There was once a time when election-year fanfare did not make its conquest before the winds shifted toward springtime. The candidates dared not breach that crucial threshold between the TV and your living room during the frigid death throes of January. The warring factions saw mutual disadvantage in mobilizing their troops before securing enough resources to support prolonged campaigns.

I wish I could forecast 2012 offering us a chance to catch our breath before we’ll have to delegate a certain drawer in our attention closet to contain all the cheers and fervor, all the retorts and reprisals.

But already they are warming up the old machinery of mind-changing. That buzzing sound you hear is the whine of the bumper-sticker mints at peak production. That noxious smell is the exhaust of bedazzled tour busses criss-crossing in a swing state near you.

It is lamentable that so many have come to welcome the primary season with as much patriotic gusto as those peaceful transfers or reaffirmations of power occurring every fourth Jan. 20. No matter who wins or loses, they say, no matter what pathetic catechisms of public discourse are absorbed into our cerebrums, democracy is democracy: love it or leave it.

In truth, there is very little democracy to be found in a primary race, and some pundits expect this year’s disappointing show from the Republican Party to expose a rare loophole in the selection process — the votes must be ignored if their party is to have a real chance at defeating President Obama.

Despite all the fuss over caucusing and voter-fraud and super-delegates and uber-PAC’s — all nominally in pursuit of democracy and public interests — the Democratic and Republican parties are both surprisingly private organizations. They have absolutely no obligation to nominate the candidate preferred by their constituents; inevitably, the final decision of who shall face Obama lies with the Republican National Commitee’s (RNC) executive board, presently chaired by serial entrepreneur and fundraiser extraordinaire Reince Priebus.

While the Democratic National Committee (DNC) welcomed 2008’s similarly prolonged primary battle between Obama and Clinton for its uplifting news exposure — “Your vote will make history no matter whom it’s cast for” — this year’s RNC is mortified by the weakness of its field of candidates. The length of the journey yet to go before the nomination, mired with the race’s tendency to produce a new frontrunner every three weeks, would seem to spell disaster for the GOP if its executives continue to entrust voters with their fate.

Furthermore, the growing anticipation of a two-horse race between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney has some prominent Tea Partiers threatening to stay home in November.

“Well, I have to get back to life,” blogged Michael Henkins of Flopping Aces. “If you see the GOP, tell them not to call. I am changing my number and they can keep the cat. Hated the thing anyway.”

So I join certain liberal pundits in speculating that we might see something bold and new from Priebus and the RNC board. There seems a distinct possibility that they might opt to go ahead and nominate Romney relatively soon, cancelling any further primaries or caucuses and precluding a democratic nominating process altogether.

The RNC’s message to Republicans: we have offered you a poor selection to choose from; even though he’s a Mormon and not really a Republican, let’s get behind him right away because it’s the only way we have a snowball’s chance in Hell of challenging Obama in November. Sorry.

Exuding even more fear and desperation than this strategy is the possibility that the RNC might automatically nominate not Romney or Gingrich, but rather an outsider altogether — a “White Knight” such as Sarah Palin, Jeb Bush or Mitch Daniels — who can bring to the table name recognition and qualities lacked by the other candidates, perhaps even in time to make a difference.

Regardless of where the RNC goes from here, be it a quick and undemocratic nomination in smoky backrooms of Washington, D.C., or a painful and prolonged election process, the fact that this sort of speculation is even happening should come as a boon to Democrats.

The Republicans have spent the last four years tarnishing their image beyond what was even thought possible before their obstructionist campaign. Now their leadership finally seems to be realizing the depth of the grave they’ve dug for themselves.

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