The Scaaaaaary Unity Ticket

Don’t mean to frighten readers this early in the morning, but hey, news is news, this time from Joshua Green at Bloomberg:

It’s one of the great untold stories of the 2012 presidential campaign, a tale of ego and intrigue that nearly upended the Republican primary contest and might even have produced a different nominee: As Mitt Romney struggled in the weeks leading up to the Michigan primary, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum nearly agreed to form a joint “Unity Ticket” to consolidate conservative support and topple Romney. “We were close,” former Representative Bob Walker, a Gingrich ally, says. “Everybody thought there was an opportunity.” “It would have sent shock waves through the establishment and the Romney campaign,” says John Brabender, Santorum’s chief strategist.

But the negotiations collapsed in acrimony because Gingrich and Santorum could not agree on who would get to be president. “In the end,” Gingrich says, “it was just too hard to negotiate.”

The timing of this might-have-been was acute: right before the Michigan primary, when Romney was in serious trouble of imploding altogether amidst shadowy talk of drafting Jeb Bush or some other party savior. But the talks started earlier, and that was probably the problem: with Newt having resurrected himself three times by then, and with Sheldon Adelson offering an apparently bottomless pot of money, why wouldn’t this man with an ego the size of the Capitol Dome insist he would be the king of the mountain?

Finally, the two candidates spoke face-to-face at an energy forum just before the [Michigan] primary. Gingrich made an elaborate historical argument that when the party hasn’t been able to agree on a nominee, it always settles on the senior figure. Santorum wasn’t persuaded, and urged Gingrich to do what was best for the conservative movement

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It was obvious throughout the 2012 presidential nominating process that the only way a candidate as flawed as Mitt Romney was going to win was to exploit the foibles of his rivals in probably the weakest field in living memory. This is a good example.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.