Saturday, December 31, 2011

Quick Iowa Poll Notes

The last Des Moines Register poll is out tonight, with Mitt Romney leading and Rick Santorum, as more or less expected, moving up rapidly. For the full poll, conducted December 27-30, Romney leads at 24%, Ron Paul is second at 22%, then Santorum at 15%, Newt Gingrich 12%, Rick Perry 11%, Michele Bachmann 7%. However, Santorum was rallying so quickly that the DMR also released separate results from just Thursday and Friday, which showed Santorum jumping into second place over Paul, 21% to 18%. As with every other nomination poll all year, voters expressed a lot of uncertainty, so we could still see large changes.

Quick reaction? If in fact Romney, Paul, and Santorum grab the top three spots, it probably doesn't matter at all which order they'll finish in. The big story out of Iowa will be Santorum, who has received practically zero media coverage until this week and even now not much. That's going to be true whether the former Pennsylvania Senator finishes first, second, or third. He'll certainly (assuming nothing else happens) zoom up to at least fourth in New Hampshire the following Tuesday, and I'd bet he winds up higher than that -- perhaps a lot higher.

Part of what will determine how high he surges, and how long and serious his surge lasts, will be what key conservative groups and leaders think of him -- and what those who haven't yet endorsed Romney think of the Massachusetts governor. As I've said, it's possible that Romney has a batch of endorsements in his pocket just waiting for Iowa to be over in case Romney stumbled there. It's also possible that those who haven't jumped to the Mittster year really don't want to, but also haven't been even remotely interested in Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul (remember, when Perry was surging he did attract some endorsements, unlike the others). How big is that group, and how do they feel about Santorum? I don't think we know, but we may be finding out soon.

But it's unlikely, I think, that any of that changes based on the exact order of Romney, Paul, and Santorum.

Other notes...Newt Gingrich is, in my view, the most likely to underperform his poll numbers. Rick Perry? He's apparently well-organized; that could help him, as could last-minute advertising, but then again strategic voting could hurt him, with conservatives shifting to Santorum. Bachmann will probably continue to bleed support, hurt by strategic voting. In my view, it's still possible that Perry could sneak into the top three in Iowa, but highly unlikely that the other two will. It's also possible that Perry could survive to compete in South Carolina if he finishes a strong fourth -- although so far, there's no real sign he's going to do that. As I've said before, if they were normal candidates Newt and Bachmann would drop out after weak showings in Iowa, but normal incentives don't really explain their actions, so it's hard to know. I do expect Perry to drop out if he finishes a weak fourth or worse.

What Mattered This Week?

One more time: Egypt, Syria. A bad week for coalition casualties in Afghanistan.

Let's see...a quiet week in the economy; don't know if that's a "dogs not barking" kind of what mattered, but perhaps.

We're waiting on more polling soon, but I'll repeat that I do think Rick Santorum is more trouble for Mitt Romney than Newt Gingrich (or Michele Bachmann) would have been...but less trouble than Rick Perry would be, if he managed to revive. I'm not sure whether that's really something that "matters" or not, but there definitely was movement in the GOP race this week.

No recess appointments, but Barack Obama will still have a couple of weeks after the holidays to do it. Or not. We did get new Fed nominees.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Hampshire and Beyond Notes

Just a few quick things, notes style, while waiting for tomorrow's DMR poll and then, well, finally, the Iowa Caucuses.

1. Remember about New Hampshire: very sudden swings are possible. Gary Hart went from nowhere to a New Hampshire win in eight days, and that was off of a relatively unimpressive second place finish. Nor should you assume that New Hampshire Republicans won't go for a social conservative; there are plenty of Republicans everywhere who support (national) mainstream conservatives.

2. On the other hand, assuming we're talking about Rick Santorum, we have no idea how he'll handle scaling up his campaign to a national level. Might go well; might not.

3. Santorum won't have ads up right away. Not a big deal; free media can swamp paid over the short term.

4. Although as I said earlier, there's still no guarantee that it's Santorum, not Rick Perry, who bounces. Outside possibility: they both do well enough in Iowa to survive. Even more outside possibility: Gingrich or Bachmann winds up surviving Iowa. Although, of course, they could stay in anyway, and they were never viable, so I'm not quite sure the right wording for that one.

5. Romney hasn't yet had to deal with a real blizzard of attacks against him. Could happen in South Carolina. It's possible it won't.

6. Beware anyone who trots out "never happened" claims -- such as the two reported here that winner in South Carolina is always the nominee and that no one has won South Carolina without first winning either Iowa or New Hampshire. Some of those rules of thumb are useful, but most aren't. Remember that there have only been a handful of GOP open-seat nomination contests since reform (1980, 1988, 1996, 2000, 2008), only a couple of those without a standout obvious candidate, and none all that similar to the structure of this one.

7. I'll repeat what I said over at Plum Line's possible that this thing is really over, and that the large number of Republican leaders who have held back are really in the bag for Romney and will declare after Iowa. It's also possible that they're hanging back because they're waiting until they know who the conservative alternative is. We don't know, but that's the biggest factor in whether we're heading for a Romney coronation or a tough fight that would start with a solid advantage for Romney, but would still be competitive.

OK, that's enough for now, I guess.


Just a quick reality check. There have been six Iowa polls released this week, five of them based only on surveys begun after Christmas. Rick Santorum is certainly surging, in the sense that he was probably in sixth place before and appears to be in third place now. But least from what we've seen yet, his surge is still more semi- than certain, at least if we're talking about a strong finish.

In particular, here are Santorum's leads over Rick Perry in those five polls (four via Silver, plus NBC here): 0, 2, 2, 3, 1.

Impressed? I doubt it.

Now, if we go beyond the horse race numbers, it's clear that there's good news for Santorum in that his favorable ratings beat Perry's, at least in the ones I've looked at. And buzz and hype are clearly on Santorum's side. On the other hand, Perry is presumably going to be massively outspending Santorum on ads over the last few days. There's also the question of organization...I'm really not certain who has the advantage there, or how that will figure in.

I'm just saying: from the numbers so far, it ain't there.

UPDATE while I'm writing....and now a new poll is out with a 7 point gap between them. With Bachmann surging up to 12%! Maybe that's right...I don't know; it seems unlikely to me that Bachmann's week has helped her, but perhaps it has.

I guess I'll tie it all together by just emphasizing (1) Iowa is really hard to poll, and (2) try not to make too much of a lot of relatively small differences in polling numbers.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Post-Iowa Speculation and Questions

I posted earlier at Plum Line about the 20% of Iowa caucus-goers who have been with Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich in recent polls but could wind up elsewhere if -- if -- those two candidates collapse. Which I think is very possible, but hardly certain.

But suppose it happens. And suppose that this week's flavor, Rick Santorum, benefits, jumping solidly into the top three and perhaps even winning.

So here are some questions...

1. Could Rick Perry keep going? Under this scenario, Perry doesn't melt down, but also picks up little or nothing from voters who had been undecided or with Bachmann or Newt. That gives him a solid 4th place. Is it enough for him to get past a dismal showing in New Hampshire and on to South Carolina? I suspect not, but it sort of depends on....

2. What do Republican party actors think of Rick Santorum, anyway? My impression is that so far they've basically ignored him, believing (as I did) that he was just an implausible nominee. That was true. But if he can finish third (or better!) in Iowa, and better than everyone but Paul and Romney, do those who don't want Romney start breaking sharply for Santorum? The general reaction I'm hearing to the Santorum semi-surge so far has been to dismiss him, but I'm increasingly unsure that's correct. As I said earlier this week, if the only real black mark against Santorum was that he got clobbered for re-election, it seems to me that his surge (if it happens) will be a lot less hollow than most of the others this year. Although he'll still, of course, have to perform well to keep it going.

3. Will Bachmann and Newt drop out? Again, this is on the assumption that they collapse down to 5% each, give or take a few points. Normally, both would, but neither is necessarily playing by the normal rules, or constrained by the normal forces that push losers to stop going.

Analogy of the Day

Thomas Friedman is to Barack Obama as Bill Kristol is to...Rick Santorum?

I should think regular readers will follow, but just in case:

Friedman has been looking all year for a new presidential candidate who will pursue a grand bargain on the deficit, support mainstream internationalism and trade policies, and attack climate change with GDP-growing energy policy, somehow missing that practically everything he wants is supported by the guy in the White House.

Kristol has been calling nonstop for a new presidential candidate who he can trust to carry out neocon foreign policy but who is more reliable than, say, Mitt Romney. Definitely not Romney. Santorum is basically an orthodox neocon, probably the most reliable in the field.

Has Kristol just not believed Santorum had a chance? Does he have something against him? Is there some sort of pundit vision that makes you miss the obvious?

Romney in Iowa

A bunch of bloggers ran posts this week about mistakes they made this year. I try to do that as I go along, and I had a big one recently, so instead...I'm going to be self-indulgent, and note one that I got right.

I have a post up at Plum Line arguing that Jon Huntsman's fate -- and the possible surge of Rick Santorum -- show again that serious presidential candidates really can't skip Iowa. Which reminds me that I've been saying more or less forever that Mitt Romney would, in fact, compete in Iowa.

