Of course, no-one who actually believed the things Mitt Romney claimed to believe would have folded his campaign and endorsed John McCain, even if beguiled by hints of the vice-presidential nomination.
GOP managers obviously think they've been very clever by front-end loading the primaries to make Goldwater/ Reagan style insurrections more difficult. But it's another reason I expect to see new parties. This new system means that activists now have to endure some six months of insult and indifference from a candidate they don't like and think can't win before there's even a convention. And then there's another three months of agony before the election. At some point, they're going to take their marbles and stomp off.
But the telling precedent is 1996. Bob Dole was annointed GOP candidate early, because the whole Establishment was terrified of Pat Buchanan and his victory in the New Hampshire primary. By the time the convention came around, however, it was so obvious to everyone that Dole was a useless campaigner that even Beltway token conservative George Will called for his replacement. (As I recall - can't be bothered checking Will). Buchanan, like Ron Paul, stayed in the race, But, as in 2008, the well-heeled, comfortable alternative to the apparent nominee blinked, and dropped out.
...would have gone to San Diego with a large block of delegates. Not a majority, but a lot.
When Dole faltered, Forbes could have mounted an effort to force him to step aside, citing his ineffectual candidacy. As they gathered in San Diego for their convention in August of ’96, the Republicans were so afraid of losing the election with Dole as their nominee that Forbes might have found it possible to cream off enough nervous Dole delegates to win. In any case, Forbes could have inherited the “on deck” slot for 2000 and begun to capture the legitimacy so vital for Republican presidential candidates…But Forbes showed that he was an amateur by folding after Arizona and mounting weak efforts in the remaining states.
(p. 275-276) (Actually, Forbes insiders say he was betrayed by the advice of Dole moles in his campaign, like Jack Kemp, who actually did get Dole's VP nod. But that's another story).
As Steve Sailer has noted, there's real reason to think McCain will be an ineffective candidate. And, unlike the bland Dole, McCain positively enrages conservatives (and patriotic imigration reformers). And there are going to be a lot of released Romney delegates wandering around (they are not bound by Romney's endorsement of McCain) as well as McCain delegates getting cold feet.
It's a recipe for trouble. And opportunity. For example, Rasmussen Reports currently shows that in Texas McCain leads Governor Huckabee very modestly, 45%-37%. (Ron Paul has 7%). Throughout this primary season, immigration has been named as the most important issue by a significant fraction of GOP primary voters, but in Texas it's actually first (26% vs. 25% for "Economy"). McCain gets only 22% of the immigration-focused voters. (Paul gets 28%, unusually good for him).
As I've said before, the immigration issue is now clearly the rock beneath the water in American politics. And, with this year's unstable situation, it could well rise again.
Dick Morris is an animal with only a limited intellectual understanding of the immigration issue. But he does instinctively sense its power. He actually suggested that George W. Bush could guarantee victory with it in 2004. And this is his account of how he would have advised Dole to beat Clinton, which he would certainly have been happy to impart for the appropriate fee:
Had I been running Dole's campaign, I would have said, “President Clinton did a fine job of helping us to get our economy in order. He set us on the path to a balanced budget. But now we must turn to the new issues we face, the values issues.” Then I’d have focused on a host of issues that the president was afraid to touch or that his interest group support wouldn’t let him touch—ending teacher tenure, school choice, school prayer, an end to school busing, the balanced-budget amendment,a moratorium on immigration, passage of a federal right-to-work law, a ban on porn on the internet. I’d have piled it on.
(p. 271-2). [My emphasis]. In 1996! But, as Morris also notes, GOP campaign consultants just haven't got the message - yet:
I had studied the Republican Party from within as one of their consultants. If you are in their field of fire, they are deadly. Raise taxes, go soft on crime, oppose work for welfare, weaken the military? They’re all over you yelling “liberal”. If you wander into their line of fire, they’re going to kill you every time. But they have no other game plan, no other way to win. If you come around behind them or alongside and don’t raise taxes, if you’re tough on crime and want to reform welfare, use the military effectively, and cut spending, they can’t hit you. A tank can rotate its turret—a Republican can’t.