Friday, February 17, 2012

Q Day 3: GOP Presidential Field Strength

An oldie but goody. Daniel D. asks:

Does the weakness of the Republican presidential field have anything to do with Obama's strength as an opposing candidate? Were younger guys who would've been stronger candidates than Romney or Santorum like Jindal, Ryan, Christie, and Thune actually whittled by party actors, or does their decision not to run have to do with them wanting to pick their spot better and wait until the Democrats run a weaker candidate?
My basic feeling is that the apparent weakness of the GOP field is mainly a function of two things. One is that there were no real heavyweights available this time -- unlike, say, the 2008 Democrats, who had two former nominees (one of whom was a former VP), a seemingly successful recent VP nominee, and a former First Lady who was a twice-elected Senator from NY. Republicans had, at best, a very flawed recent VP nominee and...I don't know; Dan Quayle? Beyond that, however, the GOP field, in my view, was OK on paper, with Romney, Perry, Pawlenty, and Barbour making up a reasonably decent group of candidates. Then there are those who sort of ran: Palin, Thune, and perhaps Daniels and others. All of those sort-of candidates got squeezed out by some combination of lack of party support, lack of sufficient ambition, or strategic choices...but in each case, presumably more party support would have tilted the sort-ofs towards full runs.

Anyway, because of the very early winnowing, the eventual field looked much weaker than it really was.Of course, the other big factor was that one of most impressive candidates on paper, the multiterm governor of Texas, ran such a terrible campaign that he now appears to have been more dwarf than serious candidate, but that's probably not really true.

17 comments:

  1. And there is Krugman's FOF thesis. Fools or Frauds.

    The idea is that the modern GOP is so detached from reality that only fools (too dumb to know better) or frauds (able and willing to spout nonsense) can run.

    I'm not sure I would call Santorum either a fool or fraud, but it fits Perry & Cain (fools), Romney (fraud) and Gingrich (fool AND fraud).

    The Democrats, being sensible, can attract sensible candidates.

    It was not always so. Dole & Bush Sr. were neither, but McCain was forced to be a fraud.

    Maybe the serious GOP candidates are waiting for their Party to come to its senses.

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    1. You can't really wait for a party to come to its senses. There have to actually be major politicians who actively work to reinstitute sanity within the party and propose different ways. All the GOP actors who are crazy now aren't going to magically regain sanity of their own accord four years from now.

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  2. Admittedly, defining the potential field of candidates is tricky - but I am not quite sure I see why Al Gore and John Kerry both count as part of the Dem 2008 field - but neither John McCain nor Dick Cheney count as part of the Republican 2012 field. Is it just a matter of age? Is it because you think there is something about McCain or Cheney that make them obviously less plausible candidates then Gore or Kerry in 2008 (e.g. Cheney's status as lightning rod of opposition - or vulnerability because of tie to Bush years / McCain's rather substantial loss?)

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    1. More Cheney's health and McCain's age. I suppose they were notionally in the potential field in some sense, but realistically I wouldn't have put them there.

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  3. I think that's an awfully partisan response. One could also argue that at the end of Bush II's second term, there were no obvious heroes to the right to carry on the good fight. A lot, but not all, of that could be attributed to the fact that by the end of his second term, his administration was revealed to be an unmitigated disaster. I think the only powerful Republican really surviving from the start of his term to the end of it is Senator McConnell.

    A number of powerful Republicans were actually deposed: DeLay and Stevens come to mind. Cheney destroyed his reputation, really. Guys like DeMint and Ryan are young guns. Does anyone want to comment on why so many older, powerful Republicans self-destructed during Bush's term?

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    1. But, there is some element of dumb luck in all this, isn't there? I mean, there are only so many governorships. Toss in Perry soaking up a biggie for the GOP, the brother of a failed president in another, and a foreigner movie star in a third, and the roster of recent GOP governors of decently-sized states shrinks considerably. Then, if JB is right about Congress not counting for experience, the GOP has a weak bench, largely due to luck combined with the shellackings in 2006 and 2008 (thus, creating "losers" of many potential good candidates).

      I dunno. Not sure I buy what I'm selling here, but I thought I'd run it up the flagpole. My own, blatantly partisan response is to partially agree with tom above, plus dumb luck, plus call it all the problem of the Palin fascination of the media that sucked all the oxygen out of the room for 3 years.

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    2. Yes -- luck certainly has a fair amount to do with it, especially if you count the 2006 cycle as luck.

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    3. Can't really question the assertion about luck without completely re-framing the question philosophically. Tom/Krugman's analysis hgas the advantage actually of being an analysis. Saying that the GOP or any political party has been reduced to randomness or "luck" is to suggest that it doesn't represent anything at all, that it's no longer "political" unless you view politics as (even conceivably) a neutral, value-free exercise.

