Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hunstman, and Three Questions about the GOP Process

I've written the "Hunstman can't win" post so many times...I think on the day of his big announcement, I'll just quote a wonderful Alex Massie post. Will Republicans settle for Huntsman?
That's a tricky proposition given that Huntsman was happy to serve in the Obama administration. It's also a problem given his minimal name recognition, the fact he comes from a small state and that, yup, there's already a Mormon ex-governor in the race. Oh, and it's not obvious he believes the same things as the voters who will decide this race do. Apart from that, I like his chances fine.
Oh, and also:
At present it seems that Huntsman's support is largely confined to Wall Street and McLean, Virginia. These are important constituencies but making David Brooks swoon is an insufficient condition for winning the Republican nomination.
Wonderful.

Meanwhile, we're finally getting close to the end of the announcement season, right? And the field seems basically set now, with the two big question marks being Rick Perry (probably in, I'd guess) and Sarah Palin (I have no guess at all).

Three timing questions to ask; I don't have answers to any of them. These are about three of the five people I believe are plausible GOP nominees, along with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

1. How long could Jeb Bush wait and still get in and have a plausible chance of winning? My guess: not very much longer (note: I've never thought he would run. Just saying that if he did, he'd be a solid contender).

2. How long does Sarah Palin have to start turning her reputation around, which she would need to do to win the nomination? I think she still technically could do it. Of course, she probably won't; she seems determined not to. But my guess is that even as late as the fall, she could emerge as a pretty serious candidate for the nomination, if she was able to change the way she operates.

3. How long does Tim Pawlenty have to demonstrate a pulse with voters? My guess? November, December, something like that. Especially if Perry drops out, but even with Perry in the race I still think that if Pawlenty has a late rally to finish third in Iowa, he'd still have a chance. In the meantime, however, he has to grind out some gains in endorsements and fundraising, but if he does that I don't think he has to start moving in the polls until very late in the game.

13 comments:

  1. Hmm... Poor name recognition... Comes from a small state... Already a Mormon ex-gov in the race... why do those things matter to Huntsman's viability? Name recognition will come (as you know) if he wins a primary or two. Small state status doesn't matter one whit (Arkansas is a small state!). And the fact that Romney has a similar profile is just as likely to hurt Romney as it is Huntsman.

    Now, "it's not obvious he believes the same things as the voters who will decide this race do" - of course, that's important. And if he really shows himself to be out of step with the GOP mainstream, he's toast. But what evidence for that is there? So he supported civil unions; big deal, at least he didn't support full-on marriage equality. So he supported regional cap-and-trade; so did every other moderate Republican. On every other big issue, he can credibly take a hard-core Tea Party line (and do it without sounding scary or offensive, which is a neat trick to pull off).

    I guess I don't see why Huntsman can't turn his occasional straying from the party line into a plus, as McCain did in 2008, by making it an issue of independence and "maverick-iness".

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  2. Chait also is good on Huntsman http://bit.ly/lueeMj :

    So you had the Republicans assuming a posture of maximal opposition vis a vis Obama in early 2009. A few murmerings of dissent could be found, mainly among Republicans who subsequently left or were driven out of the party, like Charlie Crist or Arlen Specter. Huntsman was the most forceful dissenter, and he recognized that his dissent put him so far out of step with the party that he shelved his presidential ambitions and accepted an overseas post working for Obama. Since then, there has been absolutely no dissent whatsoever on the question of Obama. No Republicans is saying they should have cut a deal on stimulus, or health care, or anything. The posture of maximal opposition to Obama is the one single thing upon which the entire party agrees.

    The notion that a dissenter against that consensus might win the presidential nomination is not merely a longshot but totally absurd. Political reporters take Huntsman seriously because, apart from having some impressive governing accomplishments, his ideological deviations place him closer to their own views. But Huntsman is much farther from the party center of gravity than Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, or Ron Paul. Republicans nominating Huntsman would be as if the Democrats in 2000 had nominated someone who had crusaded for the impeachment of Bill Clinton.

