Back in November, before voters cast their first primary ballots and while many people still considered Donald Trump a passing phase, I asked my father who he thought would clinch the Republican nomination for president. To my surprise, he uttered the name of a man I was pretty sure was not even running for president: Former U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
I laughed — but dad was serious. He didn’t think billionaire Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), or any of the other candidates would get enough primary votes to automatically secure the nomination at the Republican National Convention in July. And, given the chance to choose their nominee, dad predicted that choice would be Romney.
Now, I can barely believe it, but the story of the day is Romney’s eligibility for the 2016 presidential nomination. On Sunday, Romney was asked by a reporter whether he would accept the nomination in the event of a “brokered” or “contested” Republican National Convention in July. Romney suggested that, if it was given, he would accept it.
“I don’t think anyone in our party should say, ‘Oh no, even if the people of the party wanted me to be president, I would say no to it,’” he said. “No one is going to say that.”
Even in the increasingly expectation-breaking election cycle of Donald Trump, the idea that someone who isn’t actually running for president could be the Republican presidential nominee is, at best, perplexing. But it is possible, according to Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University.
“Yes, it is absolutely possible that Mitt Romney could be the Republican nominee,” he told ThinkProgress on Friday. “I don’t know how likely it is, but it’s possible.”
The Mechanics Of A Contested Convention
To understand how this would happen, one must understand the mechanics of a “contested” or “brokered” convention, which would have to occur for Romney to secure the nomination.
A contested convention is a situation where, at the end of primary voting, no single presidential candidate — not Donald Trump, not Ted Cruz, not Marco Rubio — has won the number of delegates required to automatically be the nominee. In that situation, delegates at the Republican National Convention would have to start negotiating.
“If nobody has enough delegates, then the negotiation begins,” Schmidt said. “For example, Donald Trump would go to Carson delegates or Rubio delegates and say back me, support me, I’m the most like what you want.”
If not enough delegates choose to switch to another side, however, that’s where things get complicated.
“If it’s gridlocked and paralyzed, and there’s nobody who wants to give their support to any of the damaged goods — which is what these guys are going to be by the time they get to the convention — then that’s when the possibility an outsider, like Romney, would start to be considered,” Schmidt said. And at least according to Schmidt, he thinks the candidates are in fact too “damaged” from vitriolic name-calling on the campaign trail to achieve support from already-pledged delegates.
“We have these pictures of them in our minds: Little Marco, little sweating Marco,” he said. “Who wants to support little sweating Marco to be the candidate of Lincoln and Reagan?”
The GOP Would Have To Change The Rules
The one technical problem someone like Romney — or House Speaker Paul Ryan — would face at the convention is the fact that currently, Republican Party rules require candidates to have won eight states to get the nomination.
However, Schmidt said that the GOP could easily change the rule if they wanted to.
“I have talked to GOP leaders who tell me the party can change the rules to allow Mitt Romney to be inserted as the candidate even though he has not been running,” he said.
Currently, the only person to have met that eight-delegate threshold is Trump. Cruz is close behind, and will likely meet that goal before primary season ends. For Rubio, who has only won one state so far, a rule-change might also benefit him in the event of a contested convention.
The convention, however, is months away — and it’s not even clear that a contested one will happen. Last week, RNC Chair Reince Preibus said there was only a slim possibility that a brokered or contested convention would happen. And if it did, at least one Republican presidential candidate has suggested there would be chaos.
“If the Washington deal-makers try to steal the nomination from the people, I think it will be a disaster,” Ted Cruz said last week. “It will cause a revolt.”
‘It Will Cause A Revolt’
When my father suggested Romney would be chosen the nominee, I had a similar reaction to Cruz.
“You said it was undemocratic, and that people would really be pissed off,” dad recalled, when I asked him about it last week. “You said, how could they possibly pick anybody that wasn’t running for president?”
But my dad argued otherwise. If the Republican party isn’t allowed to pick whoever they want in the event of a contested convention, he said, then what is the point of requiring 50 percent of the delegates?
“If that’s really your attitude [that delegates can’t choose whoever they want], then the nominee would have to be Trump,” he said. “Because if Trump came in with 45 percent, then it’s not right to give it to someone else.”
Schmidt agreed, and said he didn’t believe the public would revolt if Romney — or someone else not actually running — were eventually selected the as nominee.
“It would be reported to the public that the delegates and the candidates were gridlocked and paralyzed, that there was no compromise possible, and it was impossible to reach a deal,” he said. “And therefore, the party and the delegates themselves would go back and say, this is the best we can do.”
In fact, Schmidt speculated it might even be good for the Republican party if someone like Romney is selected.
“The delegates and the party would say, we thought we were going to save the Republican party, which was going to be destroyed,” he said. “And the leaders of the party would shout hallelujah, and say that this was a great example of patriotism.”
Of course, all of this is hypothetical. There’s no telling if there’s even a sliver of a chance of a contested convention, much less the possibility that Romney or another outsider would be nominated at that contested convention. The point is, however, that it’s possible — and that I have a really smart dad.