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    4. We're going to disagree on that. Lots of things have random variation, and it's important IMO not to assign causes to things that turn out to be random variation. Is it luck, or something about the Republicans, that left them with a former VP with health problems and a former nominee who was too old? Hard to say. The middle tier of the potential pool is light as a result of the point we're at in the electoral cycle...whether we call that "luck" or not is about our perspective. It's not as if there's a long-term lack of GOP Senators and Governors who would make fine mid-tier presidential candidates; there just happen to be very few right now (who have been in office longer than a year plus).

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    5. Well, go back to your prior comment - why would you count the '06 cycle as "luck"? And I would say that yes it was something very real about the R coalition that left them with SOME configuration of exhausted and repudiated by the end of the Bush Admin. It happened to take the objective form of an aged VP with a two-term President whose name cannot even be mentioned by his would-be R successors. What they're embracing now is desperately patched together from the rubble, and, if it's not just habit, it's could be an index of the difficulties of the Washington Consensus as a whole, including both Rs and Ds, in this post-financial collapse, late WOT period, that we feel compelled take them seriously.

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    6. Anon again. I don't think it was luck, Jonathan. I think that Bush's style of governing, well described as whipping up the base and maintaining an iron discipline in your bloc in Congress, came with an unnoticed, brutal cost. The top-down approach meant that Congressional Republicans could not offer any ideas of their own into law. Consequently, they got no practice at coming up with new ideas that might actually work.

      More ominously, the people attracted to working under that governing style tended to be people who are ok with abusing power. It provides them with an easy framework: vote as you are told, say what you need to, and anything goes. Poster child: Mark Foley.

      That's in addition to the failure to talk to anyone who disagrees with you, which also limits your ideas.

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    7. I'm not arguing that 2006 and 2008 were purely bad luck for the GOP (and I don't think Matt was, either); it's that it's bad luck that, at the current stage of the electoral cycle, they have a small pool because of where 2006 and 2008 fell in the cycle compared to 2012. In other words, whatever problems Republicans have, they are clearly capable at worst of winning close to half of all the elections that produce presidential candidates. Should they lose this time, and even if they have a mediocre election this year and in 2014, they're still going to have a much better potential pool of candidates in 2016 than they did this time. From the perspective of just the 2012 potential pool, that's "luck."

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    8. You mean, the guys running in 2016 are "luckier" because they will have had more experience than the guys in 2012, or because we posit that the Republicans will loosen their definition of "conservative" in order to win elections (a la Silver)?

      I don't think we define that word in the same way!

      Eisenhower, Reagan, and Bush I all used a far more compromising style than Bush II. My argument has two parts. First, a top-down approach where everyone has to fall in line sucks for mentoring new talent, because they can't practice offering ideas. Second, it thins your bench, because it attracts people who are more interested in power than coming up with ideas that actually work.

      It's not luck that some public school districts are better than others. To get good schools takes years of grooming good teachers. Calling it luck demeans the process.

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    9. "In other words, whatever problems Republicans have, they are clearly capable at worst of winning close to half of all the elections that produce presidential candidates."

      To the contrary, all we know is that that has been true in recent years, that we today stand in the shadow or aftermath of a period during which the Republican and Democratic coalitions achieved rough parity at the national (esp. presidential-electoral) level, but we don't know whether that rough parity will continue, or whether it can continue without significant (and mutually influencing) adjustments within one or both coalitions. We also don't actually know, but merely suspect, that "they're still going to have a much better potential pool of candidates in 2016." And we also do not know whether whatever currently defines Republicans (beyond the empty label) will ever win another presidential election, or for that matter will win every presidential election held from now to the end of time or our current system of government, whichever comes first.

      It's certainly possible, maybe even likely, that Republicans will regress toward the pragmatic ideological mean in time to achieve or preserve rough parity, though such a transformation would leave out or disadvantage precisely that faction of conservatives who openly hold most or all positive forms of national governance in suspicion and contempt.

      So, by 2016, the Rs may be ready to put forward and to accept competent, self-respecting, not totally laughable governors, senators, maybe even generals or leaders drawn from other walks of life. If they were ready today to accept pragmatismn and compromise in the interest of rough parity (and policy accomplishments), they could have found someone to represent that position for them rather easily. They had a range of on-paper adequate candidates for the role, as we've been reminded at this blog many times - but that would require Republicans generally determined to be something different from what they are.

      A Haley Barbour or John Thune or Tim Pawlenty or Jon Huntsman allowed and encouraged by the party-movement to be full-on "moderate" would have left us completely uninterested in the topic of the clown car primaries, but they wouldn't be those wacky "fools and frauds" we've come to know in debate after debate after debate, changing places week by week at the top of whatever opinion polls...

      So what does luck have to do with it?

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    10. I guess everything, and nothing.

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  4. Just a brief comment about Perry: I remember the Democrats saying he was really dumb back when he first ran for Governor. Of course when they lost, they stopped saying it but that doesn't mean it wasn't true then, as well as now.

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  5. (Imported the horrific captcha system used at the W Monthly??? OMG, why? WHY??)

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