Contested Convention Chaos—David Frum
A reader notes that if the GOP convention is contested, that it will not be the first time that a Romney has faced this situation:
There already has been one example of a contested convention involving a member of the Romney family, Mitt’s brother Scott Romney. In Michigan, the political parties formally pick their candidates for statewide office at state conventions, which are held at the end of August, a few weeks after the Michigan primaries for all offices except President. A few candidates for statewide office are on the primary ballot, like Governor and US Senate, and the conventions ratify the voters’ selection. But, most of the nominees, including Attorney General, Secretary of State, Supreme Court Justices, State Education Boards, University of Michigan Board of Regents and the Michigan State Trustees, are selected by the convention. These elections can get very contentious and unpredictable.
In 1998, Frank Kelley, the Democrat who had been Michigan’s attorney general since 1961, decided to retire. As a result, the Republican AG candidate would have a chance for the first time in decades. Michigan Governor Engler decided that he wanted Scott Romney to be the Republican’s AG candidate; there were many good reasons for this. Many party activists, however, wanted John Smietanka, to be the nominee. John had been sacrificial lamb AG candidate in 1994 against Frank Kelley, who was then running for re-election as AG for the eighth or ninth time.
Governor Engler and many elected politicians pulled out a lot of stops to get Scott Romney the nomination. But, there was significant pushback from the party activists, who appreciated John’s prior sacrifice and didn’t like being told what to do. There were also concerns about Scott Romney’s law practice. Although Scott Romney is acknowledged to be a fine attorney, his practice is much different from what a Michigan AG does. John Smietanka’s prior experience as a state prosecutor and former United States Attorney meant he was more qualified in some important ways. There was a great deal of tension at the convention as the different delegations set up rules for voting, like whether your vote on nominees would be secret or open. Open won in my delegation, which makes sense because convention delegates are elected representatives, not private citizens casting a vote in an election. It was a difficult choice, but I voted for Scott Romney because I thought he would make the better candidate. I also made sure that my Congressman and the other powers that be in my delegation saw me do it.
Despite the Governor’s best efforts, however, John Smietanka was nominated, and the rest is history. He ran a truly horrendous campaign, losing to the Democrat’s nominee, an almost unknown Wayne County Corporation Counsel, Jennifer Granholm. Four years later, she was elected Governor, a position she held until 2010.
The parallels are not complete here. Mitt Romney seems like John Smietanka is many ways, competent in his former positions, running for office for the second time and really dull, which can be a good trait while in office, but is not an asset on the campaign trail. But, there is every reason to believe that another contested convention would end up with the same result for the Romney involved.