Watching Morning Joe’s Friday morning show, I had a real sense that the last South Carolina debate (and the Newt surge that was accompanying it) was a real turning point in this primary process. I knew that Newt’s surge would make the Republican nomination process drag on, but I also knew that he couldn’t win the nomination and I had assumed that this would mean that Romney would be the eventual nominee by default.
But watching Joe Scarborough talk about how he has been talking to “the most powerful conservative movers and shakers” in the party, and that “every single one I’ve spoken to is trying to figure out a way to get to a brokered convention,” I got the sense that the outcome could be very different. Mark Halperin’s suggestion that (presumably, once this possibility becomes more overt) “we might see favorite sons get on the ballot in order to block anyone from accumulating enough delegates to get a majority” confirmed that this was more than just a possibility and that some party elites were already planning for such an eventuality.
Post-South Carolina’s drubbing of Romney, Nate Silver has some musings on whether this year will break the “momentum of early state victories propels the winner to victory” pattern. Of course, political junkies speculate on this possibility almost every time there is a contested primary process, but Silver draws on the work of Rhodes Cook and argues that it is not inconceivable for this race to break the mold of previous races.
Romney just had a horrible twelve days, and it’s certainly possible that he bounces back in Florida, regains his momentum and makes all this discussion seem quaint in a few months. But it’s also possible that the wounds he sustained over the past few weeks may increasingly make him look like a fatally flawed candidate. This, combined with conservative dislike of him, could be enough to push Tea Party folks to risk it all in order to deny him the nomination. This is, after all, the party that lost the Senate in 2010 by nominating people like Sharron Angle, Christine O’ Donnell, John Raese and Ken Buck.
As has been the case for every early state to date, we’ll watch the next primary for signs of what’s to come. As Silver notes, “South Carolina alone is not enough to be paradigm-breaking. But if (Gingrich) follows it with a win in Florida, all bets are off.”