara said. “The season is so extended, with so many contests, that it would be surprising to have a deadlock going into the convention. But that may not prevent Newt from pulling a Brown.”