Thursday, October 20, 2011

So What Now? Santorum? Roy Moore? You-Know-Who?

As I write this it's now 4:30 Central time, and as far as I can tell Herman Cain still hasn't released anything to walk back his CNN interview from last night beyond a single non-helpful tweet that he is "100% pro-life. End of story." Which certainly is not the end of the story, since he's said that many times but nevertheless gave a 100% pro-choice answer on CNN (Benjy Sarlin has the details). As of now -- almost a full day after the gaffe! -- we really have no idea what's going on. Is Cain simply pro-choice, and hasn't understood that the position of being personally against abortion but also against government involvement is a pro-choice position? Is he pro-choice, knows exactly what it means, but hoped that no one would notice? Is he operationally pro-life, and just misspoke in the interview (perhaps because he's really pro-choice, but politically pro-life)? Is there some other explanation that he's going to try to float?

Of course, if his was a real presidential campaign this would have been cleaned up last night, one way or another. Actually, if it was a real presidential campaign, the candidate would be able to make it through a softball interview without embarrassing himself, his supporters, and his entire party (Sullivan nails it there). But anyway, they would have cleaned it up last night. But it's not a real presidential campaign, and everyone except perhaps the rubes and a handful of gullible pundits know it

(Someone should really compile a list of pundits who bought the Cain, Trump, and Bachmann surges. Rick Perry, you say? I'll stand by that one, and I don't think I said anything different about him when he was up in the polls than I did last winter).

Either way, I think there's an excellent chance that Cain's poll numbers are about to plummet. For one thing, I suspect he'll quietly disappear from Fox News coverage for a while.

The question is what comes next. Of course, one possibility is that we're about to get to the final stages; there's always the chance that there will be an avalanche of endorsements for Romney followed by doting coverage from Fox and the talk shows, and public opinion follows. No sign of that yet, though. I don't think it's realistic to expect that sort of thing for Perry at this point; he's going to have to earn it by generating some good news for a while.

If none of that happens, however, I suspect the most likely outcome is that Perry's numbers rebound, at least to some extent; I more or less agree with Jonathan Chait's analysis. A second possibility is that Mitt Romney will get a surge, just from voters wanting to get it over with. Hey, it could happen! But if Republican electorates remain stubbornly unwilling to take the lead on Mitt, and if it's not Perry...I don't know. Santorum? Another round of Bachmann? Even more improbably, Newt? It's harder to imagine a Huntsman or Paul surge. On the other hand, if everyone's numbers stay in the doldrums and "undecided" surges, I wouldn't put it past all those reporters who have taken the pledge and done so well so far to start to backtrack, and despite themselves start wondering whether all those Ron Paul wins in straw polls and online self-selected surveys are really revealing a secret Paul surge.

Hey, remembering that most of that doesn't really matter much...I have no idea which of them is the most likely, although as I said I'd put my money on a Perry rebound if I had to.

My rooting interest? That's easy: the Sage of Wasilla, bitter that Cain lied to her about abortion, decides to save the day by jumping in. Or half jumping in. Or at least doing another non-candidate Iowa bus tour. Or at least claiming she's about to do another non-candidate Iowa bus tour. Because nothing would be a better diversion as we wait for all of this to sort itself out.

13 comments:

  1. I wish the GOP would nominate Ron Paul, because the American people need to listen to what he has to say. Not that I'd vote for him against Obama, but dammit the public need to listen him.

    On the point, how do you determine the winner of an election when every candidate looks like they cannot win? Santorum or Newt could surge instead of Perry, but how do those two beat Obama?

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  2. But it's not a real presidential campaign, and everyone except perhaps the rubes and a handful of gullible pundits know it

    For a not "real presidential campaign", you certainly seem to be regularly stringing together a lot of words about it, you being a guy who scoffs at secondary candidates. ;-)

    An interesting phenomenon, this Cain candidacy. Perry made the precise wrong move, attacking Cain at that last debate. He probably needed to let the others take on Cain, for now. It didn't help him, and it didn't hurt Cain. It probably helped Romney, if anything, and that's who Perry should focus on.

