Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What Obi-Wan Said (Sort of)

Okay, I don't really believe there's no such thing as luck in presidential nomination politics. But the continuing idea that Mitt Romney is just lucky is almost certainly wrong.

It's quite popular, by the way -- longtime Romney pessimist Jonathan Chait attributes the Mittster's survival to luck, as did Time's Michael Crowley earlier. See also here and here and here.

And yet much of what these folks all attribute to luck is, most likely, really about Romney being rewarded for success.

To begin with: Romney was willing and eager to run for president, while others have hesitated to do so. That's not really luck. In baseball analysis, they say that health is a skill; in presidential politics, insane, all-encompassing ambition is a skill. It allows people to run even when the odds are iffy, and when doing so will be hard on the candidate and his or her family, and when running to win means jettisoning deeply held issue positions in order to appeal to the primary electoral and important constituency groups.

Next: it's also very possible, as I've been saying, that some of the Christies and Ryans and whoevers had plenty of ambition, but didn't get in (or at least didn't get in all the way) precisely because Romney had already locked in so many of the resources needed to run.

One more: I do think Romney has been a bit luck in that his most serious rivals who reached the debates haven't performed well in those high-profile opportunities. It wasn't Romney's brilliance that caused Rick Perry to stumble all over his prepared attack lines. And yet Romney has proven to be a highly disciplined and acceptably charming debater this time around, and that's helped make Perry and, earlier, Tim Pawlenty look bad by comparison.

In short, when you see everyone in the path to the throne mysteriously disappear, the best guess is that the prince who winds up first in line wasn't just lucky, but might have had more to do with it than meets the eye.

All that said, I still have no particular view of whether Romney or Perry will wind up the nominee. I do think that the current tendency to write off Perry is silly; he remains just as viable today as ever, and given Romney's still very real vulnerabilities, three's no reason (based at least on what's been reported) to think that the battle is close to done. And of course Romney is lucky that John McCain didn't elevate someone with his VP pick in '08 who would have known how to capitalize on it. But overall, Romney is where he is because he's run a very good campaign so far. In my experience, that's not luck.


  1. Exactly what I've been thinking lately...Romney is where he is because he has worked hard, learned from his mistakes in 2008, and has largely refused to bite when the others on the stage with him try to bring him down to their level. That's what I call 'presidential material.'

  2. But I think what Chait and others are saying is that Romney could have done all these good things, and it's still surprising that he hasn't been subjected to serious attacks in the areas where he's so vulnerable -- "Obamneycare" above all. "Luck" is just a handy one-word label for the fact that this could have happened but didn't. To continue the baseball analogy, healthy players lose all the time. Healthy players who, say, can't hit sliders are even more likely to lose. Romney is like a healthy player who fields well and hits decently, but can't hit sliders. How come he keeps facing pitchers who can't throw a slider? That part is just luck. (It's also luck that could easily still run out, and soon.)

  3. He's also the only one who has been through this before and it shows. The sports analogy continues...

  4. Though I've long been bullish about Romney's chances, I am a little surprised the attacks on his health-care plan and flip-floppery have been so lame and weak so far.

  5. The attacks on ObomneyCare and flip floppery will ultimately take Romney down, much like 2008, when he got whacked by a much despised candidate.

    And I think you're missing the point as to why those issues haven't taken him down to this point. It has nothing to do with "luck"... and everything to do with spending tens of millions of his own dollars on his own campaign. Absent that cash, and he's Tim Pawlenty without the charm and pizzazz.

  6. For all the booms and flops of various candidates around him, Romney seems to track very consistently in the 26-32% range. Maybe that's his ceiling. Maybe it's just a matter of time before the anti-Romney forces coalesce around one of the remaining choices.

    (I don't really believe that to be the case, but could it be possible?)

    Everyone says that Obama has been "lucky" as a politician (one challenger for state senate was knocked off the ballot - his GOP challenger for US Senate went down in flames with a sex scandal that left him running against carpetbagging Alan Keyes - after Mike Ditka turned the GOP down, ha!)

    If Obama's "luck" holds, Herman Cain will take off, neutralizing.. let's call it "the Appalachian Gap". Could be worth 5 points.

  7. JS,

    Hard to tell whether Romney has a low ceiling, or more properly just how hard that ceiling is (if he wins, practically everyone will climb aboard).

    It ain't gonna be Cain.

    Jeff & Kylopod,

    I'm OK as I said for saying that there's some luck involved (as in Perry's garbled attack line), but most of it is a combination of smart positioning, solid performance when it matters, and winning the support or at least avoiding serious opposition from a whole lot of party actors. At least that's what I'm seeing.

