Here's a prognostication regarding the 2016 presidential sweepstakes: The person taking the oath of office in January of 2017 will not be Hillary Clinton, nor will it be Jeb Bush. It might just be someone who's not even running for president.
Impossible, one might say, but students of political history know otherwise. The key, of course, is the Republican National Convention that will convene a year from now; it's looking unlikely that any candidate will arrive in Cleveland with the nomination already sewn up.
Pundits are saying that the Republican field could have as many as 20 contenders, and conventional wisdom is that the ability to attract dollars and supporters will quickly narrow the field. But if the field is narrowed during the primaries to only, say, 10 or 15, a brokered Republican convention is likely.
A quick look at the presidential primary and caucus schedule shows the problem: It's easy to forecast "favorite son" candidates throughout the schedule, especially if a candidate can hang on until his home state has its primary.
Much depends on whether individual state party rules specify a winner-takes-all plan to reward the state's delegates, or if delegates are apportioned based on who wins each congressional district. This is the biggest wild card of all. Of the 2,287 delegates to the Republican National Convention in 2012, only 205, or 9 percent, came from winner-take-all states (Utah, Arizona, Florida, Delaware and the District of Columbia). At the convention, Idaho and Puerto Rico eventually also gave all their delegates to one candidate — Mitt Romney.
Meanwhile, 52 percent of the delegates (1,189) came from so-called "hybrid" states, where it could be a combination of caucus and primaries. Another 544 delegates, or 24 percent, came from proportional states. And 15 states, including Idaho, are so-called "no formal rules" states, which means the state's committee can decide how they want to award delegates, changing from election to election.
So how does a candidate truly master such a process, when many state parties have not yet set their rules? If one follows my thesis, this, too, increases the likelihood of a brokered convention.
Guess what, sports fans? I predict there will be a different winner in the first three races in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. Religiously conservative Iowa carries former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee across the line; or maybe former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (who actually won Iowa four years ago.)
In New Hampshire, the winner is Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but with only a quarter of the vote. Eleven days later in his home state of South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham wins in a walk. Three days later, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul takes the Nevada caucus.
Next, Super Tuesday arrives on March 1, with nine states or more holding elections and/or caucuses. The big prizes are Texas, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, but again the results are mixed. Sen. Ted Cruz takes his home state of Texas, knocking former Gov. Rick Perry out of the race. For argument's sake, let's say Huckabee takes North Carolina, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio takes Georgia and Jeb Bush takes Virginia.
And so it goes. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (though unpopular right now) may take his home state on March 5, and on March 15, Ohio Gov. John Kasich takes his state. Than night, the showdown in Florida is won by former Gov. Bush over Rubio.
On April 5, Walker wins Wisconsin. On April 26, Santorum wins Pennsylvania. On May 17, Paul takes Kentucky, and on May 24, Huckabee takes Arkansas. On June 7, if he's still in the race, Gov. Chris Christie wins his home state, New Jersey.
I don't see anyone coming through that with enough delegates for the nomination. For the first time since 1952, America could witness a wide-open nominating convention.
I think Mitt Romney sees this coming. First, as a student of history, Romney is aware that it took Ronald Reagan three tries before he was embraced by the GOP. Second, he's a known quantity and has passed muster, receiving tens of millions of votes in 2012.
If Romney were to emerge after several inconclusive roll call votes, a "favorite son" candidate going nowhere could release his delegates to vote for whomever; if that's Romney, the momentum could kick in.
More likely, however, is that the GOP pooh-bahs meet in one of those old smoke-filled back rooms, saying Romney's the one. And the delegates might be forced to fall in line. The fact is, Romney is still a major player — notice that he was the first major Republican to call for South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol grounds. Now ask yourself: "Why would he do that?"
If lightning strikes, Mitt Romney will be ready. And this time, I think he'd win. ♦