Monday, January 9, 2012

What Are Those Neutral GOP Actors Up To?

Seth Masket has a good catch today -- that hardly any of the GOP superdelegates have declared for a candidate yet (yes, Republicans have automatic delegates too, although not as many as the Democrats have). As he says, that's consistent with all the other measures we've had. The superdelegate breakdown? 12 for Mitt, 3, for Perry, 1 for Santorum, and the other 89% still uncommitted.

I'm not sure I agree with Seth that all of that means that Perry is still the most likely other option if Romney winds up not winning it. Here's the problem. On the one hand, no one has ever done anything similar to what Perry will have done in Iowa and New Hampshire and then wound up coming anywhere close to the nomination. On the other hand, no one with the credentials of Gingrich, Santorum, Huntsman, or Paul has ever come anywhere close to it, either.

Which might just mean, and probably does, that Romney is going to win the nomination.

But still...why are party actors so slow to climb on board a train that certainly seems to be going places?

I think there are two possible answers. One is that they really don't want to nominate Romney, and are just waiting until they find out who the real conservative champion is going to be. If that's the case, what matters a lot is just how much they don't want to nominate him. Enough to fight hard against heavy odds? Enough to overlook flaws in whoever they settle on to support? Or just enough to wait it out and hope something will happen to the former Massachusetts governor?

But there's another strong possibility: this is much more about fear of Tea Party wrath than it is about reluctance to support Romney. That's true for politicians, but it could also be true for formal party officials (who could get bounced by angry conservatives if they get blamed for Romney), and even for some interest group leaders. If this is what's going on, then a lot of Republican actors may be thinking that they don't really have to worry very much about the Cains and the Bachmanns and the Pauls actually winning the nomination, given what lousy candidates they are, and so just sitting back and hoping Romney can wrap it up more-or-less on his own is the best strategy. This one, too, can come in various shades of intensity: we could have some who are strongly pro-Romney but afraid to say it, while others could be mildly pro-Romney and therefore quiet if they even have a hint of worry over a public endorsement.

So which of these two is it? I have no idea! But my guess is that the latter seems at least a bit more likely than the former. It's possible that there are some out there who are intensely anti-Romney but foolishly froze, waiting for the best alternative, but it seems much more likely that someone in that group would have declared for another candidate. But I don't really know. I can say one thing. If there was anyone in Group 1 (true anti-Romney) waiting to see who emerged from Iowa...well, I can understand why such people would wait another week, because if they were considering Santorum he was more likely to need the boost after New Hampshire than before it (when endorsements would perhaps get lost in the shuffle). But time is about to be up: if they're going to try to swing the party behind Santorum (or even Perry, or even --although I can't believe they would do this -- Huntsman), the time to get started on that is this week, in order to help that candidate next Saturday in South Carolina. Wait any longer, and Mitt Romney is probably going to win by default.

And if it's the second possibility -- they're just fine with Romney, but don't want to say so? Don't be surprised to see people from that group endorse Santorum (or Perry or Gingrich) after South Carolina, or even after Florida, once it's too late to matter. No one wants to have the party's nominee upset with them...but it's possible that they're even less eager to be labled RINOs for backing Romney, at least just now. There's still plenty of time to make nice-nice after the nomination is formally decided, and while I hate to suggest that things aren't always as they appear to be on the surface, it's possible that Romney wouldn't be too upset about an endorsement that he knew was just for show.

Again, I don't really know who fits into which of these groups, and where within those groups they fit (i.e. somewhat vs. strongly anti-Romney). And mostly, we won't get to know. But I think that might explain at least some of what's going on right now.

9 comments:

  1. Maybe they're fine with Romney but don't want to be seen as closing down the nomination process before it starts. If they endorse after he's won some primaries, he may have more legitimacy among activist Republicans.

    (then again, maybe not).

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  2. Yes, but it didn't stop them from doing so in 1999 (or Democrats to do so in 1999 and 1983).

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  3. Do superdelegates usually commit this early? Do they usually commit at all? Didn't we learn in 2008 Dem. race that they tend to wait and vote for whoever wins the primaries?