  8. But it's still puzzling to me the way both T-Paw and Perry just kind of folded. It wasn't just lack of skill--it was like they both lost the nerve, like there was something holding them back from attacking Romney's heresies with full force.

    And so far we haven't seen any sustained attempt by any of Romney's rivals to paint him as a flip-flopping, closet liberal, Obama Lite, even though it would be remarkably easy to do. Just the other night Jon Stewart showed how easy it can be. A while back Cato Institute did a video pointing out the similarities between the two health care bills. If Stewart and Cato can do it, what's stopping Perry, Bachmann, Cain, Santorum, and the rest of the field? Maybe we'll be seeing more ads along those lines as we move into primary season, but it's striking that his rivals have taken so long to mount this offensive.

  9. But it's still puzzling to me the way both T-Paw and Perry just kind of folded.

    That seems a misread of what's been going on. The geeks are paying close attention to all this right now, but the mainstream of the country isn't. And it's only the mainstream that matters. If a candidate can pique the mainstream's curiousity, and attract some small donations, and large even, then he can make some noise. And surge even, and if they're lucky, have the surge stick.

    Pawlenty is gone because he wasn't funded to run the kind of campaign he wanted to run, a huge splash affair. He wanted Iowa, Bachmann denied him that, and he had no secondary plan. So he folded, as you mention.

    Perry hasn't "folded", and vs Romney, it basically still has to be considered pick-em. Why? Perry has campaign cash, unlike Pawlenty. And Romney has campaign cash, so he'll stick around to the last. So does Huntsman, and has there ever been a presidential candidate with a higher sabermetric of "words jabbered to chance of winning ratio". But Huntsman self funds, so he can stick around for a while, too.

    And why do you think all the jabber about Christie? You think that was all the result of his obvious political brilliance? ;-)

    No, it was because Christie has star power, name recognition, is headquartered in media bubble central, and had a few large contributors idling somewhere. Flip flop Pawlenty with Christie, via Star Trek teletransporter, and Christie is at home in the cornfields watching the media slavering over Pawlenty.

    Few want to listen to candidates attacking other candidates, as their base course. Attacks have their place, and the chattering class likes to provoke them, but intelligent voters, those who are paying attention at this early stage anyway, would rather listen to candidates lay out what they believe. There really is a "who do I want in my living room?" effect in play here. We don't need anybody telling us Obama is a failure, or that Romney is a flip flopper. Tell us something we don't already know... like what it is you believe.

    Perry got caught at a debate without a webpage tab to an economic/fiscal plan in place. Huh? He failed to even brush out a few broad strokes, in other words. Never mind attacking Romney... Perry in this case couldn't even describe his own beliefs, through his own campaign. Maybe that's changed since then, but that was a rough point for him.

    Romney seems pretty much status quo. Cain is proposing radical change. Neither will get anything like what they're calling for, but it's important for them to put it out there, and this really isn't the time for either of them to attack the other guy's positions, other than light skirmishing. And Perry can't really even skirmish, because he's put nothing out there.

    It's still far too early to be drawing conclusions. But I'd say it's fair to conclude that the lefties are terrified of Cain. ;-)

    And they should be, because Cain'll peel off a fair bit more than 5 points off Obama's 2008 coalition. Perry or Romney will beat Obama with something like 275-325 electoral college votes, assuming Obama doesn't completely implode and surrender a landslide (and he's definitely trying to implode, it appears). But Cain is gonna get into Obama's kitchen, and strip away a few base lefty states.

    And lefty fantasies about "the Appalachia gap" notwithstanding, there is a near zero chance for Obama to take any of the Bush 2000/2004 states, no matter the R candidate, Cain or otherwise. If Cain becomes the nominee, that would mean by definition that the fantasized "Appalachia gap" doesn't exist, and brother, that spells doomsday for the Obamabots. They could be dropping +400 EV's, at that point.

    But can he get that nomination, that's the question. Heck, that's always the question.

  10. @Anonymous (10/6, 6:58 am) I agree that if Cain were the Republican nominee, it's unlikely that would significantly help Obama in Appalachia. But what do you mean, "Cain is gonna get into Obama's kitchen, and strip away a few base lefty states"? Which states and why?

    As for the 2000/2004 Bush states, Obama won CO, NV, OH, VA, NC and FL last time out, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him win some of those states in 2012. (I would be surprised to see him win all of them.)

    As for whether Cain can get the Republican nomination, I tend to agree with our gracious host in thinking that it's extremely unlikely. History is an uncertain guide to the future, but there are few (if any?) examples of a non-politician/non-general winning a major party's presidential nomination...let alone getting elected.