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  3. @ Jonathan, ASP, or anyone else:

    I largely agree with your assessments of Huntsman's chances in 2012. What do you think about this idea that I have heard tossed around a lot, that Huntsman is simply setting himself up for 2016? I guess it seems plausible to me, and it certainly wouldn't be unheard of for a candidate to do that. But I also don't see the Republican party making an ideological switch from its current hard-right profile to a Hunstman-style moderate platform quick enough in time for the 2016 nominations. My sense is that Huntsman bets that the GOP will get so thoroughly walloped by Obama in 2012 - possibly to a Goldwater/McGovern/Mondale degree - that they it will force the party to moderate in the next round. Given that GOP's reaction to losing always seems to be to move even harder to the right though, I have trouble seeing how that happens...

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  4. Among the rogue's gallery of candidates in the National Journal link, only Pawlenty, Romney and Perry are in Huntsman's league where "beating Obama in a competitive general campaign" is concerned. Pawlenty is about as exciting as watching paint dry, Romney is...what exactly is Romney, again? And Perry is, at least for now, a non-candidate.

    I believe it was this blog that pointed out that power brokers will not allow an unelectable extremist to win a nomination unless a) the general is unwinnable and b) the extremist serves a larger, long-term goal (e.g. Goldwater 1964). Given this motivation from the power brokers, on the assumption that Perry doesn't run, which candidate is way ahead of Huntsman right now? Is someone lapping the field, and I'm just not noticing?

    Saying that Huntsman can't win right now seems to me like watching the horses coming down the backstretch of the Belmont Stakes, with 24-1 longshot Ruler on Ice chasing down favorite Shackleford, and concluding that there was no way Ruler on Ice could win because his was such a long shot entry.

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  5. Andrew: In 2008, most voters had known and respected McCain for at least 8 years. Can Huntsman get there in 8 months? Could be… but Romney now seems to be the respected and dependable fall-back for most Republicans.

    CSH: He’s polling at 2%. Who’s Huntsman “chasing down,” Gary Johnson? Santorum?

    On one hand, it’s great to see people taking an unknown candidate seriously. On the other hand, the portrayal of Huntsman as a front runner is absurdly divorced from reality. If Huntsman is going to have any impact, he needs to at least have something compelling to say on the issues. I just haven’t seen that from him yet.

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  6. @Couves - the relevant comparison in the Belmont analogy is the opinion of the power brokers, not so much the general primary electorate.

    Would Huntsman be at 2% in a hypothetical power broker poll today? Quite possibly. But surely so would Pawlenty, yes? Throw out the rest of the wackos, and assume Perry doesn't run, and that pretty much just leaves Romney...

    How do the powerbrokers feel about Romney? Don't know, but I could easily see it going either way. If the answer indeed is "Not positively" (which at least seems plausible), then Huntsman by default has to be right there in the "power broker" poll, which seems more germane than the hoi polloi poll.

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  7. To put it slightly differently, from here in Palookaville, Huntsman's candidacy seems like a Quixotic project: he carries the frontrunner's baggage (moderate positions, religion) without the benefit of name recognition.

    This means that Huntsman is either delusional, or else he has been privately informed that Romney's baggage is much worse to the power brokers then what you hear on cable news, and with the hour getting late, Huntsman amounts to a reasonable compromise for those folks, particularly with no one else on whom they can hang their hats.

    Without the tip from the power brokers re: Romney's unpalatableness, Huntsman's candidacy seems pretty bizarre, as noted here and elsewhere. He doesn't come across as irrational, does he? Which makes you wonder what's going on behind the scenes.

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  8. No, he doesn't seem irrational, but there's a long line of people who have run despite not having a real chance -- Pete Wilson, Arlen Specter, Dick Lugar, Hatch.

    Remember, there are an awful lot of people giving opinions out there, and some of them are going to say (have said) that Huntsman has a chance. You don't have to be irrational to listen more to those who think that you're a viable candidate than those who don't...and you can easily find people who said that McCain had no chance, or Obama had no chance, or whatever.

    So I don't think he has to be delusional, at least any more than anyone else.

    There's also the flip side -- say he has a 1% shot at being elected President of the United States. He might think it's worth it to try at those odds. That's not necessarily nuts, either.

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  9. CSH: You don’t get the nomination with only insider support. And some of Huntsman’s insider support is from people who want jobs -- former McCain staffers who are whispering in the ears of media kingmakers. Huntsman seems to have the green light from the GOP’s business establishment, and he'll probably get more important endorsements than, say, Herman Cain. But none of that guarantees that he’s going to be a major political force. And as Jonathan suggests, he almost certainly knows this.

