Friday, December 23, 2011

Who Should Mitt Want To Beat?

My post over at Greg's place today is about how swimmingly everything is breaking for Mitt Romney right now. Of course, there's still a long way to go to Iowa...plenty of time for someone to break out and wind up in the top three. And I disagree with something that Dave Weigel said earlier this week -- that a Ron Paul win, if it happens, will be the major story. No, I think that a Paul win would be heavily discounted by the press because they don't think he can win the nomination, and because the polling already has him on top so it wouldn't have surprise news value, and because high-visibility Republicans would probably play it down.

At least, that would be the case if they have something else to talk about. And the big something else would be someone other than Romney, Paul, and Newt breaking into the top three.

So: who should Romney be rooting for to finish third in Iowa? In the Plum Line post, I made my usual case that what really matters is whether Rick Perry rallies, but outside of that, what should Romney want?

Quick answer: not Rick Santorum. Michele Bachmann would be great; just as with Newt, she's an easy target and Romney would have lots of help. But Santorum would be a little trickier. He mostly has mainstream conservative positions on issues, and isn't obviously vulnerable on personal baggage, and so Romney would have to keep to the right in order to defeat him. Now, that probably wouldn't be especially hard, but it might delay his general election shift to the center and leave him with some positions on public policy he would rather not defend in the fall.

So the best bets for Romney are either that Newt hangs on for a weak third, or that Bachmann passes him. Which is pretty much what Nate Silver's numbers show right now. Too bad for Romney that there's still plenty of time for things to change.


  1. Santorum got fired from his last public office, so he doesn't have that conventional resume in any meaningful sense. See also Palin, Sarah. Plus he's a simpering empty suit, though that's for some reason supposed not to matter at places like this. If Romney's biggest nomination problem is Rick Santorum, he's home free.

  2. Actually, a Paul win would be novel. Until a couple of weeks ago, almost everyone was convinced that such an ultra-libertarian had zero chance at winning. People are still coming up with reasons why he won't win -- his newsletters or Fox News tearing into him about Iran in the last debate. The whole conservative media establishment is gunning for him right now, and yet he still might win.

    Paul may remain a long shot for the ultimate nomination, but an Iowa win would be an indicator of shifting voter sentiment. And anyone who's paying attention would have to recognize this as a huge, energizing win for the libertarian movement Paul is building within the GOP... those guys aren't going anywhere and they will have political relevance for years to come. The Occupy movement gets deserved attention for their organizational strength, but a movement with a proven ability to actually win elections shouldn’t be ignored either.

    Paul's best bet at winning New Hampshire will be for the media to dismiss him after an Iowa win. Try to tell New Hampshirites what they’re going to do and maybe they’ll take a stand with old Mr. Cranky-Pants ;)

  3. Couves,

    I think that's wrong. I think the smart money all year has considered a Paul win in Iowa a definite possibility. Hmmm...Intrade had him at 10% chance from August to November, when he started steadily rising.

    I don't really agree with the rest of this, either. I don't think Paul-style libertarians are necessarily going to have "political relevance for years to come." Maybe, maybe not.

  4. I don't understand why Santorum hasn't surged in the polls yet. When you have Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich each rising at one time or another, it's surprising a two-time winner in Pennsylvania with fairly conventional credentials wouldn't have his own moment. Maybe he gets the finishing surge and steals Iowa?

    Regarding his loss, sure he lost his last election. But it was in the anti-GOP wave of 2006, against a pro-life Democrat.

    I get the Huntsman thing, even if it's not really fair. Republican voters perceive him as liberalish for a couple reasons (Ambassador under Obama, comparisons to Romney), even though he's fairly conservative.

    But Santorum? It can't just be the Google thing.

  5. It's not just that he lost, it's that he lost by 18 points and whined the wbole time he was getting beat. He's a shrill hysteric and people don't like him.

