Even after Super Tuesday, why GOP candidates will be hard pressed to step aside


View Photo Gallery: A look at each Republican contender’s best leadership attribute.

It’s Super Tuesday, and with more than 400 delegates up for grabs, there’s a decent chance we’ll end the day with a better guess at who the Republican nominee will be for president. Rick Santorum has a delegate problem. Georgia is do-or-die for Newt Gingrich. And if Mitt Romney wins Ohio, “all that’s left is convention speeches and the balloon drop,” Republican strategist Ed Rollins told The Fix.

Yet despite that potential outcome, it seems unlikely that the lineup of candidates will look much different come Wednesday morning. Ron Paul realizes his chances are slim, but though he has yet to win a nominating contest, he hasn’t bowed out yet. Gingrich is polling well in Georgia, the biggest Super Tuesday prize, and is already looking forward to future contests. And even if Santorum doesn’t win states like Tennessee or Ohio, where the races are close, he is aggressively campaigning in other states later in the week and still remains the far right’s conservative favorite.

But one of these days, it will happen. There may be talk of a brokered convention, there may be candidates who’ve defiantly said they’ll stay in until Tampa, but sooner or later at least some of these candidates’ numbers will be up. Money and the cold hard hand of reality have an inconvenient way of making choices for you. And as plenty have noted, the pressure from the top to rally around the frontrunner will only increase come Wednesday morning.

What may be different this year is how, when, and how many of those drop-outs will happen. The candidates who remain in this race are not your tried-and-true vice presidential or cabinet hopefuls looking for a graceful exit so they might be considered for an administration job. They appear to be motivated not just by what’s best for the party, but by their own convictions, their own beliefs, or their own confidence in themselves.

As a result, it will be harder for those who do step aside to make the classic argument that’s so often part of the graceful exit: At some point, leadership is about doing the right thing for the greater good, rather than for oneself. While we’ll likely hear similar language from those who do decide to get out, it may ring more hollow than usual. With the deep fissures in the Republican party, what’s right for the common good or for the country depends on who you ask.

It’s hard for anyone who aspires to a job like the presidency to find the right time and moment to step aside. And for this year’s crop of candidates, it’s likely to be even harder than in the past.

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

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