Of course, there's the question of competing there, which is important, and then there's the question of where the candidates are going to spend the night on Tuesday, which...isn't. NBC's First Read is making much of Romney's plans to stick around in Des Moines and do post-Iowa interviews there, instead of from New Hampshire. I'm sure this seems important if you're the one coordinating the interviews, but in the real world it's hard to see how it matters at all. If Romney finishes 4th in Iowa, it's a big deal no matter how much he tries to downplay it; being on the scene won't make it any worse. And if he wins...well, being there won't change the importance of that, either.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cranky Wednesday Blogging 4

Jon Avlon reacts to the demise of the Benator with the creakiest of cliches, the "all the moderates are leaving" piece. Just as awful as you might expect. Particularly annoying is this bit:
There was a time when divided government did not mean dysfunctional government. The presence of conservative Democrats and progressive Republicans helped ensure that cross-aisle coalitions could be formed to find solutions on the most pressing issues of the day, from the Marshall Plan to the Interstate Highway System to civil rights.
He's talking about a fairly long stretch here, from the 1940s through the 1960s, but much of that time was completely characterized by failing to "find solutions to the most pressing issues of the day." Such as, for example, civil rights. Because a dysfunctional Congress allowed Southern Democrats to tie up legislation that had clear majorities behind it for years and years.

Hey, I liked Ben Nelson. I have no problems at all with the occasional nonentity in the Senate. And I do think it's generally a good thing when parties nominate moderates to allow them to compete in ideologically hostile territory. But, c'mon; no one is actually going to miss the Benator, who was hardly the type of Senator who helps solve "the most pressing issues of the day."

Oh, and the historic 111th Congress, for all its polarization, was far more productive than any postwar Congress through 1962, at least. You know, legislating in the US is hard. It's always been hard. It's designed that way. It was hard before Ben Nelson, hard while he was around, and it'll be hard after he's gone. But it's very difficult, I'd say, to make the case that Nelson did very much to make it easier.

Cranky Wednesday Blogging 3

This is really the one that started me off cranky today. It's an article by Scott Neuman over at NPR about how horrible Congress is these days. It quotes (political scientist) Tom Mann, and historian Daniel Feller...I don't know Feller, but I'm of course a big fan of Mann, so you would think I'd be happy, not cranky, right?

Nope. Here's the problem. The quotes taken from Mann and Feller are all from history, about how far back you have to go to find an equally dysfunctional Congress. But there's basically nothing from either of them about what exactly is so bad about Congress right now. Obviously, Mann knows (as I noted in a post over at Plum Line today, he's the one who started talking about "nullification" in the context of Republicans refusing to confirm any nominations for some executive branch agencies). But Neuman isn't telling. Hint: the word "filibuster" is nowhere to be found in the article. It really does take a bit of doing to write some 750 words about Congressional dysfunction without mentioning filibusters or the number "60."

Meanwhile, the only real substantive discussion of anything Congress has done poorly in the article is provided by...Eric Cantor, who is allowed to complain about the "uncertainty" involved in the short-term extension for the payroll tax cut and UI benefits. As if Cantor, and House Republicans, are somehow passive bystanders to that outcome. You'll recall that the reason there's a short-term extension is that the House insisted on including extraneous measures intended to embarrass the president politically in their one-year extension; had Cantor and his conference really wanted a clean one-year extension, they certainly could have had it since that's what the president and the Senate were begging for. Not to mention that it was House Republicans who practiced brinkmanship throughout 2011, one of the few sort-of specific complaints Neuman does allow Mann to mention.

Nor is it clear why Cantor -- a solid conservative in the House leadership -- is "balanced" by Mark Warner, a moderate Democrat, who gets to talk about the budget deficit, which of course is assumed by Neuman's framing of it to be an obvious problem caused by Congressional dysfunction (as opposed to, say, a deliberate policy choice by Bush-era Republicans who placed low taxes over balanced budgets as a priority, or a deliberate countercyclical policy choice by Obama-era Democrats).

Congress right now is a mess. But you wouldn't know why, or else about that, from Neuman's article, even though one of his sources is one of the leading experts on the subject. It's just an awful job. And made me cranky.

Cranky Wednesday Blogging 2

I'm mostly still over at Plum Line still today, but I seem to be running across stuff that gets me I think it's time for some Cranky Blogging. Which I should have used for my earlier item about Ron Paul, but it's definitely appropriate for this one, about a bogus attempt by NRO's Jim Geraghty to place Iowa and New Hampshire in "perspective" by looking at the delegates up for grabs and how they are allocated.

Which misses the point entirely. Iowa and New Hampshire aren't important because of the delegates, because nomination politics is in many cases not about the delegates at all. Oh, sure: you wind up winning most of the delegates when you win. But Tim Pawlenty didn't drop out because he hadn't won any delegates. He dropped about because he believed he didn't have the resources needed to win the nomination. And doing well in the first contests remains an important factor in allocating resources. Not the only factor (the invisible primary is more crucial), but important nonetheless.

It's certainly possible to overstate the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire. But it's not because they don't send a lot of delegates to the national convention, or because they're not winner-take-all. Geraghty isn't placing them in perspective; he's yanking them out of context.

Slow Down

Dave Weigel writes this morning that Ron Paul's newsletters are "either a boutique issue that isn't connecting with people, a confusing issue that raises 'liberal media bias' hackles with conservatives, or both." That's based on comparing last week's PPP poll with the one released last night.

He could be right! On the other hand, as he says the newsletters were first back in the news in a Weekly Standard story late last week, which for normal people was probably swallowed completely by Christmas. They didn't really get a lot of traction until just the last couple of days -- while the poll was already in the field. And it's not clear to me to what extent those newsletters were brought to the attention of rank-and-file voters in Iowa, as opposed to die-hard political junkies.

To be fair: Iowa caucus attendees are hardly typical voters. They're more interested in politics, and far more likely to encounter this kind of stuff than are regular general election voters. But still: this sounds to me a little like all of the people who were claiming a week into the anti-Newt onslaught that he was immune to attacks for whatever reasons. It's very possible that it just will take a bit of time to sink in.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Iowa Update

There's a new PPP poll out in Iowa, and I'm tweeting about it, so I figured I might as well turn it into a post as long as I'm up. Remember: I'm blogging because I'm up and thinking about it, but it's a single poll, and relatively small random variations could be showing up -- it's the first Iowa poll in several days, and so we have to wait for a couple more to get a better sense of everything. Remember too that the Iowa caucuses are notoriously hard to poll.

The top line doesn't show much: Ron Paul has a small lead over Mitt Romney (24%/20%), and then there's a modest gap before a bunched field for the other spots: Gingrich 13%, Bachmann 11%, Perry 10% , Santorum 10%. That leaves

Perhaps the biggest single number in the entire poll is Newts favorable/unfavorable ratings, which have totally tanked: he's at 37/54. PPP is making a lot of Santorum's favorable/unfavorable, which are the best in the field, but while he definitely could finish strong, I don't really see anything to convince me that he's in better shape than Bachmann (only slightly worse numbers) or Perry (who will outspend both of them). Remember, organization matters, too. I suspect that Newt's organization is also the weakest. I'd like to know more about how many caucuses will have someone speaking for the various candidates.

Mind a little speculation? Here's what I see, combining the PPP poll and Nate Silver's (topline-based) prediction model:

1. Any of the six could wind up with a top three finish in Iowa. Newt is least likely, in my opinion, but certainly could hang on and manage to do it.

2. Any of five -- all but Newt -- have a realistic chance of actually winning Iowa.

3. Of the six, only Ron Paul is a lock to finish in the top three. Anyone else could finish as low as 6th place, although I'd be a bit surprised if Romney did. It's hard to see Paul finishing worse than third.

4. Expectations do matter and are somewhat affected by objective factors (that is, pre-caucus polling vs. caucus results). So one of Perry/Bachmann/Santorum are still likely to be a significant story if one of them finishes third (likely), and even more so if one winds up second or, obviously, first.

5. On the other hand, as Silver just tweeted, there could be bandwagon effects if one of that group is perceived as breaking out in the next few days. In particular, that's probably where Newt is especially vulnerable; I suspect (and the crosstabs support this some) that a lot of conservatives and evangelicals parked with Newt when he appeared to be the most likely conservative/social conservative alternative to Romney (and Paul). That perception was probably still out there right now. If it collapses, his support could collapse, too.

6. Indeed, while he could still finish as high as second, if I had to bet on one of these six to finish behind the others my money would be on Gingrich.

7. But it's one (new) poll! I'm speculating! More information will be available soon.

Last caveat: this is only about Iowa. Iowa results matter, but how much and how depends on lots of other things.

Newt, Newt, Newt

Really -- I could easily run two or three items a day on the disgraced former Speaker, and I've tried to avoid doing that. But I did love this one today: it seems that Newt's been promising an all-out assault on Iowa, except that his bus tour keeps shrinking. Sort of like how he was going to do an all-out blitz on Virginia to get on the ballot there, except somehow he managed not to.

Or how he would tell House Republicans in 1995 about his plans to storm into the White House and tell off the president and not give an inch...which always preceded a complete fold as soon as he stepped into the Oval Office. Which he would then not be able to defend when he went back to the GOP conference, which of course meant that the impasse didn't end.

The guy is Tom P. Baxter, Business Visionary, and always has been. You could sort of understand why someone who just met him might get swept up in all of his wonderful beloved words at first, but Bill McNeal would peg him as a total fraud in no time, and by the end of the half hour you would be telling security to ban him from the building, too.*

*Yes, I'm bitter that Reelz pulled NewsRadio. Coach? Really?

Catch of the Day

Brad DeLong makes a very nice observation -- that Bob Woodward apparently sat on details of the 1990 budget showdown for twenty years, using them only now. The point is that it's a story that makes Newt Gingrich look terrible, which is a story that presumably people might have been interested in back in, say, 1992, 1993, 1994, or 1995. It's a terrific catch.

