Romney’s Map: Too Little, Too Late.

Mitt Romney joined the 2016 election fray, delivering a strong speech intended to rally support from traditional Republicans against Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the nomination. The impact of Romney’s message is unclear — polls released in the days after his speech (albeit a small sample) show Trump expanding his lead in key states. Romney’s speech was a blast from the past, the style of power has changed so dramatically in these last four years. The dulcet tones of 2012 seem so long ago. In short, the policy arguments articulated by Romney simply don’t matter to Trump’s public. Policy debates are rigged, even when they are not rigged they are only a part of a strategy of reform — this is a polity of revolt. Anything less than the destruction of the deliberative public sphere with an authentically American personage would be a failure. Emotionally, Romney won’t move the needle. Publics persuaded by the affective modulation of Romney were always a little too close to their Democratic counter parts. In a world were policy arguments don’t apply and the emotions available to withered leaders appear stale, only process stands a chance.

Before circuit breakers, fuses were common. These were plugs that screwed into sockets. Inside the plug was a filament, if the load on the circuit grew too heavy, the fuse would literally burn out. The power would be cut, and a fire would be prevented. Fuses cost money. One way to save money on fuses is to insert a penny into the slot where the filament once connected the current. If the circuit overloads the power will continue to flow: the short circuit upstream will overheat and likely ignite. Gay marriage won the 2004 election for Bush in Ohio. Still this was a political fuse, it could fail. By 2008, the marriage strategy was burned out. Rove used the last fuse. The outlook was bleak, Obama was strong, circumstances were favoring the Democrats. McCain took a traditional step of a broke landlord: putting a penny in the fuse. The penny: what would come to be known as Tea Party populism and Sarah Palin. Energy surged, the lights were back on. Eight years later, the house is on fire. Trump is Fire. Romney is wielding an emotional garden hose against an inferno.

Some sources report that Romney has asked top men to look into the prospect of blocking Trump from reaching the 1237 delegates necessary to win the nomination. In this world of a brokered convention, Romney himself, or anyone could potentially win a long floor fight. This is a relatively new problem in this election cycle, as Romney’s ‘win’ over Ron Paul was facilitated by a voice vote on the convention floor. To stop such antics in the future, most primaries after Super Tuesday were shifted from the proportional allocation of delegates to to winner-take-all. Restructuring the nomination process would provide the presumptive nominee with incredible momentum going into the summer pivot toward the general. Beyond the Paul explanation for the process change, is the idea that the deferred selection of Romney allowed Obama to drive up Romney’s negatives. This narrative for the 2012 race supposes that Romney would have been viable against Obama if he had a few more months to reverse his poll numbers. Although this is an interesting idea, Romney’s q-sores were very weak long before Obama engaged him.

If Trump makes it to the magic number, any actions taken on the party level to stop Trump would mean the end of the party. The Republican base would not take kindly to the rules being changed mid-election, neither would their Democratic counterparts. To block Trump, Romney will need to straight-out win a number of large states for Cruz, Rubio, or Kaisch. And these candidates would then need to be persuaded to step aside to allow some third party hero to enter the convention and win.

Visualizing the Problem

The rules are clear. Most states after Super Tuesday are winner-take-all. Only five proportional states remain after the Super Tuesday Echo on March 15. The following panel shows states by allocation and month:

The bottom is winner-take-most, these are almost all past at this point. These primaries were a transitional phase intended as a final way-point before the big event — the coronation of Super Tuesday.

The problem is clearest in the lower right quadrant of the panel. In May and June there are a handful of small primaries that won’t award every delegate to a single candidate. That winner-take-all pod in June includes New Jersey and California. These are likely the last line of defense for the Republican party against Trump. Even then, the running total of delegates before June 7 is 2158, it is entirely possible that the last 303 will be moot.

This next chart will show the problem of size in this election.

Larger squares means more delegates.

Notice the dramatic shift on March 15. North Carolina is the last meaningful proportional contest. After that, the race nearly grinds to a halt, with only a handful of races until April 26 — the intended end of primary season.

The last proportionals? Trump is winning Michigan. Trump is winning North Carolina.

The first wave of deciders (my term for winner-take-alls): Trump is winning in Ohio. Trump is thrashing Rubio in his home state by nearly twenty. 568 delegates will be assigned in the next two weeks, Trump stands to win almost all of them. After that, there are 522 winner-take-all delegates until May 10. Trump can easily clear 1237 before June.

Rules changes are the last ditch, and only realistic possibility. Even in the most optimistic scenarios, rewriting rule 40-b may not be effective, unless the rewrite simply dissolves the party nominating process. If Kasich and Rubio are unable to defeat Trump next week, Romney’s only option will be to try a rules change in flight, striking the burning house with a bulldozer to smother the fire. Destroying his own party in the process.

The following are links to interactive versions of graphics related to this story. No, Medium does not allow awesome Javascript.

Associate Professor of Social Media. Oregon State University. Read my book: Selling Social Media (Bloomsbury Academic), 2018.

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