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  10. Jonathan/Couves: thanks for engaging my arguments, I take your points about Huntsman's fringe candidacy and the fact that there is more to a primary than behind-the-scenes machinations....and yet, if Romney is who we think he is (i.e. not a viable establishment candidate) and Perry doesn't run...aren't all Republican contenders long shots right now? How much worse can Huntsman be than the rest of the long shots?

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  11. CSH: I think Romney is absolutely viable. He has real problems with conservatives, but so did McCain.

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  12. Here's a crazy thought, could be way way off but just sharing it for fun: Huntsman's 2012 candidacy is a trial balloon for 2016 (a little like Gary Hart 1984), with Romney the designated 2012 nominee, and further, Romney is a Goldwater-esque sacrificial lamb - in the opposite direction - designed to change the calculus on the American right.

    Way back when the ACA was being debated, some of us longed for an approach more along the lines of Nixon's proposed catastrophic plan, a high deductible universal health plan of last resort. Of course, such a plan would require significant subsidy, but the nice thing is that concept would bring consumer price sensitivity into health care, which is mostly lacking now, and which is not really addressed by the ACA. For all its flaws, for its epic timidity in choosing wildly unrealistic growth rates instead of shared sacrifices, the voucher aspect of Ryan's Medicare plan at least opened the door for consumer pricing power in health care...a door that got slammed in Ryan's face.

    Thus, when Karl Rove says America is a "center-right" nation, he arguably means "Center, right-of-communism". This blog has noted several times how John Boehner has to mollify the Tea Partiers without acceding to their demands, which would suggest that we've all become pretty economically left-wing, even if we don't self-identify that way.

    And so, while virulent anti-Obamaism is a decent strategy for a Republican primary, it is probably a killer for a general election. The problems that Romney has with conservatives may be the future of the Republican Party, not on Fox News, not on partisan blogs, but for Presidential general elections.

    Because Couves is right that McCain had problems with conservatives but was nevertheless viable. I'd go a step further and say that conservatives even regard him somewhat fondly, even nostalgically, in this (degraded) Age of Obama. Assuming the same thing happens with Romney after his flameout in 2012, the Conservative Machine will say "Nostalgic for Romney? Guess what, we've got another one just like him waiting in the wings".

    After 8 years of a Huntsman presidency, the national Republican party will be in many ways indistinguishable from the current Democratic party, net of some holdouts living in shotgun shacks in the mountains. How can it not end that way? There's no support, realistically, for dismantling the liberal progress of the 20th century.

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  13. Romney is viable only to the degree that there might not be anyone in the field who is any more viable to win the general election, and Romney has the frontrunner position and financing to grind out the nomination. I think his support is a mile wide and an inch deep, but I'm not sure anyone else in the field can dig into it.

    To the questions:

    1. I think Jeb could probably wait as long a Labor Day, where Perry probably needs to declare by the 4th... it's getting late mostly because all the good political operatives are already working, and you need to start organizing in states both for the early contests, but also to make sure your candidate gets on ballots throughout the nation.

    Jeb Bush, because of all the contacts the family has throughout the party, is likely the only potential candidate that could grab off parts from other campaigns to build a credible campaign 'on the fly'.

    2. I don't see any way Sarah Palin is a plausible nominee this cycle, it's way too late for her to do the work required to get up to speed on the volume of issues a candidate needs to know - even if they just take questions in FOX-sponsored debates.

    And all that doesn't count the 'building a national campaign' part from question 1. Now I'm not saying she can't enter the race and get a lot of attention.. but I can only see a Palin-led campaign falling somewhere between chaos and anarchy.

    3. I think you have Pawlenty's situation just right. He probably needs to be polling in the top five by November, December - but retail campaigning will conflict with his need to put together 70 to 100 million dollars from scratch by the end of the year. (Obama raised about $130 million in 2007, Clinton $154 million) Again, it's not just for Iowa, NH and S Carolina.. a candidate needs to set up an organization to take advantage of an early win in the Super Tuesday states.

    Pawlenty may be able to survive a loss to Bachmann or Perry in Iowa or SC - but he absolutely needs to beat Romney in those 'values voters' bastions to maintain viability past the opening states.

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