Thursday, August 8, 2013

On Santorum, Next Time Around

Byron York had an column on Rick Santorum yesterday, featuring an interview, and asserting that "Santorum will again be underestimated" as a presidential candidate in 2016.

Now, for one thing, he repeats the "runner-up" nonsense. But we can put that aside, I think.

A more interesting question is whether Santorum qualifies as a viable candidate. Could he actually win a nomination?

My two-step test (hey, I have a column up today about Christie which goes through that again) says that all viable candidates must have conventional qualifications and positions on public policy within the party's mainstream.

Santorum was a two-term Senator who was defeated for re-election in 2007. If that was all, I'd say that he did not have conventional qualifications. Nine years from office, and he lost last time out? There's no one similar to that who came anywhere close to winning a nomination in the modern (after 1968) era.

However, it has to count for something that he ran for president in 2012 and won several primaries and caucuses, including Iowa. I spent 2011-2012 saying that Santorum was close to the line for conventional qualifications...I think I'd have to say that his 2012 wins mean he has somewhat stronger qualifications this time around. I guess. Sort of. So he passes that test, albeit not by much.

What's less clear, however, is whether Santorum is within the party mainstream on public policy -- that is, on economic policy. I don't think I know the answer to that, but we do know that he was utterly incapable of attracting significant party support last time around, and I strongly suspect it was for policy reasons. And from this interview, it sounds as if he's moving farther from party orthodoxy, not embracing it.

I guess that sort of leaves him right on the edge of viability, pending more information.


18 comments:

  1. What's with that 1968 cutoff? Why doesn't Nixon count - 8 years from office and lost last time out? Not saying Santorum is viable, or comparable to Nixon, and I guess "modern era" means "primary era," but the cutoff eliminates the nearest match, so I'm appealing just for the hell of it.

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    1. The changes in the nomination process were just huge; IMO, you really can't apply pre-1972 evidence to modern era.

      For that matter, I'd say 1972 and 1976 are pretty dicey, too.

      At any rate: big difference between a former VP and presidential nominee and a former Senator. Even if the VP did lose nationally and statewide since.

      If Gore ran this time, I'd call him not only viable, but a top-tier candidate.

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    2. I would say that in this day and age, former VPs get close to a lifetime status as viable nominees. Then I remember Dan Quayle.

      Then again, maybe Quayle was a viable nominee who just got steamrolled by a nominee with far greater support.

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  2. I can't say Santorum is outside the GOP window on economic policy.

    I see:
    -taxes bad. Check.
    -taxes on companies bad (well, manufacturers, at least): Check.

    The only deviation from party orthodoxy, on economic policy, is job training (as opposed to the GOP position of "no job? fuck you"). However, to hear Byron York (and Santorum, both now and in 2012) tell it, he differs substantially in that he tries to talk to the non-rich. It seems entirely about style (“First, you have to emphasize that the free market system in America is the best creator of wealth and opportunity in the history of the world,” he says. “We have to be committed to that. You absolutely have to emphasize the goodness of that capitalist system.”); I don't read him as saying anything besides tax cuts = good, regulation = bad.

    I think Santorum was rejected by the party because the guy really is all about unapologetic social conservativism, no matter how much he protests otherwise, and the party doesn't think it wins elections on abortion and gays--they win on taxes and defense (and get the social stuff with that). Party insiders aren't idiots.

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  3. JB, does the modern era get us a substantially different *type* of candidate with different criteria for viability? Maybe, with all these first-term senators suddenly flagged as front-runners. But that's a recent development, isn't it? I guess Carter wouldn't have been viable in old system, but parties sort of adjusted after him didn't they? Reagan, Mondale, Bush, Dukakis, Clinton, Dole, Gore, Bush Jr. all could have flown under old system, no?
    I am just noodling off the top of my head over stuff that's doubtless been the subject of tons of research, and I think you often allude to modern era vs. prior nominating norms, but you know how blog comment sections are...

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    1. @asp, your comment got me thinking, so I really appreciate it. You're right that there's something strange with first term senators running as strong contenders. This is just off the top of my head, but maybe a certain iconoclastic impulse is being manifested. We are tired of the same-old and favor someone younger, newer, and not so mired in Washington muck. That isn't what the GOP has offered the last two times, but maybe next time.

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    2. I've noticed there's a tendency that whenever someone points out that a first-term senator doesn't have enough experience to gain the nomination, the response is likely to be "But what about Obama?" It doesn't seem to occur to people that Obama might have been a fluke, and that it isn't the normal course of events for a first-term senator to be nominated. On the other hand, it's possible Obama's ascendancy may itself have changed things. Looking through the list of candidates in the modern era before Obama, the only examples I could find of first-term Senators considered to be significant contenders were Al Gore in '88 (three years as Senator, following eight years in the House) and John Edwards in '04 (when he had nearly completed his one and only term in the Senate). If Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz turn out to be as important to the 2016 race as they're currently being hyped, we might be justified in concluding that the rise of Obama has had a real effect on the types of politicians considered to have a conventional resume.

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    3. I'd like to add that it's already been bolstered by Palin too. Both parties have run low-experience candidates for high national office. Since she wasn't universally considered a flop, that has opened doors to other similarly inexperienced candidates.