I sort of disagree with only one bit in the coda of his post:
Richard Darman and Vin Weber [his apparent sources for the story] were both leaving government at the end of 1992--Darman to work for the Carlyle Group and Weber to become a lobbyist. Neither was going to have much value to Woodward as an inside source after the 1992 election.
True enough about Darman, who was almost certainly never returning to government (although Woodward might have been interested in writing about the Nixon or Reagan administrations in the future, I suppose). But Weber? He did retire from the House in 1992, but I would have guessed at the time that the odds of him serving in the Senate or in a future president's cabinet or White House were high. Hasn't panned out so far, but he's been close to several GOP campaigns as it is, and he still could wind up back in government. So I disagree on whether that particular motive existed.

But on the substance of it, and do click through for several good points about it, DeLong is exactly right. Great catch!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Housekeeping (and a Boxing Day Question)

I think I mentioned that posting would be a bit off the usual schedule for the rest of the month...that's certainly going to be the case this week. I'll be filling in for Greg over at Plum Line while he takes a much-deserved break. Regular readers know the drill -- I'll probably still post one or two items over here each day, with the rest of it over there.

Meanwhile, if you missed the Sunday Questions, there's still plenty of time to contribute, and I enjoyed the answers I've seen so far to both of them. How about a Boxing Day supplement, though: yesterday, I asked for your sincere gifts to people in the political world; if you want to bring the snark, how about using them here? Any "gift" ideas you had that didn't fit into the Sunday Questions restrictions?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

And, more of the same. Merry Christmas (again) to all those celebrating the day. The question: who in the political world (loosely defined) would you like to buy a gift for? And, if you feel so moved, what would it be?  No snark or sarcasm, please; we're trying to keep with the spirit here.

Sunday Question for Conservatives

Merry Christmas to all those celebrating the day. So, who in the political world (loosely defined) would you like to buy a gift for? And, if you feel so moved, what would it be?  No snark or sarcasm, please; we're trying to keep with the spirit here.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Mattered This Week?

Well, the folks who know about this stuff say that the EPA regulations are a big deal, so let's start with that.

Next, the economy, continuing to avoid disaster (that's the big What Mattered) and even producing yet more moderately good news -- although the immediate news was mixed this week.

Lots of stuff out of Syria that seems to matter. Iraq, too, perhaps.

I'm not convinced that anything in the final negotiations over the payroll tax/UI extension bill really was all that important. It was important that they finished FY2012 appropriations -- but I'm still pretty unclear about what all was in it, so I'm waiting for more news on that. Also, it matters that the exec branch and judicial nominations have broken down again. Next move, the president -- let's see what he does.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday Baseball Post

Oh, Brian Sabean.

Yes, he has his strengths. But wow, does the man have his weaknesses. Henry Schulman:
Sabean always has believed that it makes little sense to have one or two big players if the supporting cast is weak. He would rather own a room full of toys than one Xbox 360. He was ripped for that philosophy in 1996, ripped for it again after the 2003 season when he didn’t make a move for Vlad Guerrero and is being ripped for it today. But he is not budging.
Schulman's an excellent reporter, and I'm sure he's correctly describing how Sabean thinks. But it's nuts! Sabean's original teams weren't good because he had a room full of toys; they were good because of the guy with the cape out in left field, the one who was the best player any of us have seen. And it didn't hurt that (even if by accident) he wound up trading Matt Williams for a guy who played at a HOF level for the next six years. Believing that the 1997-2002 Giants showed the benefits of a deep roster with evenly distributed talent is, well, insane.

Ugh. Meanwhile, it's one thing to foolishly keep the same team together after they win it all; that's a mistake, but it's a mistake many GMs have made. But trying to keep the same gang around the next year, in the hopes that they'll bounce back? Well, one guy in particular: apparently Sabean believed that Aubrey Huff is still a major league regular. Alas, that's just not going to happen -- in fact, as much as it was great that Huff had a terrific 2009, the truth is he's only really been decent twice since 2004. At age 35? It isn't going to happen.

Granted, the Giants could easily end up competing in the NL West, if things break right. But it sure would be a lot easier with Carlos Beltran and a real SS than with what they've got.

Again -- that doesn't make Sabean a horrible GM. He really does have some real virtues. It's just that his flaws are so damn annoying.

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.

Johnson Out, In

I didn't get around to doing this post earlier in the week, but Gary Johnson is dropping out of the battle for the Republican Party presidential nomination...and in to the contest for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.

I'm surely no expert on Libertarian Party politics, but presumably Johnson would be the overwhelming favorite to carry their banner -- unless Ron Paul decides he wants it. For whatever that's worth, it will mean that in most states there will be a conventionally credentialed third party candidate for president on the ballot. Indeed, I think I'd guess that Johnson's upside as a third party candidate is somewhat higher than Paul's; he's been a governor, and he has less baggage than Paul. On the other hand, however, he's a lot less likely to fulfill his upside. That basically requires good initial polling numbers, which would then get a third party candidate plenty of media coverage, money, and perhaps even inclusion in presidential debates, and Paul would almost certainly start out with higher polling numbers thanks to his much higher name recognition.

Which of course is exactly what happened to Johnson in his bid for the GOP nomination. Whatever else the debates do, they certainly divide the field between serious candidates -- those who get invited to the debates -- and cranks and kooks, who don't. As I've said before, had Johnson performed well in the very first debate and Herman Cain not done so well, it's very possible that Cain would have dropped right into the fringe status occupied by Johnson and Buddy Roemer, while Johnson could have at least made it to the debates.

But not much more: for better or worse, Johnson's campaign for anything more than crumbs vanished the day that Ron Paul jumped into the race. The "libertarians who want someone better than Paul" constituency within the GOP just isn't anything more than crumbs at this point.

On the other hand, if Johnson had really wanted to advance the libertarian cause in 2012, the natural move would have been to run -- probably as a Republican -- for the open New Mexico Senate seat. Libertarians upset with their candidates' choices should, in my view, start with that one.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Well, In That Case

Doug Feith, on Newt Gingrich:
We took him seriously, because he had a kind of multifaceted claim on people’s attention.
Yes, but what kind of multifaceted claim?

Note, by the way, to Karen Tumulty, who I usually like: it is not true that "even his critics say" that "his ability to come up with big ideas" is appealing. Many of his critics consider him a total fraud who is skilled only as an expert snake-oil salesman, good at duping the easily duped but little else. It's no surprise (but good fun) that Feith was an easy mark for the disgraced former Speaker, but Tumulty should know better.

Catch of the Day

Got to get this in before the House finally caves on the payroll tax/UI extenders, which according to the twitters appears to be coming soon...but first, a Catch of the Day to Ezra Klein. Nice analysis of Barack Obama's complaint that "even when people agree to something we can’t do it?" Klein:
The two parties do not agree on extending the payroll tax cut. Democrats want to extend it, and Republicans want voters to think they want to extend it. But those two positions are actually very different...if Republicans wanted to extend the payroll tax cut for a full year, they would have extended the payroll tax cut for a full year...But they don’t. They want to make spending cuts and secure the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and force everyone on unemployment insurance to get drug tested. That’s what this debate is about. But it would be unpopular for Boehner to come out and say that that’s the Republican position.
Yup, that's about right.

Now, there is a separate question here: absent the Democrats, would Republicans support extending the payroll tax cut? That's a harder one to figure out. On the one hand, Republicans sure do claim to be for lower taxes, and there's no real history of them insisting on pay-fors. On the other...well, these particular tax cuts aren't targeted the way GOP-authored tax cuts are targeted. And a lot of Republicans have been complaining that taxes are too low for people who don't pay income tax. So there's really no way to be sure what Republicans would do in a world in which they controlled both branches but still had to (for some reason) deal with this question.

As it is, however, Klein is right. Nice catch!

Those Newsletters

The flare-up over the Ron Paul newsletters is in full swing, and makes life difficult for some of his libertarian-leaning supporters. I think there's some confusion on this, however, so it's worth a bit more of a look.

Start with the point that Alex Massie makes, which should in fact be the jumping off point for any discussion of this: Ron Paul isn't going to be president, and he isn't going to be the nominee, and everyone knows or should know it:

[O]utside the wholly committed, Paul's support is in large part a well-deserved protest vote against the dreadfulness of the other Republican candidates. Again, there's nothing wrong with this. But one should admit it, not try and pretend that it's not really all that important or it's just old news...And of course it would be important if this were Romney because Romney might be the next President of the United States. Ron Paul, who is not a very convincing racist, will not be and so it is easier to forgive or quietly ignore these awkward blemishes. It's not disqualifying because he won't really win so let's just talk about the better stuff, ok? That's fine but you can see why this might be a tough sell to people who don't already know the whole story.
So support for Paul from folks such as Andrew Sullivan and E.D. Kain and Conor Friedersdorf and others should be understood, then, as a protest vote.

Which then leads to the next question: a protest against what?

If it's a single-issue protest, then I don't think it matters very much who Ron Paul is at all. If support for Paul means opposition to the War on Drugs, or torture, or an internationalist foreign policy at all, or modern government...he'll do, more or less.

But if one believes that there's something really wrong with the current Republican Party, then it matters a lot what baggage Paul brings to the party. Look -- a protest vote is a symbolic vote. So symbols matter. If you believe that part of what's wrong with the GOP is casual indifference or even hostility to science and facts, then Ron Paul's goldbuggery really does matter a lot. If you believe that part of what's wrong with the GOP is bigotry, or tolerance of bigotry, or a point of view that being accused of bigotry is a greater evil than actually practicing bigotry -- then the newsletters matter a lot. If he's going to be your symbolic way of protesting what's wrong with the Republican Party, you had better be very clear on what he symbolizes.

Just don't tell me, as Kain and Fredersdorf do, that publishing ugly newsletters is bad, but not as bad as various policies that the president or the other Republican candidates support. That's the wrong standard; it's the standard by which to judge an actual candidate for president. Supporting Paul isn't about that. You don't have to convince anyone that he'd be a good president; you don't have to believe it yourself. Basically, if you believe he's the right protest candidate to change what ails the GOP , I think you have the wrong guy; if you're just using him for a particular issue position, then there's no need to even pretend that he'd make a good president or to hesitate at all in rejecting whatever baggage comes with him.

