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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Broder’s Favorite Son Fantasy

In this phony-war phase of the 2012 presidential cycle, when all things are theoretically possible, ’tis the season for crackpot theories on how the Republican nomination process can become something different from the unedifying spectacle that is likely to unfold. The venerable David Broder has put in his bid with a column suggesting that GOP governors could conspire to run as favorite sons in their various primaries in order to kill off the ostensible front-runners and produce a dark horse nominee. It’s not entirely clear who the beneficiary of this conspiracy would be, though Broder mentions Haley Barbour and Tim Pawlenty as possibilities.
Now you have to understand that David Broder has conducted a career-long love affair with governors, and has always looked to the GOP governors as a corrective to the ideological zaniness of their party as a whole. But still, the “favorite-son” scenario is beyond far-fetched, and as both Jonathan Bernstein and Josh Putnam have observed, it seems to reflect nostalgia for the days before voters were given a guaranteed role in the nomination process–sort of like the enthusiasm in some Democratic circles in 2008 for a “brokered convention.”
And that’s the very specific reason Broder’s scenario ain’t happening: Republicans voters would have to go along with it, and there’s no particular reason to think they would spurn the importunings of actual candidates in order to promote some backroom deal. Consider the governor who (as Broder notes) would have to put the conspiracy in motion, Iowa’s Terry Branstad. You think Iowa’s conservative activists, who aren’t crazy about Branstad to begin with, would support an effort by him to neuter their hard-earned right to help pick an actual presidential nominee? Ask Democrat Tom Vilsack how well the “favorite-son” thing worked out for him in 2008, when he was actually making a serious run for president.
If Republican governors want to have a collective impact on the presidential nomination they could all get together and endorse someone, much as they did in 2000 when governors were part of the massive establishment infrastructure for George W. Bush. But there’s the rub: there is no such consensus, which is one reason why the 2012 Republican field is such a mess.

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