  11. @Anon, You don't realize that Cain's "radical change" is a pipe dream because the math doesn't add up. He doesn't even state (or know) what revenue his 999 plan will bring in. Once someone does the math and asks him the question, he'll have to explain either a huge deficit or huge government cuts. I think all the air will come out of the balloon then. Math is a bitch that way.

  12. ma,

    Cain will strip votes from Obama in every state, but it'll be states with large black populations which are subject to flip, and those are mostly lefty states. The Left depends on a 90% black vote count, and basically would cease to exist if they didn't get that. Make it a 50-50 split, and the Left would go the way of the passenger pigeon.

    Off the top of my head, Ohio would be gone, Pennsylvania would almost certainly be gone, and here in Michigan well, I can't see Obama surviving a campaign against Cain. NY would come under siege, and NJ, Wisconsin most likely. I'd have to study it to come up with a comprehensive list. CT? ME? RI?

    Let's put it this way, Cain would flip more lefty states than Obama would take Bush 2000/2004 states.

    I agree with you on the historical fundamentals as guide to electoral outcomes, and I basically discounted Bachmann, Paul, Santorum et al, many months ago, following such axioms. Those rules do work, mostly, as we know. But recall that they didn't work in 2008, so no reason that they're not going to be problematic again. I'm expecting another wave election, and nothing tells me that I shouldn't. That means status quo folks are riding in troubled waters, and "outsider" candidates might gain traction.

    I still make Perry and Romney the favorites, but once a candidate surges as Cain has, that surge has to be respected, until it ebbs.

    And MP, we already have the "huge deficit or huge government cuts" imbroglio in our face. You're making out that Cain has to demonstrate that his version of imbroglio is better than borrowing 43 cents of every dollar we spend, as today. That won't be too hard, I suspect. It's never hard to improve on suckitude.

    In any event, what Cain is proposing is radical... and thinking out of the box is what's needed right now... and that's what the others don't get, nor does Obama for that matter. Obama/Pelosi/Reid have been stagnant for about 2 years, hiding from their sins, avoiding tough decisions and just reacting as their opposition gained electoral advantage and began pushing politically. But that reactive posture is just foolish for any politician, and Cain seems to know that instinctively, and hews to a more radical rap... even though he knows full well that there's no way we're gonna waltz into a national VAT... and a 9% corporate tax. He'll be president, not king.

    He's pushing radical thought, however. He's pushing thought... as opposed to the constipation of thought that we've had recently. The US Senate doesn't even do budgets any more. They just don't. Budgets are for the little people, I guess. They just let it all go automatic pilot. No thought whatsoever. That's what's bringing on the recent waves, and the beatings will continue until morale improves.

    Cain's problem is winning the nomination, same problem as Perry and Romney have. After that, you better get used to President Romney/Perry/Cain, because I can't see Obama beating anybody at this point, and his toughest opponent wold be Cain.

  13. Anon,

    Gotta push again on "budget." You seem to be confusing budgeting (which Congress does currently, e.g. in the debt limit thing) with a Budget Resolution, which is basically a technical & procedural thing.

    Congress managed just fine for almost 200 years without Budget Resolutions, and while I'm not exactly against the procedure, there's no reason at all to think that it's a big deal.

  14. You're not pushing anything, Mr. Bernstein, you're just covering for the US Senate's failure to follow regular order, in not producing budgets, as per historical norms.

    And you seem to be confusing budget caps with detailed budgets, worked through the process, line by line.

    It's just partisan shilling that you're doing here. Sorry. Your favs are constipated, are breaking the law and violating their Constitutional oath. And they continue to be punished electorally for it. It's killing them, and I expect it to help kill them again in November 2012.

    You run from issues and you'll pay the price. They ran from the Bush Tax Cut issue, finally caved and deflated themselves politically. They ran from budgeting issues, and eventually had their opposition writing their budgets for them. It's inevitable.

    It's irresponsible governance, and the irresponsible are paying the price.

  15. Anon,

    How are they violating their Constitutional oath?

  16. Anon, there's one thing I think I can say with some confidence: "lefties" are NOT terrified of Herman Cain. So much the worse for them if you're right, but lefties -- and, I suspect, most Republican funders and power-brokers -- believe that against Obama, Cain would go the way of Alan Keyes '04. (Unfortunately we're not going to get to see this, because before that happens he's going to go the way of Alan Keyes '96.)

  17. Mr. Bernstein,

    If the honorables fail to participate in regular order budgeting process, and default to backroom deals and brinksmanship, void of responsible and open governance, then they have failed to well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which they entered. Not to mention, they have broken the law.

