Politico is out with their second campaign 2012 e-book, which is chock full of all the easily digestible insider musings and subtle but not too subtle self-praise one comes to expect from authors Evan Thomas and Mike Allen. According to my Kindle, I’m currently 39 percent of the way through the book.
I can’t deny that there has been some interesting minutia revealed — the Romney campaign didn’t have an oppo book prepared on Santorum by the time the former Senator had begun to rise pre-Iowa — but the thing I got hung up on this morning was a confident assertion of historical fact that appeared to me to get the facts wrong:
We asked the GOP insider what he made of Romney’s chances to win the nomination. “Fifty-five percent,” he answered. “Down from 90 percent two weeks ago.” Not the sort of sure bet Republican insiders prefer to make. Unlike the more fractious Democrats, the Republicans have a history of rallying around the establishment favorite, once it’s clear who that is. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and John McCain were all designated, more or less by consensus, as captain of the ship, after some early scuffling in the wheelhouse. But Romney was starting to look more like Nelson Rockefeller, the East Coast establishment favorite who lost to Barry Goldwater in 1964 (the archconservative Goldwater went on to lose to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide). For the first time in decades, the GOP worthies began to think the unthinkable. Could the Grand Old Party be headed for a contested or brokered convention? (You had to go back to Taft-Eisenhower for a GOP convention that had last past the first ballot).
Let’s just say that the inclusion of Ford in the list GOP nominees who were “designated, more or less by consensus, as captain of the ship, after some early scuffling in the wheelhouse” is hard to match up with the history of the 1976 Republican primary. True, Ford was elected on the first ballot after entering the convention with a clear delegate advantage, but it was a close vote that came after a floor fight over rules that were thought to have real potential to affect the outcome of the nominating ballot. Indeed, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center page on Reagan’s campaigns says that “On a secret ballot, Ford’s operatives privately acknowledged, Reagan would have been the runaway choice of the convention.”
Just last month, in an essay about speculation that the GOP could face a brokered convention, the New York Times’ Adam Clymer described 1976 as “the last time a race was actually settled at a Republican convention“:
The chances of the 2012 race being settled at the convention are magnified by the fact that four candidates are dividing the delegates. In 1976 there were only two, but enough delegates were uncommitted, or controlled by a state party boss like Mississippi’s Clarke Reed, to leave Reagan and Ford short of a majority when they reached Kansas City, though Ford was close.
As president, Ford had crucial favors to give away, from meals at the White House to seats on the deck of a carrier, the Forrestal, anchored in New York harbor, where he reviewed tall ships on July 4, 1976, the nation’s bicentennial. At the convention his forces repeatedly surrendered to Reagan’s team on platform issues, unwilling to risk floor votes that would confirm Spencer’s view, as he put it recently, that “Even then, Reagan owned the heart of the Republican Party.” In the end, Ford eked out a victory.
As Clymer mentioned in his essay, conservative operative Craig Shirley has written a really thorough study of the 1976 primary. Perhaps Thomas and Allen should put it on their reading lists.