Thursday, March 8, 2012

Santorum 2016?

Alex Pareene, in an otherwise excellent Super Tuesday wrap yesterday, says:
As could have been predicted shortly after he dropped out of the 2008 race, Mitt Romney is the likely 2012 Republican nominee for president...The real scary news: Now Rick Santorum is the 2016 GOP nomination front-runner.
I'm with Daniel Larison on this one: there's no way that Santorum is the likely "next time" nominee. And I don't think that Romney's nomination this time was a simple consequence of "next in line," if that's what Pareene means.

It is true, however, that 2012 will be another data point in support of the idea that Republicans prefer someone with whom they are familiar. Remember thought that there have only been a handful of cases in which Republicans had no heavyweight candidate: the only cycles since party reform like that were 2008, 2000, and perhaps 1996. Ronald Reagan in 1980, and perhaps Bob Dole in 1996, had a major stature that folks such as John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney this year just didn't have, one that could be both objectively and subjectively described (don't forget that in addition to being Senate Majority leader and a three-time candidate and 1988 runner-up, Dole was also the 1976 running mate).

Nor was Romney's nomination inevitable this time around. In particular, it sure seems to me that Rick Perry had an excellent chance of winning, and had his debate performances only been poor, and not consistently disastrous, it's very possible he would have won.

Still, now that we have the Romney example, it surely gives at least some additional weight to the "next in line" side of the argument.

But clearly, "next in line" isn't always going to work; as Larison points out it didn't do Pat Buchanan much good in 1996. And one could argue that the Huck, not Romney, was really the runner-up in 2008, which certainly doesn't say anything promising for Santorum. Overall, I wouldn't entirely rule out Santorum for 2016 (assuming no Romney presidency), but I wouldn't put him among the top three contenders, either.

Of course, we have a long ways to go this time, as far as that's concerned. If Santorum winds up sweeping the rest of the South and gets several other wins, winding up losing the nomination on delegate accumulation rules, that's a lot different from if Romney winds up winning all but a few remaining states. And then there's the running mate, whoever that turns out to be.

So I don't think Santorum is the favorite for next time as of right now, and I still don't really believe that "next in line" is really what's going on in any simple way, but I'm a bit more convinced now than I was before this cycle that Republicans give a boost to those who have run a strong presidential bid in the past.

13 comments:

  1. I'm not sure that being the losing VP candidate 20 years earlier actually is a good recommendation for anything. I mean it's something you mention on paper, but in practice, its real meaning, I'm not sure it plays out so unambiguously. Or maybe Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin and Joe Lieberman could weigh in here.

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    1. Former vp candidates often enjoy a period where they lead, or at least come out high, in polls for the next available election. It happened to Lieberman, and it happened to John Edwards--among others. But they almost always end up getting crowded out by other candidates by the time the invisible primary gets rolling. It's not clear how much of this has to do with the nature of being a former vp candidate, or simply to the particular candidate's qualities: Lieberman, for example, killed his chances with his hawkish views on Iraq.

      I'd say that Santorum actually has a better chance for 2016 if he becomes Romney's running mate this fall. And if Romney wins the election with Santorum on the ticket, he'll be poised for 2020 (even if Romney only serves one term). Unlike Dick Cheney or Joe Biden, he's relatively young.

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  2. I tend to side with 1996 being a frontrunner (Dole) vs also-rans type of race. To me, Dole was just head-and-shoulders in front the whole time. (Not in polling, but in the whole shebang)

    The whole "next in line" thing only works if the candidate is remotely plausible, not if they just happen to have been the last nutjob to get off the train. In the case of 2012, it's Romney plus nutjob/vanity candidates. All the other potential real candidates either dropped out INSANELY early (too early to really count them, in cases like Barbour and Daniels), or flamed out badly enough to have permanently damaged their brand (Perry, and possibly Pawlenty)

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  3. "had his (Perry's) debate performances only been poor, and not consistently disastrous, it's very possible he would have won"

    Good point. I'm not sure if the evidence truly supports this, but my observation is that debates are very important but in a funny way:

    You have to give a creditable performance, but once you pass that threshold they are of marginal significance. You do not have to win to win.

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  4. It's not "next in line". It's "early favorite". Except for Obama, the early favorite always wins. And Obama was the rare non-favorite who had a similar level of support from key party actors as the favorite did.