  6. Jonathan,

    Intrade has had Huntsman's chances at about the same in NH for the last few weeks... no one really thinks he's going to win the state.

    And how can you doubt the Paulistas? Have you ever seen grassroots supporters so energized by defeat?

  7. JB, don't forget the other rules-of-thumb that the media operate under, though.

    Iowa is "that place in flyover land that is made up of religious conservatives." Some of that is your plain, ol' urban bias of journalists, but a larger part is history. Pat Robertson is STILL the dominant frame through which they view Iowa (and elections like 2008 where Huckabee, who runs purely on social conservativeness, picking a tax proposal out of a hat, does surprisingly well.)

    So, if a non-social conservative wins in Iowa when there's a field full of them to vote for, that'll be news.

  8. Paul is a religious conservative himself (this is another area in which he wants to minimize the federal role to maximize the state/local role), so I don't think a Paul victory in Iowa would necessarily be seen as a departure from the Robertson/Huckabee line.


  9. BrianTH - I think that's a bit of a stretch. Yes, he is pro-life and wants to leave abortion up to the states, but he's otherwise a consistent philosophical libertarian. For example, he doesn't want the federal government to have any role in defining marriage. He voted to repeal DADT. When Jay Leno asked him about states rights, he corrected him by saying that only individuals have rights. When asked who his favorite Supreme Court Justice was, he said that half the Court was right about half the issue (civil liberties) and the other half was right about the rest (economic liberties).

    With the exception of a speech he delivers only to evangelical groups, he doesn't really use social conservative talk. And the gist of his evangelical stump speech is that God wants us to be free. He's really in a category of his own, and that's why he get's support outside of traditional Republican voters.

  10. Couves,

    I'd suggest you read what Paul has written on this subject with an open mind about what sort of "libertarian" he actually is.

    Again, I think it is quite clear he thinks state and local governments should be allowed to promote religion as they see fit, and he thinks the federal government has no constitutional authority to prevent them from doing so, and that the federal courts should be stripped of jurisdiction to hold otherwise.

    Note that none of this is necessarily inconsistent with what you wrote. He definitely wants the federal government to have no role in this area, and his conception of religious "freedom" includes the freedom of people to use their state and local governments to promote religion.

    But regardless, my point is that his vision, whether or not consistent with any particular version of "libertarianism", is one that religious conservatives will find attractive in a candidate for President.

  11. BrianTH - Yes, I see where you're coming from… As libertarians go, Ron Paul is certainly more of a cultural conservative (sometimes called "paleolibertarian") while Gary Johnson is more liberal (or "cosmo-libertarian"). But the essence of Paul’s beliefs is still libertarianism.

    Here is one example: The "ground zero mosque." Social conservatives see this as offensive, if not a symbol of Islam's attempt to establish a worldwide Caliphate. Paul has called this "demagoguery" and denounced opposition to the Mosque as being motivated by "hate" (he naturally exempts his son from this charge!). He may cherish the role Christianity plays in our society, but for government to do anything that might violate the freedom of non-Christians is unthinkable and un-American to his worldview. This privileged position of liberty is what makes him a libertarian and distinguishes him from most Republican officeholders.

  12. A Santorum surge - ooo - I'll rephrase that. Santorum riding up from behind - uh, whoops.

    A Santorum success could be tough for Romney. He's been a solid, boring movement conservative since forever, without the train car of baggage that comes with Gingrich and Paul, or the obvious mental failings of Perry and Bachmann. His policies are simple, he stays in his comfort zone and he's deadly sincere. Above all, conservative Christians have no reason to doubt anything about him.

    Romney's stock in trade is full-bore aggression wrapped in substance-free blathering. But should the Willard Machine turn its canons on the earnest and steadfast Santorum, it would blow back in Romney's' face. Already a stinky choice for many evangelicals, he'd add anger to the fundamentalists' distrust, and lose most, if not all, evangelical support in the Midwest, which he'll need at some point.


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