Assuming neither one gets caught eating a live kitten on camera, some day very soon reporters covering the presidential election are expecting to be covering a Bush-Kerry-esque battle between Mitt Romney and President Obama. But that's so boring! So now's the time to start fantasizing about more dramatic outcomes. And who could blame them? Romney versus Obama is a clash of two cold technocratic types too careful to ever say anything really ridiculous -- or even accessorize in a cartoonishly manly way. The Democratic euphoria of '08 has passed for Obama and the Republican Party has made it clear that they do not like Romney. It sounds like a long spring for political writers. So several fantasy futures have been crafted as certain people hope they'll have something interesting to write come April.
"It wouldn’t be easy to pull off a late draft or a late entry, but it’s not as impossible as conventional wisdom assumes," the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol wrote this week, pointing to an analysis by Rhodes Cook that someone other than the current eight Republican candidates could swoop in and get the nomination.
The key, I think, would be if both Romney and Gingrich stumbled during January. If that were to happen, there would be a window of opportunity in February -- during the gap between the first spurt of January primaries and Super Tuesday on March 6. The window probably closes around Valentine’s Day -- Tuesday, February 14 -- so let’s call the late entry the Valentine’s Day option. That could be the last chance (unless there’s a deadlocked convention, which isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility either) for Republicans to throw off the old suitors and run into the arms of a new Prince Charming. Or two. And Valentine’s Day is for the young.
Then he quotes Chaucer.
The New York Times' Nate Silver says the chances of a brokered convention get better if any of these things happen, all of which he says are plausible:
1a. Mr. Gingrich leads the delegate count, but does not have more than about 50 percent of delegates.
1b. Mr. Gingrich holds more than 50 percent of delegates but is involved in a significant gaffe or scandal at some point later in the campaign.
2a. Mr. Romney has performed poorly enough in the early states that he is no longer viable.
2b. Mr. Romney is viable but his unfavorability ratings have considerably increased to the point that he no longer qualifies as a consensus choice.
3. A factional candidate like Ron Paul holds 10 or 15 percent of the delegates.
Ron Paul for the Long Haul
In 2008, Paul raised a ton of money but wasted it on enormous billboards instead of organizing voters in early states. Not this year, Politico's Maggie Haberman reports. He has teams in 12 caucus states, part of "an infrastructure aimed at giving him staying power and a voice at the national convention -- a strategic approach that few other candidates besides Mitt Romney are pursuing at the moment." Paul’s campaign manager Jesse Benton told Haberman, "Our campaign has a comprehensive plan to win the delegates needed to either secure the nomination or enter into a brokered convention in Tampa." She writes, "But if the nomination is still not settled by then -- a scenario that is not as outlandish as it seems -- a candidate with a significant bloc of delegates would wield significant power at the Tampa convention this summer."
Ron Paul Runs as an Independent
And what if Paul weren't able to extract enough out of his party at this hypothetical brokered convention? Why not an independent campaign? Paul has ruled it out several times ("Why not? Because I don't want to!") but George Will thinks he's leaving his options open. Politico's Mike Allen previews Will's Sunday column, in which Will warns:
"[A]t least 80 percent of Paul's votes would come at the expense of the Republican nominee. Based on states' results in 2000, 2004 and 2008, and on states' previous votes for third-party candidates, and on current polling about the strength of potential Republican nominees in particular states, it is plausible to conclude that a Paul candidacy would .... enable Obama to carry two states he lost in 2008: Missouri (10 electoral votes), which he lost by 0.13 points, and Arizona (11), which he lost by 8.52 points to native son John McCain. …
It would enable Obama to again win four states he captured in 2008 and that the Republican nominee probably must win in 2012: Florida (29), Indiana (11), North Carolina (15) and Virginia (13). … It would secure Obama's hold on the following states he won in 2008 but that Republicans hope to take back next year: New Mexico (5), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Michigan (16), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20) and New Hampshire (4). At a minimum, a Paul candidacy would force the Republican nominee to spend time and money in places he otherwise might be able to economize both."
Jon Huntsman Runs as an Independent
Despite getting a second look from some elite conservatives, Republican voters don't seem to want much to do with the former Utah governor. Could he turn that support into a third party candidacy? Huntsman has said a whole bunch of times he's not running as an independent. But sometimes he doesn't answer the question by holding up a .357 magnum and a baby and saying he'd rather do something really terrible on live television than run as a third party candidate. Which means frequent stories like "Hunting for a candidate: Speculation grows that ex-Utah gov might run on third-party ticket," by The Daily's Mark Stricherz. Stricherz reported Thursday that Huntsman "After vowing to run as a Republican or nothing at all, Huntsman gave himself a little wiggle room this week ... The lagging GOP contender told The Daily he is 'not even considering' an Americans Elect run, though he quickly added the qualifier 'when I’m running as a Republican.'" This follows the Boston Globe's Glen Johnson's story November 29, headlined "Jon Huntsman refuses to rule out possibility of independent candidacy for president":
Asked, “Is there any situation in which you would run for president as an independent?” Huntsman told the Boston Globe, “I don’t think so.”
Which followed Fox News' November 27 headline, "Huntsman Says He Won't Run as Third Party Candidate" ("I'm running as a Republican, that's where I am.") And so on.
Donald Trump Runs as an Independent
Trump has fake run for president three times now. Will 2012 make it the fourth? Not likely. Still, The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman reports that Trump is blaming several Republican candidates' decision not to participate in his debate on the Republican Party's fear that he might run as an independent. “It is very important to me that the right Republican candidate be chosen to defeat the failed and very destructive Obama administration,’’ Trump said in a press release. “But if that Republican, in my opinion, is not the right candidate, I am unwilling to give up my right to run as an Independent candidate ... I must leave all of my options open because, above all else, we must make America great again!” A Trump candidacy might not make America great again, but it would definitely make covering the election great again.