    Do we know how many superdelegates had declared for GOP candidates before NH in 2008?

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  4. That's a good question, and I don't know the answer specifically for GOP supers...but I do know that for GOP high-visibility endorsers overall that they're well behind where they were in 2000 (and I think that's right about 2008, too, although I'd have to go look it up, and of course in 2008 they were far more split than they are now).

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  5. I don't think the two options are mutually exclusive. GOP elites who are themselves conservative are sitting there looking at the field and saying "yikes." Romney is going to be the nominee, and they'll back him, because President Romney would be better for them than President Obama. And, given the circus this go-around, there's just no guarantee that "wait until 2016 for a viable conservative candidate" is a good idea.

    But that doesn't mean they have to like the idea. And, if they're thinking strategically about party factions (and not just their own butts), they're thinking that showing that there's a lot of GOP elites that would have preferred a credible conservative is a good thing.

    Keeping quiet now:
    -doesn't hurt Romney in the general
    -forces Romney to pay attention to them, both in platform and if he wins
    -boosts conservatives in 2016

    Endorsing Romney now:
    -um, accepts defeat? Seriously, between Paul and those that believe that there's an ABR vote out there, the endorsements aren't going to matter in the short run. Might as well let it play out
    -Gets you in slightly better with a potential Romney Admin than those that wait. Worth something, but I think that's all that it really has going for it.

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  6. One other thing: One-third of the superdelegates are state party chairs, and many of them purposely stay neutral until after their state votes. The same was true of many Dem chairs in 2008, but state chairs were a much smaller % of a much larger group. -Matt from DemocraticConventionWatch.

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  7. Its possible that we're looking at this in too granular a fashion, attempting to infer too much about Romney's bona fides. Bigger picture, perhaps the Republican Party has ideologically imploded, and the party movers not endorsing is the equivalent of ducking for cover.

    Re the tea party comment: this week the US debt surpassed 1X GDP. The biggest drivers of the deficit are sacred Republican constituencies, the elderly and the military-industrial complex. And perhaps unfettered capitalism, which may need more deficit spending here to find its footing. OTOH, maybe deficit spending is damaging American capital formation.

    There's nothing so far in this post we haven't discussed a million times. In the context of endorsements, and leaving aside Romney's religious or liberal or smarmy baggage, just in the abstract, which Republican Presidential candidate would you endorse?

    The deficit cutter, thus endearing yourself to the tea party hordes but alienating old folks and military types?

    Or the deficit spender, thus incurring the wrath of the tea party and the business community?

    Or neither, and allow the guy standing next to you to speak up and receive the inevitable knives that will follow.

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  8. @CSH, great comment capped by a stellar last line.

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  9. @ModeratePoli, thank you for the compliment. Was thinking on the topic a bit more yesterday and recalling a discussion here several months ago re: Limbaugh's claim that he would vote for Elmer Fudd over Barack Obama. Jonathan defended Limbaugh's position, on the assumption that Fudd were the Republican nominee.

    Romney's pretty much the Republican nominee. He surely can't be as bad as Fudd, no? Which makes it seem unlikely that Romney-specific problems are leading to hesitation for party actors; at this point (with the primary essentially decided and no viable alternative), the process should no longer be a beauty pageant but rather about WINNING (in November).

    Speaking of Limbaugh and on a related topic, if anyone's interested, here's a research idea: caught a bit of Limbaugh's show the other day, and he was railing against the Obamas' sense of entitlement leading to the Halloween party. Pretty boilerplate stuff, but what made this interesting was Limbaugh dumping in beltway Republicans among the despicable Washington crowd animated merely by this sense of entitlement.

    The Republican part was merely a parenthetical, and Limbaugh obviously didn't name names. As someone who infrequently consumes right-wing media, it seems to me that the jockeys are dialing up the Republicans - for criticism - much more than in the past. Not a lot, but certainly more, which should be measurable.

    The explanation might be that, with the coming schizophrenic implosion of the Republican party, the radio jocks are increasingly throwing the leadership to the dogs in order to gain plausible deniability as things deteriorate in the GOP.

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