Iowa Forever

Josh Putnam has a nice post up pointing out that you can ignore any claims you hear that the Iowa Caucuses will be jettisoned if Ron Paul or some other unlikely nominee winds up winning. As Josh says, the job of Iowa is to winnow the field, not to pick a winner. He also goes through some of the technical reasons why it's difficult for the parties in practice to shift away from Iowa.

I think the shorter version is simple: if you're going to have a sequential system, some state has to go first, and there's no particular reason to suppose Iowa is worse than any other state would be. Yes, it's not a demographic match for the nation, but no state is. You can come up with plenty of other dimensions on which it's not descriptively representative of the US as a whole, too -- but again, that's true for any state.

I'm also mostly not impressed, on the Republican side, by claims that social conservatives are especially important in Iowa. They are important, no doubt -- but is that really atypical for the GOP? It sure doesn't seem like it to me.

It also seems to me that the GOP nomination process is basically working pretty well this cycle. To the extent that stability helps that happen, keeping the early schedule in place is probably the best way to go. But as Josh says, we're probably stuck with Iowa (and New Hampshire) whether we like it or not.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Q Day 7: Party Boundary?

Thanks to everyone for the questions; sorry I didn't get to all of them. Maybe I'll come back to one or more later in the week. Meanwhile, wkdewey had an excellent question, but I'm going to skip most of it and focus only on the part that's especially interesting to me:
To what extent can OWS and ultra-lefty pundits like Glenn Greenwald be considered Democratic party actors?
That's a great question, and I'd like to spend a bit of time with it, beyond giving the most basic answer, which is: tough question.

OK, first. The formulation "party actors" is something that I've actually started using only recently. For me, it's a shorthand way of referring to everyone who is more active in the party than just plain voting. So it includes formal party officials and staff, candidates and elected officials, campaign and governing professionals, activists, donors, party-aligned interested groups, the partisan press, and perhaps more. Of course some are more involved with the party than others, and many (most?) have mixed status and mixed incentives. So a pollster -- one of those "campaign professionals" -- may be a party actor but is also running a small business, with all the profit incentives that go with that.

We need that because looking at only formal party organizations (the RNC, the DCCC, the Maricopa County Republican Party) clearly misses important things that are going on that are clearly party activity. If the US had membership parties in which everything done by the party was a function of what those members did, or perhaps all that mattered was what the party bureaucracy did, then this would be a lot simpler. But the real world of US parties is (organizationally) messy, and so we need to account for it.

The question is where the boundaries are, and this is where the question of someone such as Greenwald is interesting. I guess I'd look at a couple of things. One is simply self-identification: does an activist or a member of the press think of himself as a party member? But that's not good enough, because very few people read my stuff or Seth Masket's stuff or Cohen et al. or Casey Dominguez or any of the other party network scholars, and the press often misreports all of it, and at any rate one of the weakest portions of US contemporary parties is in the areas of ritual and their place in the popular political culture...the bottom line is that a lot of people out there sure appear to be partisans despite claiming that they are not. And so in addition to self-identification, we need behavior: if you act as if you are a party member, then that's strong evidence that you probably are one. And that's an empirical question, but often a difficult one to answer. Does someone wind up always supporting one party? Does she attempt to affect the course of that party (but not, really, the other one)? Does she mostly (when it comes to politics) speak with people from that party? As far as I'm concerned, there's no clear test that says "in" or "out" of a party, either for individuals or for groups, but put all of that together and you can get a fairly good sense of it.

So I'm not really going to answer the question, but that's the way I'd think about answering it.

Q Day 6: Do Congress's Record Low Approval Rates Matter?

Another question:
[P]residential approval ratings have a lot of predictive power for election results. Seeing as Congress just hit an all-time low in approval (according to Gallup), I have to ask if Congressional approval has similar predictive powers?
Hey, that's an easy one -- John Sides posted about this back in June. Take it away, John:
Here’s the rub: when people dislike Congress, they punish members of the House majority and reward members of the minority.  Opinions about Congress are important even when controlling for other things that affect congressional elections, such as approval of the president or economic conditions in the country.  In the article, Jones finds that a ten-point decrease in approval would cost majority-party incumbents about 4 points at the polls.  It would also help minority-party incumbents by a smaller amount (just over 1 point).  Even more consequential for elections, these effects are larger in swing districts.  
That's from research by David Jones and Monika McDermott (book here; article by Jones here). Now, I'm only relying on John's summary (go ahead and read the whole thing), and there are as always important caveats: this time might be different for all sorts of reasons. But that's what we have, and it appears to be bad news for Republicans.

Q Day 5: What Could Obama Have Done?

Richard Skinner asks:
Is there anything that Obama could have done, that he didn't do, that would have significantly lowered the unemployment rate in November 2010? This includes actions that would have made it through the Senate, but would have been pretty unpopular in themselves. 
As it happens, the argument over this has broken out again in the blogs today. I'm on Ezra Klein's side on this one: I think the main constraints on the administration as far as the size of the stimulus was concerned were (1) the Senate and (2) the practical question of how to spend money quickly.

That said...

Process stuff: I have no idea whether Barack Obama could have done anything to make it happen, but the Democrats would have been helped a lot had Ted Kennedy resigned in early November 2008, with a special election to replace him scheduled for January 2009. The administration could also have pushed Harry Reid to seat Al Franken in January 2009 instead of waiting patiently for the process to play out for six months (he was seated in early July). The Massachusetts seat would have been a clear plus; the Minnesota seat would probably have been a plus, although it's at least possible that a backlash would have hurt the chances of Arlen Specter supporting the stimulus and then switching parties and hurt the chances of the Maine Senators working with Obama as long as they did.

Also, Obama should have been aggressive from the start with exec branch appointments, thus making it easier for his Fed appointments (see below) to get confirmed rapidly.

Substantive stuff: Of course as Richard knows I'm no economist, but I am completely convinced that the direct and indirect effects of state budget austerity were a huge story in 2010 (and 2011). And while I don't think that the Senate was prepared to sign off on a larger dollar amount of stimulus in winter 2009, I do believe that a state budget fix bill was at least potentially been able to pass. Such a bill would have sent money to the states during hard times and recovered money from the states during good times, and would have (if passed and implemented) prevented hundreds of thousands of state and local government layoffs, the indirect effects of those layoffs as out-of-work teachers and others didn't spend the salaries they no longer had, and the real indirect effect of all those other still-employed teachers and prison guards and others sitting on their money because of the realistic fear of layoffs. That, and aggressively filling Fed openings with people who placed a higher priority on economic growth.

How much of a difference would all of that make? I have no idea! My guess is "a lot", but you'll need to find an economist to run a Question Day to get a better estimate than that.

Q Day 4: Ron Paul, 3rd Party Candidate?

A bunch of questions about libertarian third-party runs, including:
Do you see a Ron Paul third-party run happening next year? how do you imagine it would effect the race and the national conversation? I'm hoping you'll tell me it's inevitable and that it'll give Obama a landslide
Would Paul jump? That goes back to the earlier post: it's hard to get inside their heads. What we can say is that on the one hand, Paul certainly hasn't displayed long-term loyalty to the GOP (since he ran as a libertarian before), and he doesn't have a political career to lose by doing it, especially since he's already announced his retirement from the House. On the other hand, a jump would presumably hurt his son's status within the Republican Party. Hard to know how much he cares about any of that.

If he did it...well, he'd be a poorly financed general election candidate with a very strong but very small base of supporters, but the advantage of a ballot line everywhere (presumably strong Paul supporters would secure a spot in those states in which the Libertarian Party doesn't already have a line). 5% plus or minus 4% seems like as good an estimate as any -- but of course there's a huge difference between a candidate who takes about 9% from one side and a candidate who takes 1%. At the end of the day, I'd suppose that he would be unlikely to cost Republicans the presidency. If the election appeared close, Republicans, even the most libertarian-leaning of them, would drift back to Mitt Romney or whoever the nominee was. Meanwhile, if Obama is generally unpopular and getting clobbered, some liberal civil liberties fans might drift to Paul, but that will dry up if Obama is popular enough to have a fighting chance.

I guess what I want to say that how many votes Paul would get is probably a function of what else is going on. If the election is winnable for Republicans, the Republican nominee will wind up popular enough among Republicans that most will come home, and same for Obama and Democratic voters. Of course, if the election is very close, then it's certainly possible that the difference between a Paul at 2% or 3% vs. a no-name libertarian at 1% might turn a key state or two, but once the contest is that close then all sort of stuff can flip it.

Q Day 3: Filibuster's Future

Yaramah Z asks:
[H]ow do you see the future of fillibuster reform. Is the 60-vote senate going to be the norm from now on (even when the Democrats are in the minority?)
I do think that we're stuck with a 60 vote Senate, regardless of which party has the majority. And I don't think it's stable -- but with a major caveat.

The thing is that the incentive to change things in the Senate varies with the partisan context. The 60 vote standard matters (and is most likely to lead to change) when there's unified party government and, oh, 55-59 majority party Senators. And it's even more likely when that situation persists.

Just to run through it quickly...when there's divided government, then a supermajority is going to be needed for legislation in the Senate regardless of the filibuster rules. That already covers the vast majority of Congresses over the last 45 years!

On top of that, the filibuster and other procedures that protect minorities in the Senate are there because they enhance the influence of individual Senators, who are therefore reluctant to change things. What that means is that under unified government when there's enough of a majority to get things done (so when the majority party has, say, 59-62 Senators, depending on how the most moderate Senators from both parties act), it's unlikely that there will be much momentum for reform because reform won't be a high priority. On the other hand, when the majority is very small (50, 51, 52 Senators) then reform is also unlikely because reformers probably won't have the votes.

