Monday, April 1, 2013

Next in Line, Again

I like some of David Frum's advise to Democrats about 2016 and dislike some of it, but I'm afraid I'll mostly have to nitpick his premise. Yeah, it's the old next-in-line fallacy:

Hillary Clinton came second in the nomination fight of 2008. If she were a Republican, that would make her a near-certainty to be nominated in 2016. Five of the past six Republican nominees had finished second in the previous round of primaries. (The sixth was George W. Bush, son of the most recent Republican president.)

Democrats, by contrast, prefer newcomers. Six of their eight nominees since 1972 had never sought national office before.
I've written about this before several times (most recently here), but it's just not a very useful comparison. Republicans simply have happened to have had far more cycles with fairly obvious nominees than have Democrats. We don't know how a Democrat with a profile similar to Bob Dole's in 1976 would have done, because we just haven't really had any, for a variety of reasons.

Put it this way: on the one hand, the 2012 cycle sort of confirmed the "next in line" theory...if, that is, we conclude that Mitt Romney was the runner-up in 2008, which is sort of true but also sort of not true (by some measures, the Huck had a better argument for having come in second). But at the same time: does anyone really think that Rick Santorum will be an easy winner in 2016? If we don't think so, then we clearly don't believe that finishing second has any magic power; we might, for example, think that George H.W. Bush's vice-presidency was far more important in 1988 than were his 1980 primary wins. And once we loosen the definition of "next in line" to simply mean the most logical nominee of those who make it to Iowa (or something like that), then we find that Democrats are pretty much just as likely to select that candidates as are Republicans.

(Okay, minor nitpick on the count, too, those "six" nominees who "had never sought national office before."  Assuming we're ignoring renominations of sitting presidents, I count McGovern, Mondale, and Gore as having previously sought national office, while Carter, Dukakis, Clinton, Kerry, and Obama had not. Even if Mondale's quickly aborted presidential run doesn't count, which I'm fine with, surely the vice-presidency is a national office).

The big Republican win for next-in-line is John McCain, who had very little going for him other than having been the runner-up in 2000. But there's not much more to it, really.


  1. In this arena I like to look at George W. Bush and think about the advantages he had in seeking the presidency. He knew a lot of wealthy individuals and corporate leaders, and as well as all the people who worked for his dad. He was well-tied into Fox News, because Cheney and Ailes had worked together in the Nixon Administration. He also had a large enough personal fortune to bankroll his own travel and expenses, if necessary in the beginning.

    So I believe that these are the things that catapult a Republican candidate into the top ranks of any primary.

    Note how many of these things either Clinton or Obama had?

  2. Like many pronouncements about the Presidency, this can be chalked up to having too small a sample size. We've only had around nine cycles with the new primary process, and almost every one of those had a sitting President or Vice President seeking the nomination on one side. How do you draw broad conclusions about the parties based on that?

    1. You're right that it's too small a sample size to draw a sweeping conclusion. But maybe modeling a la Nate Silver would be successful. It would certainly be difficult because the fields are large, and flame-outs frequent. Like Nascar, maybe.

    2. From a poli sci perspective then, we can only hope that Santorum runs to help out the sample size.

      If we move away from over-deterministic claims, then the next in line theory has some validity. Tell me who's better positioned than Santorum to represent social conservatives opposed to citizenship for the undocumented? That constituency ain't chicken feed, and it's only his because he did well in 2012. He just needs to stay one inch to the right of Rubio and Cruz.

    3. Perhaps being next in line, like running and losing for VP, is simply something that raises a candidate's profile in the eyes of the press, the media, etc. McCain was not a terribly well known figure outside the beltway before he ran in 2000, for instance, but after he had a national profile and was clearly positioning himself to run in 2008. OTOH, running and losing did nothing much for, say, Bill Bradley, who was already a known quantity when he ran and lost.


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