"If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate."
This is what a top GOP senator told ABC's Jonathan Karl on Friday. The comment, a reference to the upcoming primary in Romney's birthplace of Michigan, is not exactly the first of its kind. Dissatisfaction with the current GOP field has persisted among some in the party for months now. Polling has been all over the map, with the only constant Romney's status as either front-runner or second-place candidate.
Despite Romney's persistent polling at the top of the field, many worry that his losses in some early voting states like South Carolina, Colorado and Minnesota indicate a lack of consensus among the party, which could prove problematic later down the road.
With these factors in mind, it's not surprising that the topic of finding a new candidate comes up from time to time. However, while the idea might be appealing to some in the party, the reality is that chaos would likely ensue if a new candidate jumped into the race at this point in the primary calendar.
Filing deadlines have passed in all but 11 states. If another GOP candidate - Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, etc. - were to announce his candidacy today, he or she could make it on the ballot in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Montana, New Jersey, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota and Utah.
These states offer a combined total of 482 delegates, significantly less than the 1,144 delegates a GOP candidate needs to wrap up the nomination. If a new candidate were to sweep all 11 states they would still not be able to clinch all 482 delegates, as some of the states will award delegates on a proportional basis.
So would a new candidate have no mathematical or procedural chance of winning the nomination?
Not necessarily. There's still one loophole, but it's likely not one the party wants to see play out.
While 482 delegates is not enough to claim the nomination, it is a large enough block to splinter the delegate totals sufficiently to cause a "brokered convention," one in which there is no single candidate with a majority of delegates going into the first round of voting.
The Republican National Committee's rules regarding procedure at its convention are complex, but one of the key points to understand is that delegates go into the convention in one of two categories. Some delegates are "bound," meaning they are pledged to vote for a particular candidate at least through the first vote at the convention. Other delegates arrive at the convention "unbound" - they are free to vote for the candidate they choose when that first vote occurs.
If one candidate receives 1,114 votes on the first round of voting, the nomination process is considered complete. If no candidate receives 1,114, however, then a second round of voting will proceed, and so on and so forth until a consensus is reached. Rules differ from state to state, but if the vote carries over to a third round, every delegate would be "unbound" and free to vote however they want.
This is where a late-entering candidate could actually run away with the nomination, if that candidate and his or her state delegations are able to work the convention floor and get enough other delegates to come on board and vote with them.
Of course, this scenario is not desirable for the Republican party. Typically conventions are a time for the party to come together and rally behind their candidate of choice. A floor flight is not a sign of unity and the perceived chaos of the convention would generate negative buzz for the party heading into the fall.
That's not to say the party couldn't come together by the end of the convention and rally behind its candidate in the following months. After all, the convention is just three days, followed by a little over two months of heavy campaigning. Plus the airing of grievances allowed by several rounds of voting could offer some type of catharsis.
That said, you can bet that the Republican National Committee hopes that the situation can be avoided.