On top of all that, as much as it seems that the parties simply switch positions when the majority changes -- which is generally true -- you're apt to find more enthusiasm for reform from those who haven't spent the last few years insisting that reform will bring down the republic. So it's not all that likely that a new majority will do reform.

Put it all together, and a very good Democratic year in 2012 (retain the presidency and pick up a couple of Senate seats, maybe even without taking the House) probably would yield some sort of Senate reform. A GOP landslide? My guess -- and it's just a guess -- is that Republicans would be more aggressive about threatening reform than Democrats were in 2009-2010, but wouldn't actually pull the trigger until after keeping that majority in 2014.

Q Day 2: Whither Boehner?

Rule 22 asks:
Is the payroll tax debacle Boehner's government shutdown moment?
And Matt Glassman:
Conditional on the GOP holding the House in the 2012 election, what is the probability that Boehner is not Speaker come January 2013?
Before I get to that: I hope you all know you should be reading Rule 22 and Matt Glassman.

As far as John Boehner...I guess I don't really think that it's analogous to Newt's role in the 1995-1996 shutdown. For one thing, there's no shutdown! Yes, House Republicans are taking (yet another) hit on this one, but the odds that this becomes as visible as the 1995-1996 shutdown are slim, even if they really don't resolve it in time.

I also don't get the sense -- pending, of course, more reporting (or at least for me, getting caught up on what's been reported in the last few days) -- that rank-and-file Members of the House conference are interpreting this as a case of Boehner not being trustworthy.

But the big part of it is that as long as it's a question of the bulk of the conference insisting on positions that don't work, there's not a lot that the Speaker can do about it -- and therefore it doesn't make a lot of sense for anyone to challenge Boehner. That is, as long as anyone who is Speaker is going to be risking his or her position by negotiating with the Democrats and as long as such negotiations are (eventually, no matter how much bluster is tossed out along the way) necessary, the Speaker is basically screwed.

That changes if there's unified Republican government in 2013. But if there's divided government, and if Tea Partiers and others who have a principled stand against compromise continue to dominate a majority House GOP conference, it would be foolish for anyone to challenge Boehner -- and so he can probably keep the big chair if he wants to.

Q Day 1: Expectations/Winnowing Phony Candidates

A commenter asks:
1. If Perry manages to come in third in Iowa, is it possible to spin this as a major 'comeback' even if people like Silver already are predicting him to finish third. And, if Gingrich performs poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire, how quickly until he is out of the race entirely? Or does that even matter?
Two parts.

First, predicting spin. Is it "possible" to spin a (sort of) expected 3rd place finish as a major comeback? Sure; there's only a loose relationship between some sort of objective interpretation of a primary result and what spin gets adopted. See, for example, New Hampshire 1992, when Bill Clinton declared himself the "Comeback Kid" for finishing second, just as the polls had predicted. The thing about Clinton was that he was the early favorite in New Hampshire, but then was hit with a variety of major scandals, so that in a sense his survival at all was perhaps a comeback. Or at least that was a plausible spin. Why was that particular interpretation accepted? Partially, if I recall correctly, because the Clinton campaign did a great job of working the media; partially, I would guess, because Democratic party actors certainly strongly preferred Clinton to Paul Tsongas, and generally preferred him to Tom Harkin and Bob Kerrey.

So it's possible that Perry could be the big "winner" after finishing a 3rd in Iowa that the polling already indicated; whether that would happen or not depends on campaign skills, party choices and influence, and media biases.

Second, Newt dropping out. Well, we can't get into politicians' minds; all we can do is look at the incentives. Just as an aside -- that doesn't mean that I think the incentives are all that matters; it's just that it's all we really can assess as outsiders. And when it comes to personal decisions such as run/don't run it really does get personal.

OK, so: should Newt finish 4th or lower in Iowa, he'll have no chance to win the nomination...but then again I never thought he would have a chance, and wouldn't even if he had won in Iowa. Would Newt believe he had a chance? The polling in upcoming states may take a while to adjust...candidates who surged in the polls once may believe they will again, or they may persuade themselves that the nonsense about this cycle being highly unpredictable is true. And that's not to mention my brother's theory that Newt actively doesn't want the nomination.

With normal candidates who are running in order to win the nomination, it's fairly easy to predict this stuff: they run until they believe they are beaten, which usually takes the form of their donors telling them that they won't give any more. But for candidates who are running for other reasons, whether it's issue advocacy or enhancing one's brand in order to sell more books and get higher speaking fees, it's a lot harder to figure out when they have an incentive to quit.

Question Day

I'm back to regular blogging...but far behind on lots of things, including some of the news of the last few days. My solution: it's time for question day! Whatever you have: of course the presidential nomination process and the 2012 cycle, but Congress, Congressional elections, Obama, recess appointments, exec branch and judicial nominations, campaign finance...whatever you ask, via comments here or tweet it or email me, I'll try to answer.

Meanwhile, just one quick comment: I know that there's no reason at all to take Intrade all that seriously, but I really don't get Perry's lack of momentum there. As I look now, he's at 3.6%, a bit down from his peak last week. To the extent that this is even a slight reflection of conventional wisdom: do people really not think that he has a 1-in-20 chance or better of winning the nomination? When Nate Silver right now has him projected 3rd in Iowa? Baffling.

Okay, what have you got?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Quick Iowa Notes

A quick set of bullet points on Iowa, given the new polls, which confirm that Gingrich is collapsing.

1. Everything is still very iffy. All the polling that I've seen so far, and granted I haven't looked really closely at the newest ones (still on the road, so I'm not following things quite the way I normally do) indicates that almost all of the support for all the non-Paul candidates is weak.

2. Therefore, don't assume that Ron Paul is going to win Iowa. He might, but there's no real way of knowing right now where all the undecideds or weakly decideds go, including the chance that they stay home. Do use Nate Silver's prediction model (which has it Paul/Romney/Perry right this minute), but remember that his model is extremely limited by design: it basically just takes a straight line from where the polls are now to the caucuses.

3. Remember that what matters out of Iowa is the spin.

4. Remember that the spin will be influenced by two main things: press biases, and party actors.

5. I count three big relevant press biases. One is that "news" trumps "not news", which means that surprises get more coverage than whatever is expected to happen -- which is where the expectations game really does matter. The second is that the press has limited capacity, and can only really handle one big and one minor story line. The third is that there's a press bias in favor of portraying the nomination contest as close and uncertain.

6. The story on party influence on spin is of course that it matters a lot how united the party is. If party actors are close to united against a candidate (Newt!) or if large factions are strongly against a candidate (Ron Paul!), then they will attempt to spin against that candidate.

7. Add that up? If a trailing candidate (Perry, Bachmann, Santorum) jumps into the top three, that's a story. If Romney finishes out of the top three, that's a story. It probably matters a lot less the order of the finish among the top candidates (although certainly if Perry, Bachmann, or Santorum beats Romney, that becomes the big story of the night. But Paul/Romney and Romney/Paul are basically the same story, probably (although not necessarily, because spin isn't entirely predictable).

8. And, as always, a good night for an implausible nominee may well affect then next couple weeks or even the shape of the race going forward, but almost certainly doesn't transform that candidate into a viable option.

9. Apparently over the last three days Rick Perry has actually lost ground on Intrade. That's nuts!

10. I'll be back regularly on Wednesday, flight connections willing, but just to confirm: I'm still saying that there's around a 95% chance that Romney or Perry is the nominee, and that Romney is more likely than Perry. And, yeah, I'm a little bitter that (as far as I know) no one is linking back to any of my "really no Newt has no chance" posts. But, you know...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

I've said in the past that I thought the worst place to donate money is to a president running for re-election, but I'm starting to think that the second-worst choice for liberals looking to give money in 2012 will be to Elizabeth Warren -- because she's going to have more than enough. Which raises the question: where should liberals be donating right now? What candidate do you think (1) deserves support from liberals and (2) is in a position where the money over the next couple months could make a difference?

(Not asked of conservatives because giving money to a candidate in a competitive presidential nomination race makes lots of sense. Also, because I hadn't thought of it yet. Maybe next week).

Sunday Question for Conservatives

With Congress almost done for the year...what do you think of the results? More than you expected after the 2010 landslide? Less? What's your biggest disappointment? The happiest surprise?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What Matters This Week

Hey, what matters to me is that I got to the Bat Mitzvah on time -- she did great -- despite a rather more adventurous than usual trip there. Which you all don't care about at all, but explains why I'm running a little late this week and why I don't really have any memory at all of what happened that mattered. Let's see...well, the war ended (formally) for the US in Iraq. That's something. Developments in Syria, still. Congress didn't manage to shut down the government, but also didn't get a lot of their work done (confirmations!). But really, I've had barely any sleep and I'm going to have to rely on you all for this one. So tell me: what do you think mattered this week?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ignore Those Polls!

I'm no David S. Bernstein (although I am looking forward to seeing him tomorrow) but I've attempted to start a hashtag thingamabob over the last couple of days: #needmoreIowapolls. Basically, if you're a political junkie this time of the cycle, you really, really, really crave polling from the Hawkeye State.

On the other hand, the national and other state surveys? I've been saying to ignore them. And here's some nice evidence for it. Nate Silver has been crunching the numbers for a primary/caucus election forecaster, only to find, first, that a polling-based forecast more than thirty days out is hopeless, and then:
The model also makes a special provision for Iowa and New Hampshire, which can have an especially large influence on the race. A New Hampshire poll conducted one day after the Iowa caucuses will receive considerably more weight than one conducted just one day before Iowa. In practice, this means that the first New Hampshire polls conducted after Iowa will all but eliminate those conducted just before it.
There are usually eight days between Iowa and New Hampshire; this year they are a week apart. And post-Iowa polling will make pre-Iowa polling obsolete? Yikes!

