Jeb! (Or Here We Go Again)

The other day, Jeb! (no last name required) announced that he’s running for president as an outsider. Imagine Prince Charles claiming he’s not part of the royal family?  Or a Kennedy -- well, you get the picture. There was, of course, a George I and George II (here in the States; four additional in Great Britain). At least Jeb wouldn’t be III. That bright prospect awaits his son, George P., who’s being groomed for higher office down in Texas. 

Jeb! capped his flailing pre-campaign with a less-than-credible claim of outsiderness. He’s going to rassle all those “pampered elites” and “rule makers” to the ground in DC. Then he’s going to “fix things” in Washington, because, heaven knows, that’s what voters want. And it’s a poll-tested GOP line since Alf Landon’s run in ’36. It worked well for Dole, McCain, and Romney recently, so let’s give it another whirl. 

Jeb!’s also touting his executive experience, which is supposed to give him an edge. Granted, Jeb! was an effective Florida governor. But Rick Perry was no slouch in Texas. Scott Walker’s no slacker in Wisconsin. Jeb!’s executive edge is a tad dull.

In Jeb!’s announcement, he sideswiped Marco (no last name required), who shares the same sunny backyard with the former governor. Marco’s siphoning off some Florida money and other resources from Jeb!’s campaign. Critically, though, Jeb!, like Marco, wants a clear shot at Florida’s GOP delegates. Those delegates loom large, as we’ll discuss en uno momento, as Señor Jeb! might say.

Jeb! declared his candidacy from a stage with a rainbow coalition behind him. Rainbow people backdrops are de rigueur for GOP presidential aspirants nowadays. It’s a way of proving that the 6% of blacks who cast ballots for Romney in 2012 was no illusion. And the 27% of Hispanics for Mitt was testament of burgeoning support.  

You’d think that Jeb!’s embrace of illegals and Common Core would doom him to also-ran status before ever bolting the gate. Not so. Despite alienating the GOP’s conservative base (is there a conservative base anymore?), Jeb! joins a crowded field of Republican White House contenders. To date, there are 12 announced candidates. Four more – including heavyweight, Scott Walker – are expected to announce soon. That’s 16 candidates in all. 

Expect Jeb! to run a game plan similar to Mitt’s. To wit, let Jeb!’s conservative opponents scrap and divvy up conservative voters, while he sops up the moderates. It worked like a charm for Mitt. The complication – significantly – for Jeb!’s campaign is that he shares ground with others, notably, Huckabee, Graham, Christie, and Pataki. The likes of Paul, Rubio, and Carson appeal in some respects to moderates as well. Jeb! would be wise to clear out his competition among moderates while his conservative rivals carve one another up. 

But here’s the uno momento, intriguingly so. 

A crowded field of Republican aspirants may be further complicated by a primary and caucus calendar that’s frontloaded. If that comes to pass, state nominating contests would, per NRC rules, be proportional and not winner-take-all affairs. Proportional distribution of delegates spawns many scenarios, but one is that Jeb! wheels, deals, and wheedles his way to the nomination. In fairness, so could any of the conservatives running. In fact, candidates would be compelled to do so.    

In March of last year, U.S. News & World Report went into depth about a GOP rule change that could well trigger a brokered convention, the first since 1952 (Adlai Stevenson). From the report:

[T]here was a third overlooked change that could potentially have the biggest, most dramatic effect on the 2016 primary fight and some RNC members believe it could render irrelevant the concerted, well-laid efforts to shorten the nomination contest.

Officially, it’s Rule 40 in the RNC handbook and it states that any candidate for president “shall demonstrate the support of a majority of the delegates from each of eight (8) or more states” before their name is presented for nomination at the national convention.

In a scenario with a commanding front-runner, this doesn’t seem like a high threshold to cross. But with the absence of an heir apparent standard-bearer and the most wide open nomination battle in decades looming, some RNC members think Rule 40 could crack open the door to the possibility of a convention floor fight. The theory: If no one candidate has secured eight states, it invites a free-for-all without a reason to get out. Conversely, if multiple candidates garner eight victories and accrue hundreds of delegates, each could claim a right to soldier on.  For instance, it isn't inconceivable to think that Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., could dominate the Northeast, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. performing well in the South and Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wisc,, racking up victories in the Midwest.

This past January, Sean Trende, at Real Clear Politics, had this to say about a brokered GOP convention:

[I]n truth, I’m actually hopeful about this year’s campaign, because I think it could be unlike anything we’ve seen in a very long time. I think the Republican Party really could wind up with a brokered convention -- that is, a race where no candidate receives a majority of the delegates by the end of voting. In fact, it might well be the most likely outcome, if only because no particular outcome is particularly probable. 

Hence, Jeb!’s compassionate conservative trope about illegals and his championing of Common Core may not be poison pills. At a brokered convention, anything goes. Deal-cutting and all sorts of behind-the-scene shenanigans can produce the most unlikely nominee. Or the most likely nominee, as the GOP establishment and Jeb! hope.