JONATHAN COHN FEBRUARY 3, 2011
Via Political Wire, David Broder makes the completely preposterous suggestion that Republican governors might coordinate on...a favorite son strategy! The great Josh Putnam got there first with a nice item, but, hey, why not pile on? There’s no way a favorite son strategy makes any sense at all in the current nomination process.
For those who do not recall pre-reform (that is, pre-1972) presidential strategy, Broder helpfully reminds us that “Favorite sons are candidates who run only in their home states, where their popularity makes them formidable.”
Yes, but. In the pre-reform era, there were occasional good reasons for favorite-son candidacies, none of which apply now.
One was that in the minority of states holding delegate-selection primaries, running as a favorite son might be the only way for a governor to control the delegation (or running the governor might be the only way for party bosses to control the delegation). Nowadays, governors (and formal party leaders) don’t control delegations. Which is just as well, since nominations are decided well before the convention. A governor who successfully managed to slate delegates, convince the real candidates to stay away, and win his or her state primary...would wind up at the convention with a bunch of delegates, and nothing to do with them. What’s the point?
Ah, but in Broder’s scheme, enough GOP governors would run that no candidate could win without their support. In theory, that could work, if enough states got involved. But, again: what’s the point?
Let’s spin out some scenarios. Say that states with 60% of the delegates elect favorite son delegations. Now, suppose that the contest goes on as it normally would in the other states. The most likely result is that, as usual, one candidate emerges and everyone else drops out. Let’s say the winner winds up with 30% of the delegates, 10% is scattered among the losers, and governors control 60%. Are they really, at that point, going to be willing to thwart the will of the voters and hand the nomination to either one of the losers or a candidate who didn’t enter the primaries? No chance.
OK, now, consider the reporter’s dream. Governors control 60% of the delegates. And two candidates wind up competing evenly, as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did in 2008. What do we get then? A summer of scheming, uncertainty, and bitter recriminations; a late start for the nominee, who would exit from a bossed convention without the clear endorsement of the voters; and, if things go wrong, utter chaos. After all, while the governors could prepare delegate slates filled with their most loyal supporters, there are no political machines around to guarantee that those supporters will allow themselves to be bossed. Nor is there any guarantee that governors who cannot agree on a candidate in summer and fall 2011 would be able to agree in summer 2012. A reporter’s dream, yes, with an open convention—but a very likely nightmare for the party, with no mechanism to force a decision, and hundreds of free agent delegates.
Look: in 1912, there were good reasons to wait until the convention to coordinate party decisions—not the least of which was that communications made it harder to do in advance. In 2012, if the governors want to coordinate, there’s nothing to stop them from doing so right now (or at least over the course of this year).
Oh, and one other thing. Right now, there are hundreds of GOP activists in Iowa excited to play their oversized role in the presidential nomination process. Are they really going to be happy if the Governor Terry Branstad chooses to short-circuit that? Not to mention all the eateries, hotels, and local TV stations that would take a hit from a (successful) favorite son effort. And for what? Is Branstad going to have more influence in Broder’s College of Governors, with his handful of delegates, than he would have as the one and only governor of the one and only first-in-the-nation caucuses? Obviously not.
Favorite sons—like stalking horses, brokered conventions, and delegates that were actually swayed by the reactions of the galleries to thrilling speeches—are part of a system that no longer exists. It’s not gonna happen.