I should explain...that doesn't necessarily mean that pre-Iowa polling in New Hampshire doesn't predict NH primary results at all. It just means that if post-Iowa polling is different (which may or may not be the case) that at that point you want to toss the pre-Iowa numbers. Presumably, the pre-Iowa numbers predict the post-Iowa numbers, at least better than starting from scratch would. Got that?

What I'd love to see Silver plug into his equation is whether Iowa polling helps predict New Hampshire (and other states). I suspect it wouldn't work -- what matters is the spin from Iowa, not necessarily the results, and even then Iowa polls aren't really a reliable enough guide to Iowa results for it to (probably) work. But I think it would be worth it to try running it, anyway.

Anyway, back to the main point: if polls more than 30 days out are useless right now, then national polls, too, are useless as predictors. I want more Iowa polls, precisely because the chances that the ones from only a week ago could already be useless, and because Iowa affects what comes next. And I'll sort of at least glance at New Hampshire polls beginning about now. But the rest of them? Ignore those polls!


One of the things that you pick up when you read about successful politicians is that many of them really aren't like normal people; their tolerance for the mundane tasks of electioneering sets them apart. Think of George H.W. Bush writing endless thank you notes and making every fundraising call his staff could give him, as documented so well by Richard Ben Cramer in What It Takes; think of Bill Clinton working rope lines until they had to drag him away; think of George W. Bush sitting around drinking until his father became president...okay, it doesn't always work that way. Which gets us to the superhuman electioneering capacity of Newt Gingrich, on his way home for a three-day weekend break from the grueling campaign trail:
He spent nearly 30 minutes shaking hands — across the Missouri River from Iowa, in Nebraska — as he prepared to fly home
Nearly 30 minutes. I suppose when you're Churchill, Lincoln, Reagan, and de Gaulle wrapped up into one, that's a major surrender to the process. Just think home many ways he could have fundamentally changed the world if he had that almost half hour back.

Veepstakes Musings (Yes, I Know I Shouldn't)

There was some conversation over twitter during the debate last night about the strange fact that no one seems to want to attack Mitt Romney, and someone said it's because they all want to be vice president. Could be! You never know what nutty thing a politician might be thinking.

But really: the VP nominee almost certainly wasn't up on the stage in Iowa. Candidates who are outside the GOP mainstream (Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, to some extent Michele Bachmann) are not going to be selected. Newt Gingrich? C'mon. He'd be just as easy a target as a VP candidate as he is now in Iowa. Not gonna happen. Rick Santorum, despite his Google problem, would seem to be a plausible VP nominee -- but then again, it's a bit hard to see why anyone would want him, especially if we assume that he never does catch fire in Iowa.

That leaves Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Both, I think, would be perfectly reasonable running mates, at least assuming that they survive the remainder of the nomination contest without hurting themselves. Still, neither seems especially likely. If Romney wins, he probably wants someone who will spark genuine enthusiasm among conservatives. Should Perry prevail (or I suppose if Newt or one of the others wins after all), it's a little hard to see Romney as the logical choice. Sure, there would be an impulse to make nice with Washington Republicans who didn't support the campaign. But Romney, while gradually winning the support of Washington Republicans, isn't really "of" them in the way that George H.W.  Bush was in 1988 or Bob Dole in 1996. Plus he'd be a two-time loser (granted, so was Joe Biden).

But the real story here is that the energy of the GOP isn't up there on stage in the presidential nomination fight; it's among the new crop of Governors and Senators, especially the ones elected in 2010. There's going to be a lot of pressure from Tea Partiers and others to select one of them. It's risky -- my advice to all presidential nominees is to select someone who has already been vetted by the presidential nomination process. And perhaps the experience of Sarah Palin will put a little pause into the selection this time around. Still, I'm finding it hard to see any of the current contenders winding up in the #2 spot.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Partisan Press Daydreaming

You know what would be funny? Tonight's debate is on Fox News, as you may know (and, yes, I'll be tweeting as usual, and I should have a wrap-up over at Greg's place later). Anyway, what would be funny is if Fox News really acted, suddenly, as if it were just a total party hack enforcer and rigged the debate in obvious, over-the-top ways in favor of...well, that's the question, isn't it? They would certainly be rigging it against Ron Paul, and perhaps against Newt Gingrich, but for? I suppose that's what we're all still wondering.

Meanwhile, and on a totally different subject...I'll be back tomorrow, but if you haven't been over to Washington Monthly to read my guest posts over there, those of you who like to engage with my comments on democracy might want to check out this one on the occasion of the formal end of the the Iraq War for the US. As regular readers know, I unwind everyone once in a while on that subject. Also I wrote some other stuff, but that's the one that Tweedledum and Tweedledee would pick. Because, you know, it's the longest.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Newt and the Mitchell Report

I've been trying to figure out how to make the case that most Republicans don't know or don't remember most of what's publicly available about Newt Gingrich's misdeeds, and I think I've got it, at least for baseball fans. Here's the question: which of these 1990s stars was publicly identified, in the Mitchell report or elsewhere, as a steroids user?

Todd Hundley, David Justice, Bill Mueller, Miguel Tejada, Rick Ankiel, Craig Biggio, Benito Santiago, Kevin Brown, Eric Gagne, Mo Vaughn, Troy Glaus

I'll put the answer below the fold...


Things are going to be a bit less consistent than usual around here for a bit. Today and tomorrow I'm going to be guest-blogging for Steve Benen over at Washington Monthly. I hope you'll all stop by! I may wind up posting a couple items here, but mostly I'll be out.

After that, I should be back here on Friday as usual, but blogging will be light early next week while I'm returning from my niece's Bat Mitzvah (I should manage to post What Matters and the Sunday Questions more or less on time). By the middle of next week, however, things should be relatively normal. I think.

As long as I'm gone, though, why don't I leave you with a challenge. We're just under three weeks out, and Nate Silver is doing weird and wonderful things with the polling numbers, so how about some Iowa predictions? Care to give it a try?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Effects of Early Ads

Political scientist Danny Hayes asks over at WaPo's Behind the Numbers whether candidates have struck too soon in Iowa, based on recent political science research that finds big effects from advertising -- but also alarmingly quick decay rates. That is, TV ads apparently can really matter, but the effects wear off in a matter of days. It's a good item, and I recommend that everyone keep an eye on that space for more posts from Hayes and other political scientists.

So: are the candidates wasting their time by going up in Iowa now and over the last couple weeks, given that there's still three weeks before the caucuses?

I don't think so. The studies that Hayes cites are interesting, but they're still really preliminary. In particular, they are all studies of effects during general elections, when we would expect relatively small campaign effects of any kind (because of the power of party identification and because of the other information available outside of ads).

But in primary elections, most voters have very weak attachments to their preferred candidate. It may be that preferences are even easier to influence, and once formed stay in place longer. Or not -- after all, we obviously have many Republicans who have changed their minds multiple times over the course of 2011.

The other key reason that early advertising might matter in primary elections is that in these types of high intensity, multicandidate contests, such things as "stories" and "narratives" are far more likely to matter than they are in low-intensity elections. Remember the example I gave recently: if Gary Johnson had done better than Herman Cain in the very first debate, it's possible that Johnson could have wound up in every debate and Cain would have been a fringe candidate. Similarly, a TV ad that pushes the polls for even a short time can then affect which candidates get coverage, which in turn can affect future polling.

So while it's certainly possible that early advertising is mostly wasted in normal general election campaigns, I wouldn't put to much weight on those findings -- so far -- for primary elections.

Catch of the Day

To Jonathan Cohn, who has an excellent item detailing how Mitt Romney both got the facts wrong about Medicare cuts in the most recent debate and, thanks to his support for the Ryan Medicare plan, supports cuts deeper than the ones he was criticizing Barack Obama for including in ACA. Go to Cohn's excellent post for the details.

Not that it will matter in the nomination contest at all. Romney's problems aren't going to be about unfairly slamming ACA; they are, of course, about being the father of it. The trick for Romney is to maintain a strict line between Obamacare (the socialist government takeover of healthcare while slashing benefits for seniors and rationing mandated death panels) and ACA the program he helped pass and implement in Massachusetts. So bragging about one of the true differences between them, which is that ACA had cost controls while Romneycare didn't, is pretty much a necessary step for him. Even if it does lead him into some odd, hypocritical, and in this case entirely false, rhetoric.

After all, the one thing you can be sure of is that Republicans are not going to punish you for concocting or repeating crazy myths about Obamacare.

Also: nice catch!

Grand Old, Old Party

One of the things about the improbable Newt Gingrich surge and the even more improbable chance that he'll win the nomination is that most of the stuff in the fat opposition research file on him has only barely started to go into circulation. I very much doubt whether many rank-and-file Republicans are aware that he was busted (by the House Ethics Committee) on an ethics violation way back when, for example.

But you know what else I don't think people realize about Newt? He's, well, old. Born in 1943. Part of his standard talking points about his marital history stress that he's a grandfather (because...oh, it's just too depressing to focus on). And you know what? Of course he is. He'll turn 69 in June. He wouldn't be a record-breaking first time nominee; that would be Bob Dole (turned 73 in 1996) and John McCain, (72 in 2008). And he'd be a few months younger than Ronald Reagan was in 1980. But still, that's pretty old.

Of course, it helps him that Ron Paul is up on the stage, and he's a lot older (b. 1935). The rest? Prince Herman was born in 1945, Mitt Romney in 1947, Rick Perry in 1950, Gary Johnson in 1953, and then the rest are younger.

