The tribunes of the conservative establishment made pretty clear today that they do not accept Newt Gingrich as the nominee of their party for President next year. In nearly identical op-eds, David Brooks and Michael Gerson criticized Gingrich’s fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants approach to problem solving, and claimed that he would damage conservatism. Other leading pundits had harsh words to say.

Now, the punditocracy is likely to have no effect on the conservative base’s decision-making in the primaries. But it does tell you where the establishment wants the race to go, and that’s certainly not toward Gingrich. There are still several weeks until voting begins in Iowa, and a lot of ads and influencing and even debates – there’s one in Iowa tomorrow – to change the trajectory.

But since it’s a slow news day, let’s examine a brokered convention, shall we? Nate Silver brings up the possibility because polling shows that none of the current entrants in the GOP nominating field have the full confidence of both the rank and file and the party establishment.

The motive is simple: Republicans are dangerously close to having none of their candidates be acceptable to both rank-and-file voters and the party establishment. It’s not clear what happens when this is the case; there is no good precedent for it. But since finding a nominee who is broadly acceptable to different party constituencies is the foremost goal of any party during its nomination process, it seems possible that Republicans might begin to look elsewhere [...]

Mr. Romney is already considered unacceptable by 41 percent of Republican voters, and his favorability ratings have been fading recently. Although he is still O.K. for now, he does not have all that much margin to spare. It’s plausible that his ratings could turn negative if he runs a negative campaign, as other candidates begin to criticize him, or if he makes one or two significant gaffes.

Mr. Gingrich has a fair amount of personal baggage and his favorability ratings were quite poor with Republican voters at points earlier in this cycle. He is now taking fire from all sides, including from Mr. Romney, from other candidates like Ron Paul and from portions of the conservative media.

The other part of this to consider is that the GOP changed a lot of their rules for the primaries this year, changing the winner-take-all approach for delegates in many states, and shifting to a proportional dispensation of delegates. If the field is fractured and no one candidate stands out, it means that several candidates could carry enough delegates to the convention to make trouble. In fact, that appears to be Ron Paul’s entire strategy:

The Texas congressman’s long-haul approach is designed to take advantage of new GOP proportional allocation rules that enable candidates to amass delegates without finishing in first place, and to leverage the unique attributes of his campaign — an intensely loyal following and a steady flow of money that will likely enable him to continue for as long as he chooses.

Paul has already put teams in place in 12 caucus states through March 6, when about a dozen Republican primaries and caucuses will take place. On Wednesday, the campaign announced five office openings: Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota and Washington.

“Our campaign has a comprehensive plan to win the delegates needed to either secure the nomination or enter into a brokered convention in Tampa,” (campaign manager Jesse Benton) said.

Normally I would dismiss this. The race looks like Gingrich’s to lose right now, with his lead in almost all the early states. And 2010 showed that the establishment has little control over the conservative base. But this is the Presidency, which is different than a random Senate race in Delaware or Nevada.

The current system still doesn’t offer much hope to a late candidate, nor does it lead toward a brokered convention. But it’s Friday afternoon, and a political junkie’s hope springs eternal, I suppose.