Who can argue against this GOP contest as being the most topsy-turvy in recent memory? True. But, in our desire to grasp a little certainty, to this at times spinning out of control roller coaster ride, just what is the historical precedent we can grab onto?
A few cases come to mind. The Romney campaign is happy to trumpet any comparisons between this primary season and the Obama/Clinton contest in 2008…a long, drawn out contest with Obama riding his delegate advantage to the nomination (and, of course, eventual election). Team Romney is eager to overlook the part that Hillary was also cast in the role of the inevitable victor.
If you don’t buy this most recent comparison to model the GOP 2012 campaign, there’s plenty of other examples from which to pick. Try the 1976 GOP variety on for size. Here, the state by state slog of primaries and caucuses resulted in a narrow win for Gerald Ford, the front-runner, over the insurgent Republican conservative Ronald Reagan. No argument from the Romney camp here.
How about the Democratic ideological and personal split in 1980 between Carter and Kennedy? No party unity that year was found as Carter unsuccessfully chased a reluctant Kennedy around the convention podium for a friendly group photo. This is not the picture Romney would like to see in Tampa this summer.
But wait, there’s more. Chuck Todd aired on the Daily Rundown (3/18) some great footage from the 1964 GOP battle between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller. Although I’m reluctant to admit it, I do recall this campaign. Indeed, there were many reasons to account for the GOP disaster that election cycle. But, as Todd points out, ideological fights inside the nominating process can doom party chances for the general election. Stay tuned on this one.
If the war over delegates drags on, then a brokered convention will top the list of pundit terms this summer. That will cause all of us to dust off our history books to reconnect with the 1948 GOP convention battle in Philadelphia which was resolved following two contested ballots. At least from the convention that year, the headline, “Dewey Wins!” was correct. And no, that election was before my time.