I don't really have much to say about this, just though it was overlooked. Both McCain and Reagan took a fair amount of general election heat over their age, but I doubt if it made much of a difference. Then there's the question of electioneering, and whether candidates have the stamina to grind it out over the course of a long campaign. I have no reason to believe that Newt doesn't, but for whatever it's worth the history of older candidates is that the press tends to be quick to jump to speculation about systematic effects of age as soon as an older candidate sneezes. Obviously, however, it's hard to say that it's a disadvantage in the nomination contest. George H.W. Bush was 64 in 1988, and of course George W. Bush was a comparative baby, but Republican voters certainly don't have anything against older candidates. So in the modern era, the two Bushes have so far been the youngest new nominees, and I think everyone would agree that the odds of this cycle's winner topping 60, at least, must be pretty high.

GOP Field Conspires With Political Science Profs! (Part 2)

Political scientists (with some exceptions) are confident that political parties have grown stronger over the last few decades. One development that makes the parties stronger is the revival of the partisan press. Very quick summary: in the 19th century political information was generally controlled by partisan newspapers. In the 20th century, the partisan press faded and was replaced by mass media that valued neutrality and objectivity, reaching its zenith in the network news era of the 1950s through the 1970s in which most people got information from a source that didn't even have an editorial page to wall off news reporting from. Then, from about the 1970s on, we've had a revival of the partisan press in several forms, probably beginning with op-ed pages and syndicated partisan columnists, but featuring (OK, you know this part) such things as Fox News and MSNBC, talk radio, and the partisan blogosphere.

Here's the question, however: what are the incentives governing the partisan press? How does it fit in with the rest of the party -- that is, both formal party organizations and the larger party network?

There are basically three plausible stories. One is that the partisan press, just like the 20th century objective press, follows professional journalist norms and financial incentives, each of which creates biases which are (roughly speaking) outcomes of other processes rather than deliberate ideological choices. For example, we can expect that if a candidate wins a huge landslide in Iowa in three weeks that the neutral, objective media will play up the chances of the #2 or #3 candidate, rather than declaring the nomination contest over -- even if the contest appears to be over by all objective standards. That's because everyone involved -- reporters and correspondents, editors and producers, and upper management -- has incentives to keep the battle going on and appearing competitive for as long as possible. So: does Fox news have the same incentives? Will that drive its actions?

A second story is that the partisan press serves as the PR wing of the parties, and takes its marching orders from them. This can be complicated, of course, when the parties themselves are split over something, but when party actors agree on something, then we can see whether the partisan press takes their lead from them.

And then a third story is that the partisan press are party actors, but that they are freelancers -- that no one tells Beck and Rush and Hannity and the rest (and their Democratic counterparts) what to say, and so the most successful ones become independent, important party actors in their own right.

The problem is that these are extremely difficult stories to untangle empirically, especially if (as I think is the case) each story is partially true. Fortunately, the next couple of months should prove highly useful, if indeed we have a situation in which the bulk of Republican party actors ("establishment" and otherwise) strongly oppose Newt Gingrich, but his act continues to play well in the polls and then with Republican voters in the early states.

Indeed, the entire election cycle will be interesting. How did Fox News cover, and therefore contribute, to the demise of Herman Cain? How is it treating Newt right now? To what extent does the Republican partisan press move in unison? What happens to those who appear to be opposing the bulk of party actors?

Party and media scholars are getting plenty of data to work with. If I see any interesting results, I'll pass it on (and if I'm missing any important findings from what's out there so far, please let me know; I try to keep up with the party literature, but not so much with the media literature).

Monday, December 12, 2011

In Which It Looks Like I Was Wrong

I'm seeing a tweet just now following up on today's earlier reporting by WaPo's Rosalind Helderman that both chambers and both parties have reached an agreement on FY 2012 appropriations, thus averting a government shutdown that will happen if they can't pass something by the end of this week.

If that's correct, I need to point out that I've been dead wrong about this one from the start. I'm not going to go back and link to the (multiple) times I've blogged about this, but I've consistently said that this was an underreported story, and that there was a good chance of a stalemate followed by a shutdown. Now, I'm sure I qualified it every time -- I don't think I ever made an absolute prediction beyond saying that there was a good chance -- and so technically I didn't make a "prediction" that turned out wrong. But overall, yeah, I was wrong about this one.

Of course, part of this is that both parties agreed to live with the budget caps they agreed to in the debt limit deal. But that still left plenty of room for argument, either about the numbers for different programs within those caps or, where I thought the problem would come, in policy riders. Apparently House Republicans didn't insist on anything that Democrats in the Senate and the White House couldn't live with, although so far at least there's very little reporting on exactly what happened. The sense from Helderman's story, and some other things recently, is that with Tea Partiers in the House placing a higher priority on voting "no" on the whole thing than on bargaining for their (other?) priorities, John Boehner was able to just ignore them and strike a fairly easy deal. What that requires is for the rest of the Republicans to be willing to vote for something that the Tea Partiers were voting against...and that's been the sticking point on the other showdowns this year. But I guess this time the dangers of voting with Nancy Pelosi and against the most conservative Members of the House seemed less risky than the dangers of a government shutdown (which, to be sure, would eventually end, which would mean that they would have to vote for it, which would get them back to what they began with plus a shutdown, which may be why they didn't want one to begin with).

I apologize for that last sentence, too.

The big lesson here? John Boehner seems to know what he's doing. Still.

Winnowing, Really

National Journal's Alex Roarty looks at national polling and polling from South Carolina and Florida and writes of Bachmann, Santorum, and Perry:
But most importantly, their struggles are crippling Romney's chances. After Herman Cain's collapse, Bachmann, Santorum and Perry were the three Republicans left in the race capable of attracting the party's hardline voters. Thus far, they've only continued to cede support to Gingrich...Romney needs one of the three to cut into that voting bloc.
In Iowa? Could happen. After that? If Bachmann, Santorum, and Perry don't finish top three in Iowa, they're not going to be around for South Carolina (okay, I suppose it's possible one of them could rally into a strong fourth and win the spin game and therefore "win" Iowa, but basically they need to be top three).

Quick review: look at the percentage of the overall vote taken by the top two candidates, Iowa vs. South Carolina (all numbers from wikipedia):

             Iowa    SC
1980      62%    85%
1988      62       70
1996      49       74
2000      72       95
2008      59       63

So in each case the percentage of votes for other candidates went down, sometimes just a bit but in some cases dramatically. And, of course, it continued to decrease after that. Most losing candidates don't just go from 10% to 10% to 10% as the campaign goes on; if they have no shot at the nomination, they drop out. Indeed, of the current contenders, only Ron Paul seems likely to stay in after proving he doesn't have the electoral support to have a realistic shot at the nomination.

It's just not realistic to expect the also-rans to soak up a lot of votes beyond the first handful of events.

And of course the flip side of this, as I've started to point out regularly, is that there's no guarantee that Romney will wind up surviving the winnowing process. If he finishes 4th (or worse) in Iowa, he may well fall to second or third in New Hampshire, and be gone before Supertuesday. So if I were running Mitt Romney's campaign, I wouldn't exactly be rooting for a Perry or even a Bachmann surge right now.

At any rate, given this cycle's cast of characters and schedule, I find it hard to believe that we'll have more than two candidates plus Ron Paul after Florida, so most of the delegates will be chosen in states in which well over 40% will be needed to win.

The bottom line is that if Romney really has a hard cap below 50% he's almost certainly not going to win the nomination.

Catch of the Day

Well, it was yesterday, but here's one for Ross Douthat for a nice Sunday column pointing out the futility of the GOP dream that their candidate will use the debates next fall to expose Barack Obama as a fraud. He's right: that's not how debates work, and choosing a nominee because he or she will be best equipped to "win" the debates is a really foolish thing to do.

The problem with expecting much out of the general election debates is that there just aren't a whole lot of undecided voters who are watching with open minds. Most voters are partisans, so they hear what they want to hear (it's common for post-debate polling to find a large partisan split on who "won" the debate). The rise of the partisan press only intensifies that likelihood. I'll bet heavily that an uncomfortable Obama moment (should there be one) will show up rarely if at all on Rachel Maddow's show, and similiarly Hannity isn't going to be putting any gaffes by the Republican nominee into heavy rotation. So for most voters, debates only push them further in the direction they were headed anyway. True independents, on the other hand, may be open to persuasion, but they tend to be the least likely to watch the debates or even follow the news about them (the more highly informed and interested voters are, the most likely it is that they're partisans).

The problem is that Tea Partiers aren't going to want to hear what you really want to do if your goal is to pick a good general election candidate: find the candidate who offers the fewest surprises, makes the blandest target, and is ideologically moderate.

Since activists and highly attentive voters also tend to be far more ideological (and farther from the center) than others, in the real world, they often face a trade-off between the candidate who is most likely to win and the one that would be their ideal president. That's no fun to think about. Much better, activists both left and right have found, to pretend that ideological extremism will be rewarded, perhaps by motivating higher turnout from those who are normally upset with their party for selling out. It seems plausible to many highly attentive voters; after all, they are frequently upset at (for conservatives) RINOs, and surely they know several people who have given up on the party for its compromises and moderation. I think that's the right light in which to read the Newt debate theory; it's another way to get around the uncomfortable fact that a boring, experienced, relatively moderate candidate would in fact have the best chance to take down Barack Obama.

Mix that with some of the most resonant myths about Obama (and really -- haven't these folks watched him at a press conference?), and you get the idea that the key is voting for someone who will dominate in debates. But it just won't work.

And: Nice catch!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

I've asked this one before, but it's been a while, and why should the conservatives have all the fun right now: who is your candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016?