    Perry needs to focus on the inevitability of a Perry/Romney showdown, even if it doesn't seem so inevitable. All these guys would have to rub the corners off their past apostasies, to win an R primary, so it's still best to bet the usual trends.

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  3. If Cain's numbers go down I think would be more due to 999 then abortion. Every other person in the debate criticized the plan and National Review has had several pieces critical of it. I have seen nothing in NR about this abortion interview.

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  4. Mercer: you may be right, but the abortion argument isn't crazy, either. Since that apostasy doesn't seem to be getting as much coverage in the conservative media circle (using your NR reading as the guide; I'm not in that loop), it might take longer for the abortion thing to sink in. By the same token, the attacks on 999 have been coming in for a while now, so (since he hasn't plummetted yet) I'd expect either effect to not show up for a while, if both these readings are correct. If that's the case, sorting out the why will be very difficult.

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  5. Why not Santorum? He has actual government experience at a high enough level, and hasn't been out of office any longer than Romney. Are his anti-gay stances causing him trouble even within the Republican party?

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  6. Cain seemed to have charmed a lot of Republicans, but they will tire of his gaffes and "trust-me" responses to questions about his 9-9-9 plan. I don't think they'll run back to Bachmann, who would be a great Stepford wife but not a good president. Even someone who would want a Stepford wife can see that.

    Santorum is more a culture warrior than someone to handle economic issues, and people probably vaguely remember how badly he lost his last election.

    That will leave the hard conservatives wondering whether to support another less-than-smart Texan or Romney. My god, it'll probably be Romney.

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  7. HuffPost has an article on reactions to all this in Iowa (not good), along with a review of Cain's various statements:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/20/herman-cain-abortion-comments_n_1023046.html

    The guy says abortion shouldn't be legal, but that "government" shouldn't make the decision. He has said this repeatedly. He seems honestly not to understand that making something illegal is an act of government. Which means he's not even qualified to be a city councilman, let alone president.

    If I had to try to explain this, aside from Cain just being a big doofus, I would say that what we've got here is a walking embodiment of the libertarian / social conservatism divide in the Republican coalition. Cain manages to cram extreme versions of both positions not only into the same platform, but into the same sentence.

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  8. If the conservative media have not picked up on Cain's abortion remarks, I think that in itself is interesting.

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  9. Jonathan -

    Where do you stand on the debate over whether this is an "unusually thin" field of GOP candidates? (Sorry if I missed your post on this). I think this is what GOP presidential primaries are likely to look like for a while, with a big caveat.

    If Mitt Romney is elected President in 2012, he will almost certainly be the party's nominee for POTUS in 2016. Mitt's VP is likely to be in the Gore-mold, not the Cheney-Biden elder statesman, and thus may be the nominee in 2020. So there may not be another truly open GOP primary for some time. Right?

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  10. I knew I was missing something...thanks!

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  11. I think there is a reasonable portion of the pro-life community that thinks basically like Cain.

    A lot of people conflate something being legal with something being good. Something illegal being something bad. Abortion is bad, so it should be illegal.

    The nuance of being able to think something is bad but that having government interference in it is ineffective and expensive is a level of nuance that would take more consideration than they are willing to make.

    So they think abortion should be illegal, and at the same time they think families - especially families like theirs - should be left alone to make the best decisions for their own families.

    I don't mean to sound condescending; this is a large segment of my extended family. It is not logically coherent. I have often thought that if abortion were actually made illegal and began to have that ban enforced, they would become pro-choice as soon as the issue hit close enough to home to make an impact.

    Of course there are going to be a wide swath of folks completely outraged and feeling betrayed by Cain. But I think he speaks for a lot more people than many of us realize on this.

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  12. more evidence of abortion as a fading issue.

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