    Let's wait until 2013 or 2014 and see who the early favorite is. That will tell us who the nominee is going to be.

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    1. Good point about early favorites. It seems clear that Romney was running for "early favorite" by early 2009. Could it be that Obama fashioned healthcare reform as a copy of Romneycare just to hobble the GOP early favorite? So sneaky (but not likely).

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    2. At the risk of sounding dumb, how do you define early favorite? Polls? Endorsements? Organization?

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  5. FDR was a losing VP candidate.... It will be interesting to see if Rmoney picks someone who could look good in four years.

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  6. JB, i continue to be astounded that you think rick perry had a chance. you live here in san antonio, same as me. rick knows how to run a closed system and protect his weaknesses, but his weaknesses are and were very apparent even in texas. there was never any possibility that perry and his weaknesses were going to pull of a national campaign in the spotlight. none. all i've seen you point to with rick are instituional factors---governor, big state, money. i don't think those things are unimportant, but those things don't save a fundamentally weak candidate (remember president gramm). rick was a fundamentally weak, intellectually lazy candidate.

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  7. Jonathan, contrary to your prediction I'll bet you $50 that if Santorum runs for President in 2016, he'll be one of the top three Republican finishers in delegate counts. What do you say?

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    1. Did I have a prediction in this post? I said he's not the favorite in 2016 as of now, but the main point is that he has earned himself a future. But it's early.

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  8. The advantage of being the runner-up candidate in a losing race is two fold:

    a) As the runner up, it is easier to gain early fundraising. You've shown you can get votes, that you can be a contender. Making the fundraising case is much easier. Meaning you have more money to build the kind of political machine that will help you move even more votes.

    b) You've already got an advantage in building a machine. You've got the remnants of the machine you built in your runner-up race, meaning donor lists (see a) and volunteers. You can activate all those call lists, call up the volunteers, and call up the previous donors. You have an advantage over new candidates in building a national operation, because you have the previous national operation you put together.

    Look at Ron Paul-- over time, Paul has built up an organization which moves votes, and is building more delegates. That's because he's been able to build out a machine that moves votes over multiple runs by building on the machine he built in previous runs. Think about this: Paul supporters are still sporting the Re"Love"tion logos developed in the 2008 campaign.

    Presuming a Romney victory in the Republican race, and an Obama win in the general, this particular case will give even more momentum in Santorum. The predictable response of the establishment will be that Romney wasn't conservative enough to motivate the 'silent majority' of conservative America to get to the polls. The story will be that if Santorum was the candidate, he would have beat Obama. It was the line the GOP took after the 2008 Obama victory, and it netted them a 2010 victory in the midterms. This narrative will only increase the advantages of (a) and (b).

    It is way too early to call Santorum the favorite for 2016; certainly if Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels or Chris Christie enters the race in 2016, they could claim 'favorite' status. But 'presumptive' is different from 'favorite.' Until other candidates announce, Santorum is the presumptive nominee, in the same way Romney was presumptive, and McCain. And that is a HUGE advantage in organizing a machine for volunteerism and fund-raising. Volunteerism and fund-raising matter in campaigns, particularly in primaries. Frankly, these advantages are the very reason Romney is ahead today. That means Santorum will be a contender in the 2016 campaign, presuming Romney loses to Obama in September.

    Re: 'the Huck' (btw, love that contraction)

    There is a specific disadvantage 'the Huck' had last time around, which is frankly that the rules of the 2008 primary made early contests matter more, particularly winner take all contests. That meant the primary trail ended earlier, so really his campaign was out of the race earlier. This season has seen a more protracted campaign by the way delegates are awarded, with less winner take all. Santorum has had more time to build a machine than the Huck has; Huck's machine collapsed more or less as soon as he became a Fox News commentator, which was quickly. Santorum's machine already rivals Romney's 2008 machine, and will only get bigger from here.

    Romney's 2008 machine, by the way, in comparison to the Huck's machine in 2008, was much bigger. Comparing 2008 to 2012, the Huck is more like the Newtster than Santorum, or more concisely the Newtster is more like the Huck than Santorum. Maybe that's why the Newtster is sticking to it; maybe he wants a Fox program.

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