Sunday Question for Conservatives

For the second consecutive cycle, one might argue that there hasn't been a single Republican presidential candidate with conventional credentials and a history of mainstream conservative positions on the public policy issues conservatives care most about (with Rick Perry, who has had other problems, as perhaps the biggest exception). Why do you think that's happened?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

What Mattered This Week?

As usual, start with Europe.

Surprisingly, the Russian elections. The Monkey Cage has quite a bit on this, for those interested. Syria, Egypt, and other related places as well. Pakistan.

That cloture failed on Richard Cordray is important, albeit not unexpected. That Barack Obama hinted that he might finally use recess appointments is a bigger deal, especially if he's re-elected.

Mostly I don't expect that either Barack Obama's big speech this week or the fighting over UI/payroll tax extensions will matter all that much. The budgetary stuff matters, but the skirmishes around it? Not that much, would be my guess.

Republicans began to take aim at Newt Gingrich. Don't expect a rapid knockout, but it certainly matters going forward -- it's going to be a lot harder for Newt's spin to be accepted on anything with so many party opinion leaders gunning for him. Not sure if that adds up to "matters", but the process rolls along that way.

They found a warm, Earth-like planet. No word yet on whether it has mountains; if so, we're obviously doomed. (Yes, I miss Herman Cain). Seriously, though, I have no idea whether that kind of thing matters or not.

What else? What do you think mattered this week?

Friday, December 9, 2011

She Was Singing That "It's Too Late" I Agreed With That Part

No new candidate is going to jump in late and win the Republican presidential nomination. It's not going to happen. It's been too late for months, and it's too late now. Really.

I thought Josh Putnam had killed this off yesterday after Rhodes Cook reopened it, but with Nate Silver weighing in, I guess not. So, here goes, a long, long, long look at why the field is set.

The main focus of Silver's piece is, as he says, is about how the current structure of public opinion leaves a strong opening for a new candidate, as opposed to the process argument that Cook made. And he's right that right now, there does appear to be a large, and perhaps a huge, opening for another candidate. We know the story of this...most of the candidates are not particularly well liked (by Republicans). Silver looks at the Gallup poll asking which candidates are acceptable, and notes that only two, Gingrich and Romney, have a net positive acceptability, and it's certainly not hard to picture either of them with a deteriorating image as the campaign goes along.

And yet what makes this kind of thinking not work out is that process matters, and it matters in a way that works to produce a candidate who is popular within the party. Moreover, process matters too for the chances that any candidate will jump in late.

OK, let's get to it.

First of all, the support registering in the polls so far appears to be very soft. In my view, that probably applies to the "Not Acceptable" numbers that Silver touts in every case except for Ron Paul. If one of the others, especially Rick Perry, could manage to put together a solid week, chances are that "Not Acceptable" number would melt away. After all, right now those numbers are much higher than the "unfavorable" ratings for each candidate. Sure, it makes sense that a substantial group of Republicans might like Michele Bachmann but still find her unacceptable as a presidential candidate, but overall I'm not prepared to put too much weight on that single poll. If I'm right about that, then if both Romney and Gingrich collapse soon one of the other candidates could wind up winning; it wouldn't be necessary to bring in someone new. So Silver's "motive" argument, in my view, falls short.

Not to mention that there's really no one out there with the heft to overshadow the rest of the field with a late entry. Mitch Daniels, John Thune, even Jeb Bush: none of them have the clout and reputation to immediately swoop in and dominate the party on their own merits.

For the rest, one needs to turn from public opinion back to process.

Suppose a new candidate announced today? Well, as Cook acknowledges in his column, filing deadlines are already upon us. In fact, and using his numbers, filing deadlines have passed in states with 339 delegates. The window closes on another 155 on Thursday, and 49 more on December 22. Miss all of that, and you're spotting the field 543 out of 2264 total delegates. That's a huge, huge hole to begin from if you hope to get a majority; after all, it's not as if it's all that likely that a Mitch Daniels or a Paul Ryan would sweep the rest of the states, even if everything went very well. And another avalanche of filing deadlines show up right after New Year's, with another 342 in the first half of January. So wait until the field sorts itself out after New Hampshire, and over a third of the delegates are gone.

So a new candidate who came in right now would start behind in the delegate count, and scramble to put together a viable campaign while the current candidates were busy organizing and campaigning. He or she could compete in Iowa (but without any organization at all), but even an improbable win there would be followed by...nothing. The other candidates would then compete in a series of primaries in which Bush or Christie or Daniels would at best get some write-in votes. Moreover, the field will winnow after Iowa (and winnow even more if an outsider just won it!). Think about it: imagine a Christie/Gingrich/Paul finish in Iowa. Guess what? Only those three and Romney, at best, go to New Hampshire, but Christie isn't on the ballot, so one of the other three wins. If it's not Romney, he drops out, and suddenly Newt Gingrich is the only non-Paul candidate on the ballot and still running in a whole series of states, piling up the delegates. Or, Romney wins, and the Gingrich bubble pops after his shocking Iowa loss, leading to Romney building a large delegate lead before finally reaches the ballot in (some of the) Supertuesday states in March.

Later entries are even less likely to work. Silver spins out a scenario in which Newt wins in Iowa, does well in New Hampshire, and then wins both South Carolina and Florida, despite party leaders wishing for another option -- and so a new candidate is recruited then. That matches Cook's idea of a February entry, again after the Florida primary on January 31. But the math is even more impossible that way. An entry in the first week of February would have no shot at the 883 delegates accounted for above, plus another 95 with late January deadlines, or the 156 selected in early caucus states. That's about half of the total number of delegates. And surely Romney would drop out if that was happening, meaning that Gingrich would likely sweep most of the delegates available, with Ron Paul the only active alternative on the ballot. Newt, who would be popular enough to have won all those early contested events, would only have to win a small percentage of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination.

Look, if Ronald Reagan 1979 (or the Democratic version, Ted Kennedy 1979) was lurking out there...well, you could try to find ways for that candidate to grab enough delegates through write-ins or other such desperation plays to survive until he was on the ballot -- although Kennedy's actual story is a great caution to the grass-is-greener aspect of all of this. That's not Chris Christie or Mitch Daniels. There aren't waves of ordinary Republican voters eager to hear how they can vote for Bachmann so that it will count for Paul Ryan, or some similar work-around.

So a late entry doesn't work.

Next stop? The deadlocked convention. Could a candidate jump in there and win it?

Nope. It's not just that it doesn't happen; it's that there's good procedural reasons that it (almost) can't.

What a deadlocked convention needs is three or more candidates winning delegates. But the nature of the process is that candidates who do poorly in the first states are starved for resources and drop out. That's already happened with (at least) Tim Pawlenty. It will happen in the next month with, almost certainly, any candidate who does badly in Iowa and New Hampshire...most likely, we'll be down to three or four active candidates at most, one of whom will be Ron Paul. It's highly unlikely that we'll still have more than two plus Paul after Florida -- we did, briefly in 2008 (with Huck, Mitt, and McCain all making it to Supertuesday), but the logic of the process makes that the best-case scenario for a split field, and as we saw in 2008 it wasn't really all that split.

Meanwhile, Paul is unlikely to pile up very many delegates. There are just too many events that are winner-take-all, either by state or congressional district, for a candidate who gets a consistent 15% everywhere to have that translated into very much at the convention. My best guess is that Paul will be very challenged to reach 10% of the delegate total as a very optimistic upside.

Which means that if there are only two other candidates in most states that they'll have to finish in a dead heat for Paul's handful of delegates and the smattering of delegates won by candidates who drop out early to prevent the winner from hitting 50% + 1.

I should include one caveat...of course there is a non-zero chance of the current field not producing the nominee. If someone wraps up the nomination early on, and then falters in some extraordinary way, then of course one can construct a that the meteor hits the debate hall caveat. Don't think, however, that a normal but severe campaign gaffe could disrupt a previously settled nomination. Remember: the convention is self-governing. The convention is its delegates. And the delegates chosen are the ones slated by the candidates, and therefore those chosen to be delegates are normally the most fanatical supporters of the candidate that can be found. They're going to be the first to rationalize or ignore any new negative information about their hero, and the last to accept it. What that means is that anything that isn't strong enough to knock out a presumptive nominee altogether isn't very likely at all to lead to a revolt by the convention. So, sure, if Gingrich switches wives or religions again between winning the last primaries and when the gavel drops in the convention, or if one of the others staggers over the finish line with 60% of the delegates and then develops a health issue, well, then things open up.

But don't think that party leaders can take a nomination away from someone who has won it in the primaries and caucuses. There's just no mechanism for doing it, no matter how much they might want to.

The actual dynamic if an unpopular candidate wins the nomination in the spring is that we'll have a month or two of serious buyer's remorse and lots of improbable ideas hatched on how to overturn it...followed by a few months of GOP elites finding new strengths in the nominee and the rank-and-file falling in line. Republicans will get all excited about the VP pick, and with the competition out of the way they'll start remembering that their real target is Barack Obama. By the time the convention opens, they'll be as excited about their ticket as Democrats were in 1992 or Republicans were in 2008.

As regular readers know, I don't expect Newt Gingrich to remain the polling leader into the spring and sweep all the states in which he currently holds a polling lead. But should he do so? If Newtmentum continues through Supertuesday and he wins most or all of the states that day, he would be the nominee. End of story.

Far more likely is that party actors now rally around Romney -- or, perhaps, Rick Perry, if he can avoid damaging himself for a week and starts converting his cash advantage into a polling bump.

Either way, however, the field is going to winnow, and my guess is that it'll be all over within six weeks. Or, perhaps, it will drag out to March. Either way, the field is set, there's not going to be a deadlocked convention, and one of the current candidates is going to be the Republican nominee.