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    4. I've long considered the Palin choice to have been in part a right-wing response to the Obama phenomenon (though she was originally pushed by activists in 2007 as an antidote to the putative Hillary nomination). The right-wing infatuation with Palin was the beginning of a love affair with various relative neophytes, from Bobby Jindal to Michelle Bachmann to Herman Cain to Marco Rubio. The right, of course, still can't let go of their belief that Obama was too hopelessly inexperienced to have been an effective president, but my sense is that it's little more than an empty talking point, just another way of bashing Obama. They've shown no signs of valuing experience in their own candidates, and if anything, the opposite is true; it seems that experience in political office makes Republicans a lot more likely to have flunked one of the right's many, many purity tests.

      (We saw a good example of this in the quick rise and fall of Rick Perry, which partly happened because the base began to look past his perfect Tea Party rhetoric to his actual gubernatorial record on such issues as immigration and HPV vaccines. Figures like Bachmann and Cain didn't have to worry about such a thing happening to them, because they never had to govern.)

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    5. I'm surprised you think Perry fell because of immigration and HPV. I thought it was the dumb-as-dirt aspect that did him in.

      What I observe is that being inexperienced or qualified is a charge you throw at an opponent, but you give your candidate a pass. So basically it's hypocritical.

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    6. But it's all interrelated; one of his most notorious remarks that got him labeled "dumb-as-dirt" in the first place was his "you have no heart" response to the immigration issue. (And remember that his most infamous moment of all, "oops," came after his support had already collapsed.) Sure, his biggest mistake there was in how he explained his heresy, and not the heresy itself, but he wouldn't have had to explain it if he hadn't committed it to begin with.

      I agree that "inexperienced/unqualified" is used heavily an empty charge you throw at your opponent, with very little consistency and a great deal of hypocrisy. But there are some real, albeit unwritten, standards of what constitutes relevant experience, that influence who gets nominated and who doesn't. It isn't a coincidence that candidates from Jesse Jackson to Herman Cain who have never held any political office have never come close to capturing the nomination in the modern era, or that every nominee since JFK has been a senator, a governor, a vice president, or (in the case of Ford) an incumbent president.

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  4. You didn't mention immigration as a problem for Christie. I expect to be an even hotter issue this time around.

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  5. For people who love politics as entertainment, the 2016 GOP nomination race will sell tons of popcorn. The question will be whether the crazies will win this time, and get it out of their system. I don't know. But as someone who cares more about confronting governing problems, I'm not looking forward to any of it.

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  6. It seems to me the article by York is so wrong in so many ways it's barely worth discussing. His argument that Romney lost because of his inability to connect with un-/under-employed voters with no college education, and that Santorum would get their votes, seems absurd.

    Why is it so difficult for people to understand that Obama won (or, Romney lost, if you like) because, when an incumbent president runs for re-election in a year when the economy shows moderate growth, he's probably going to win? It happened in 2004 and it happened last year. There's really very little mystery.

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    1. @Jim

      My theory is that most people didn't want to focus on the recovery. Republicans didn't, because it undermined their message that Obama had wrecked the economy. Democrats, for their part, had to walk a fine line to avoid seeming out of touch by praising the economy at a time when many voters were still hurting. The result was a basic consensus that the economy sucked (I'd wager that most Americans probably still think we're in a recession), and so apart from political scientists who had a more nuanced understanding of the matter, most people concluded the economy was a net negative for Obama.

      It contrasts sharply with 2008. Given the severity of the financial crisis, it was highly intuitive that the economy played a strong role in the election. Republicans in particular wanted to emphasize it as an explanation, because it made it easier to escape blame for their defeat and to portray Obama as simply lucky. Of course they could have said the same thing in 2012, but then they had so convinced themselves of the "Obama recession" meme that there was no going back.

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    2. I understand what you're saying, and it certainly makes sense for

      a) Republican elites to downplay or ignore the tepid recovery and play into the idea that the recession was ongoing, and

      b) Democratic elites to not want to appear overconfident or insensitive due to the, shall we say, 'asymmetrical' nature of the recovery,

      but I would like to think that by 2013, given all the available evidence and reporting, that reporters and columnists would start to get the message.

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    3. Political reporters, for the most part, still haven't totally let go of their traditional belief that elections hinge largely or entirely on the strength of the candidates. In the past several years, there's been some pushback against this idea in the media and an increasing awareness (in no small part due to Nate Silver) of poli-sci studies on how the economy and other "fundamentals" are central to election results. The 2008 election helped make this understandable to people because it was so obviously an economy-centered election where almost any Democrat would have beaten almost any Republican (despite there being other factors that many commentators latched onto, including the Palin fiasco, as well as the excitement surrounding Obama's candidacy as the would-be first African American president).

      The problem is that a lot of pundits came out with a caricatured understanding of this relationship and ended up thinking it all boiled down to the formula "bad economy = throw the bums out," without realizing that political scientists looked only at particular economic indicators (GDP, income growth) and assessed them in relative rather than absolute terms. Pundits also didn't understand how to read the effects of an economy that was neither great nor terrible. So they were predisposed to think 2012 was a bad year for Democrats, and that even if Obama won, it would be in spite of the economy, not because of it.

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  7. Some pencil necked geek at a pinko commie rag had the guts to claim that:

    "Republican party actors had plenty of chances to rally behind Santorum if they liked him or thought he’d be a good standard bearer for their party, but in 2012 they decided over and over again not to. Maybe because of his hardline stance on social issues, maybe because he’s been out of government since 2006 or maybe because they think that a two term senator that loses reelection by 18 percent just doesn’t have the political skills to compete in the major league of presidential politics. Whatever the reason, Rick would be well advised to hang up his spikes for good and look into other lines of work."

    Obviously, he has no idea what he's talking about.

    http://goodmenproject.com/the-good-life/politics-the-good-life/sorry-santorum-youre-not-going-to-win/

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