Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Catch of the Day

How about one for Seth Masket, for an excellent explanation of just what it was that prevented the pretenders from winning the GOP nomination in 2012. See also John Sides, but Seth is focused more on this part of it.

No, it wasn't the voters. It was -- you guessed it -- the Republican Party. Well, collectively, it was; individually, it was lots and lots of individual Republican party actors.

What's tricky about all of this is that there's no fixed formula to tell us how important activists are compared with, say, campaign professionals. Or how important particular party-aligned interest groups are, or how important the party-aligned press is, or how important party politicians are.

Or, within that: how important is Rush Limbaugh compared with, I don't know, Glenn Beck? How important is this governor compared with that Senator, or this Iowa-based activist motivated by home schooling compared with that South Carolina based activist primarily interested in immigration?

My sense of all this is that we're still early in the process of understanding all of this, especially since it's (at least potentially) shifting all the time. To the extent that a party is either strictly hierarchical or extremely monolithic, then it's fairly easy, but the more a party differs internally and is internally democratic, the more it's going to be very hard for anyone -- insider or outsider -- to figure out exactly who has how much of a say.

But even if it's hard to study, that's where the action is. And sometimes it's easy; the big whopping zilch in terms of endorsements that several of the candidates put together in 2012, even after they were able post impressive-looking wins in primaries, was an easy tip-off.

At any rate, the key to understanding all of this is knowing where to look. And most of the time, that means party actors, not voters.

Also: nice catch!


  1. I disagree. The party didn't pick Romney. The party just didn't go AGAINST Romney. The endorsements Seth talks about are really quite paltry in comparison to previous cycles. What 2012 featured was ANTI-endorsements.

    We can't toss out the candidate-centered baby with the bathwater. The party decides....between the candidates that choose to run. And, in 2012, that was a series of vetoes against nutjobs. Kerry in 2004: active support of the party. Obama v Clinton in 2008: the party was undecided, but either was more than acceptable. GOP 2008: McCain, but a half-hearted push, and mostly because it really didn't matter to anyone who lost to the eventual D nominee. But Perry was an attempt by party insiders to find an anti-Romney. When Perry quickly flamed out, they were left with an accident. (One could write a similar story, with less coordination and planning about the Dems in 1976) Very few Republicans wanted Romney; they just weren't stupid enough to like any of the idiots.

    1. Matt, I agree that the endorsements came at a slow pace, perhaps suggesting somewhat less enthusiasm for Romney than for earlier nominees. But I don't think it's fair to call them anti-endorsements. Did Pawlenty, Christie, and Thune back Romney in 2011 because they liked him, or because they just hated everyone else more? How could we distinguish between those (apart from subjecting the endorsers to brain scans), and is it important that we do so?

    2. "(apart from subjecting the endorsers to brain scans)"

      Hmm, we could be opening up potential new avenues of research here.

    3. I think Matt's point is excellent for those many cases where actors don't endorse because they want a particular candidate to win, but rather to further their own status within the party or perhaps further their interests.

      To illustrate, suppose you were a Koch brother considering an endorsement in the 2012 cycle. Presumably, your endorsement would be for whichever candidate's policies were most likely to maximize sales of Georgia-Pacific toilet paper/paper towels (plus your oil interests), taxed at the lowest possible rate. Presumably, all the non-nutjob candidates sent the Kochs fancy publications arguing that they were the right person to meet the brothers' interests.

      Which is helpful! But for a Koch, the bigger thing is their personal sway over a President. Those glossy brochures and fancy position statements pale in comparison to the President picking up the phone when you call. Presumably, an endorsement for the wrong candidate makes it much less likely that the President will pick up that phone.

      Thus the Kochs' very late endorsement for (an already-victorious) Romney was probably a necessary step to retain their influence in the party. To Matt's point, it seems safe to say that wasn't really, in the traditional sense, an endorsement at all.

      Non-endorsements are hard to measure, but at least in the Kochs' case, I think that's probably what we were looking at in 2012.

    4. CSH, there's another way to look at that. Getting an endorsement from the Kochs is also a boon for the candidate who receives it. By awarding it late in the cycle, the candidate has to have worked for it. That event sets up the power dynamic, so that the candidate knows who is in charge.