    Them's the rules of the road. For doing what they're doing, they'd be fired anywhere else but the cesspit of the US Senate.

    But they are being fired, slowly, as we see. I think that's why they're suddenly bestirring themselves, on tax policy and such. They seem to understand their jobs depend on them starting to do their jobs.

  18. Jeff,

    Obama 2004 is not Obama 2011. Then he was the messiah. Now he's the roadkill (assuming none of his opposition's wife swapping divorce papers suddenly turn up in the papers).

    Most funders and power brokers know that Obama is a dead man walking, same as you and I and anybody else paying attention knows it. It's referendum first, you know, and Obama is entering this election weaker than Carter, referendum-wise. And it's going to get much, much worse, it appears.

    After the referendum piece of it, then we take a look at the other candidate, and as long as it's not a Kerry-like empty suit, and shows promise, that's enough to overcome failed referendum guy. Remember, Reagan was not a prize in 1980, nor was Clinton in 1992 (neither got my vote, for example). They had multiple warts, shrieked about just as shrilly as we see about these R candidates today. But they both wiped out weak incumbents. The challenger must meet a threshold, yes, but the incumbent loses these elections, in large measure (again with the caveat that a Kerry cannot be nominated).

    The funders and power brokers will support those who get them what they want. I'd agree that Cain has his work cut out for him, as Perry and Romney were known to be strongly funded candidates multiple years ago, and I never heard of Herman Cain until the Fourth of July or so this year. He's got a long row to hoe. He has to get additional name recognition, avoid the landmines while maintaining or increasing his approval, and SOAK UP SOME CAMPAIGN CASH.

    That's a tough row to hoe, I'd agree. But if he gets it all hoed, and takes the nomination, he'll be the next president. Yeah, I see a clear path to the WH for Cain, just not a certain path.

  19. Anon,

    Congress has *never* followed the letter of the law on Budget Resolutions, nor should they; they point of the Budget Act is to give them tools they can use to control budgeting, but there's never been any reason from them to allow those tools to force their actions.

    Minor technical violations are hardly failing to "discharge the duties of the office"; they're minor technical violations. I can't imagine anyone getting fired from a job for a comparable technicality, unless they had the most extreme literal rulebound boss, and while those do exist they rarely have good results.

  20. "And of course Romney is lucky that John McCain didn't elevate someone with his VP pick in '08 who would have known how to capitalize on it."

    Not so. How much richer is Sarah Palin today? She knew exactly how to capitalize on it to be able to live comfortably while not having to bother with the work that comes from campaigning.

  21. Sorry, Mr. Bernstein, but this ain't about "minor technicalities". Regular order has been completely abandoned in the current US Senate, in violation of Constitutional oath, the law and all past practice. It's that simple. They are required by law and practice to produce a budget, and they haven't, and for multiple years now.

    You'd be fired toot suite if you failed to do what your job description calls for. That's assuming you work in the real world. I don't know who you are and you might be an academic or something, where that's not always true, similar to Washington. But the rest of us have to do our jobs.

    This is simply irresponsible governance, and the honorables are slowly being fired for it, it appears. I believe the term of art these days is "unfit to govern". That term was making the rounds about Pelosi a while back, and it's being applied to others now. And if you shirk basic budgeting and taxing issues, you're pretty much proving you're unfit to govern.

    Thing is, the lefties doing this think they're helping themselves, but they're only destroying themselves. Nothing and I mean NOTHING could have hurt the Left worse than shirking action on taxes, then being forced into signing the Bush Tax Cuts. What a bunch of incompetent fools... the lot of them. Political incompetents of stunning magnitude.

    And this budget issue is now going to backbite them, as well. Every one of those 12 vulnerable lefty senators rejected Obama's budget last Spring, but none of them have produced a budget in its stead. Who does that help, and who does it hurt? I can tell you it was gonna kill Conrad, so much so that he's fleeing. Who's next? Irresponsible governance has a price.

    Now, follow regular order on these budgets, and fight it out in the trenches, out in the open, and the Left will always have the advantage. They are the party of government. Open governance will always be on their side. Manipulate a few votes, screw the other guy a bit, amp up a few hot button issues, and you're home free.

    But they chose to go smoky backroom. That's manna from heaven for a populist movement looking to whack incumbents. Nothing and I do mean NOTHING could embolden the Left's opposition more than that approach.

    These people seem to have a death wish, I swear. On taxes and budgeting, they just self destruct.

    Not to mention, they break the law and their sworn oath.


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