Like many supporters of the Republican Party, I remain agnostic as to the matter of who shall be the party’s nominee for President. While I am on the record as believing that Mitt Romney would make a capable President and, while he remains the probable nominee, I am also friendly towards the other serious candidates for the nomination. I believe that Newt Gingrich has the best ideas of any of the contenders and I believe that Rick Santorum has the ability to win over the sort of blue-collar voters that the GOP desperately needs. Yet I also recognize that, for all of their virtues, all of our choices are also flawed. Romney has been, to put it mildly, an inconstant conservative. Gingrich’s personal life is a liability and his judgement has sometimes proven to be unsound. Santorum embraces a form of social conservatism that will turn off some voters who might otherwise turn to the Republican Party in the face of the failures of President Obama. I wish that we could create a hybrid creature who possessed Romney’s executive experience, Gingrich’s intellect, and Santorum’s fighting spirit.
Frankly, I don’t know if we even possess a potential candidate who could please everyone. Chris Christie would face the same questions about his conservatism as Mitt Romney faces today. Mitch Daniels lacks charisma and the personal issues that kept him out of the race last year are the last thing that we want to be talking about in September and October. Sarah Palin is too controversial and could not possibly be elected. Marco Rubio is too new and inexperienced. As satisfying as I would find it to shove Jeb Bush down the throats of the left, I think that there’s a sizable faction within the Republican Party who would rebel at the idea of a third President Bush in the space of twenty years. I like Paul Ryan and believe that he has the right ideas to save the country but, at the same time, I’m not sure whether he – as a young man who has never run a statewide race – is prepared for a Presidential campaign yet.
The truth is that, while there are many fine and admirable individuals within the Republican Party who could plausibly be the President of the United States, none of them have jumped out of the pack yet. What I would say to that is this: there’s still time. It’s February. Presidents are not produced overnight.
I do not believe that the Republican Party has anything to fear from an extended nominating process. Indeed, I believe that the opposite may very well be the case. If we can get this campaign to a place where it is being waged in the realm of ideas – if we can keep the sort of nasty personal clashes that have characterized the Gingrich-Romney fight at points to a minimum – than we may very well benefit from an extended process that sees the fight for the Republican nomination go all the way to the convention at Tampa.
A long and spirited fight, waged all of the way to the convention, might very well energize the party and prepare it for the tremendous battle that the fall campaign surely will be. The fortuitous action of the Supreme Court, in paring back campaign finance laws, means that the money for a General Election campaign will be able to be speedily obtained. If Republicans can – as I believe that they shall – find unity in the fall through our common opposition to everything that President Obama and his party stand for, then there is little to be feared in a long and hard-fought battle. How many times, after all, has the team that finished first in the regular season been upended by some upstart who had to scratch their way into the playoffs?
Consider the fate of three recent defeated nominees for the Presidency – John McCain, John Kerry, Bob Dole – all of them secured their own nomination early and suffered as a result of long periods of inactivity before the General Election campaign kicked off in full. In many ways, the Republican Party overall would benefit from being able to dominate news cycles throughout the spring and summer, instead of having a disliked nominee trudging through the back pages. A long primary campaign and uncertainty as to the eventual nominee would also frustrate any effort by the Obama campaign to use its initial financial advantage to conduct an early assault against the Republican nominee of the sort that President Clinton effectively employed versus Bob Dole in 1996.
An open convention would be the political event of a lifetime. The last time that an American party went into its convention without knowing who the nominee would be was before I was born, in 1976. The last time that one went into a convention with a real possibility of dark horse being nominated was in 1952, just a few days after my father was born. It would be fascinating, thrilling, and be likely to be the most intense television and social media event in recent memory.
It could go quite badly, of course. But it could also go right in an amazing way. One ought not to discount the value of a spectacle. It would allow the Republican Party a chance to showcase all of its stars with the entire world watching. If the GOP could ensure its ultimate focus was on the vital objective of making Barack Obama a one-term President, it could be a uniquely unifying event. That might, of course, require any and perhaps all of the existing candidates to, in a supreme spirit of patriotism, sacrifice their own ambitions for the sake of the Republic.
Now, then, if we decide that an open convention is in the best interests of the party, the question of how best to achieve it remains. I think that, if the we wish to prolong the contest and leave open the option of nominating a dark horse for the Presidency, the best option is to revive another very old and now mostly-forgotten tradition: the “favorite son” candidate for the Presidency.
A favorite son is a candidate who secures the backing of their home state delegation for the Presidency in advance of the national convention. The intention of such a campaign is not to see this individual nominated for the Presidency but, rather, to preserve the independence of a state’s delegation at the national convention. This was once a common practice but, in the modern era, has been dispensed with. However, I believe that in view of the short time remaining, the lack of a single alternative candidate who can unify the party, and the fairly limited resources of Gingrich and Santorum as alternatives to Romney, the best option available for creating the possibility of an open convention is to swiftly organize campaigns by favorite sons (or daughters, of course) in states where they can be found and where local law makes such candidacies feasible.
California, I believe, is the most promising target. A Republican seeking to be placed on the ballot for the California Presidential Primary would need to gather just over 50,000 signatures by March 23rd – logistically challenging but hardly impossible – and the California Republican Party has repeatedly shown itself to be much more conservative than the state of California as a whole. Also, this is a closed primary. It is also, of course, the largest primary and, while it is not a winner-take-all contest is is nevertheless one in which the winner – especially if they were to win by a large margin – would receive the overwhelming majority of delegates.
I’m not sure who might take on the role of a California favorite son. Congressman Tom McClintock – a strong conservative who has taken a publicly contrarian role before – is the first name to jump into my mind. I am certain that there are other possibilities.
No one needs to be reminded how vitally important this election is. For my own part, I am indifferent as to who the candidate we end up with so long as they are prepared to defeat Barack Obama. I recall what Abraham Lincoln once wrote of the Civil War:
“If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
Pragmatism must be our guiding star in this quest. Whether the final ticket is Romney-Santorum, Ryan-Rubio, or whatever it may be – we must take care to ensure that we have the best possible team with which to defeat President Obama. All other considerations – ego, ideology, and pride – must be secondary to our supreme objective in this fight.
Adam Yoshida is a the author of “The Blast of War.”