    5. Perry actually got a pretty large number of endorsements once he became a candidate. Not as many as Romney, but enough to suggest that a significant proportion of party actors were open to an alternative to Romney. The problem was that Perry had a dreadful run as a candidate, and by the time his campaign effectively ended with "Oops" it was clear that it was Romney or nobody -- Perry got, I think, not a single endorsement after that debate.

    6. Anonymous, that's a great point, with one caveat: a candidate that has "won" the primary, even unofficially, no longer needs anyone's endorsement. At that point the power shifts back to the candidate; any subsequent endorsement is probably just an insider trying to stay on the right side of history - arguably thus with the Koch's (non?)endorsement of Romney.

    7. @Seth: meant to respond earlier, but comments and iPads don't seem to mix on blogspot.

      By "anti-endorsements," I did't mean to refer to the deafening roar of silence surrounding Romney. Rather, I was referring to how, every time one of the nutters rose to the top of the pack, you heard a collective "um, no thanks" from the party. It was most obvious with Gingrich, Bachmann and Trump, but there were elements of it with Cain and Santorum, too. (and I already made my point on Perry--a number of folks inside the party pushed him as a Romney alternative, but didn't go all in and abandoned him once his flaws were obvious).

      I don't think its particularly important to distinguish between the potential reasons why someone got an endorsement. But, I think there is a role to be considered for the difference between party factions pushing for a candidate and party factions vetoing a candidate. And 2012 feels a lot to me like Romney simply being the last man standing--were a non-insane/incompetent candidate to have emerged, that person really could have seen an avalanche of endorsements, money, etc. But, Perry was that dark horse and flamed out.

    8. I don't know, Matt. That leaves open the question of why no other viable candidate emerged. It's very possible that Thune et al. "didn't run" because they actually did run, but were politely and quietly told that no one was interested in them.

      Or not!

      Look, the endorsement thing is real, but it's only one potential way that parties can coordinate/compete, and just because it's one that is relatively easy to measure shouldn't mean we assume it's the be-all of party action.

    9. And I was interpreting "endorsements" broadly, to not only include the formal statements of "I support this candidate," but also the informal stuff, too.

      I think the problem for the GOP in 2012 was a really poor bench of viable candidates. I think many of those candidates were scared off by Romney's wealth and the dynamics of the field. They couldn't go to Romney's right, because that space was already occupied by the crazy. And there were three dark-horse candidates for much of the invisible primary: Perry, Palin and Huckabee. So, I think your Jindals and Thunes (and more) were kinda like Mark Warner in 2006--they had the potential to do well, but they but they didn't think 2012 was going to be a good path for them.

      And, I would argue that another viable candidate DID emerge: Perry! I think Perry was encouraged to run by GOPers who didn't like Romney winning, but realized that the motley crew wasn't going to beat him. The fact that Perry flamed out is kinda like Gary Hart flaming out; they were viable candidates on paper, but hiccups in the campaign took them out. Palin, Perry & Huckabee were sucking all the non-Romney oxygen out of the tent; by the time Huckabee's and Palin's decisions were realized by party actors, Perry was the only one left.

      Now, for the life of me, the one candidate I've NEVER figured out is Haley Barbour. I still have no idea why he dropped out so early. Pawlenty fell victim to a stupid "Ames = everything" strategy, and he should have run on doing well in debates in the fall and being the viable opponent to Romney once money started to flow. Even then, apparently, nobody liked the guy (which is why his phone calls the day after Ames went unanswered and he dropped out), so we might have seen Pawlenty still eventually lose to Romney.

      At the end of the day, the 2012 primary is the most perplexing of the post-reform ones to me. (Before that, I still have never understood why LBJ couldn't figure out that the power resided in state parties, not DC pols).

  2. "GOP 2008: McCain, but a half-hearted push, and mostly because it really didn't matter to anyone who lost to the eventual D nominee."

    I think you're exaggerating the extent to which the GOP was resigned to defeat during the 2008 primary season. Remember that this was well before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and some serious economists were doubting that there was or would be even a mild recession...


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