Friday, April 23, 2010

Closed Loop Debate Continues

The big closed-information-loop discussion continues...since I've posted several times on the subject, here are links to recent contributors.

Julian Sanchez returns and offers some worthwhile thoughts on the issue, and the debate.  Conor Friedersdorf has not one, not two, but three terrific posts up.  One on the notion of conservative entertainers, another on the Manzi/NRO flap, and then one skewering Jonah Goldberg.  All terrific if you're interested in the topic.  There's also Anonymous Liberal weighing in, and E.D. Kain.

My main point after all this is the same I had at the beginning: the real test of whether conservative (and Republican) decision-makers really believe the nonsense rhetoric that they often use will be Sarah Palin, 2012.  For there can be no question but that a lot of Republican pols act as if they are fully captured by what Andrew Spung calls the "screamosphere" -- thus the endless repetition of factually incorrect assertions, such as the "10/6"  and "16K" claims about health care reform.  But of course pols of all stripes -- not to mention propogandists such as those on talk radio -- have never been known for being especially careful about facts.  What one would expect, of Republican politicians and conservatives more generally, is that they would make cool, careful appraisals of their choices for the presidency in 2012.  If they are using the same information to do so that the rest of us use, they would never even consider supporting Sarah Palin -- on the grounds that she's unpopular with the American people, on the grounds that she's not apt to be very good at being president, and on the grounds that she's proven no loyalty to Republicans or even conservatives (who do you think she was going rogue from?).  Collective support for her candidacy (or, for that matter, support for Newt Gingrich, but I assume that he's even less likely to put it to the test) would be very strong evidence that they were ignoring that evidence.


  1. I don't know about this, Jonathan. At some point, if Palin gets a full head of steam heading into 2012, I don't think that these alleged "GOP leaders" (whoever they are) can do anything about it.

    Moreover, I'm doubtful that these "GOP leaders" would want reverse a Palin 2012 surge, even if they had the ability to do so! At the end of the day, what they want is to get back power, and that means back in the White House. If Palin is the best vehicle for that, so be it. These other factors are irrelevant if she has the best chance of beating Obama:

    - Her unpopularity with the American people as a whole is irrelevant - see Clinton, 1992, elected with 43% of the vote.

    - Her intellectual shortcomings don't matter - see W. Bush, 2000 and 2004 (I don't think even GOP leaders though he was "apt to be very good at being president").

    - Her occasional disloyalty to the GOP and conservatism won't bother those leaders (in fact, it can be used to bolster her electability) - see McCain, 2008.

    So even if these mystical "GOP leaders" avoid the loop - even if they read Ezra Klein and watch the Daily Show every day - they still would be powerless to stop a potential Palin freight train.

  2. I'm on board with the points about conservative closed-mindedness, but I'm not sure the 2012 Republican presidential nomination process is a great test of it. Does the nomination in 2008 of (then-)maverick Republican John McCain demonstrate the relative open-mindedness and fondness for internal debate of the conservative movement two short years ago, or was it the messy product of the interaction of the field of candidates with the structure of the nomination process?

    I would expect that most party elites will not rally around a Palin candidacy in 2012, due to concerns about her electability/competence, among other factors. But I'm not sure that this would demonstrate a lack of epistemic closure on the right, rather than a simple ability to read the polls. Do they disagree with her policy positions, such as they are, or are they worried that she's box office poison?

    If you're making the point that conservative leaders might be so intellectually cloistered that they think Palin's actually massively popular, okay, but I think that's less likely. There's less room for interpretation/denial with survey results and more respect among elites for the findings that with, say, evidence for global warming, especially if polls taken by Republicans (or Fox News) show the same pattern as the others. That doesn't negate the epistemic closure theory in my mind.

    Clearly, the way Mitt Romney is behaving suggests that he perceives that success in the GOP primaries requires fealty to the conservative party line du jour, even when it requires comically transparent flip-flopping and denunciation of one's own previous landmark policy initiatives. How much of a distinction will remain by early 2012 on substance--which is what I think Sanchez et al. were discussing--between him and Palin, as opposed to style/personality? (Perhaps they will have a knock-down debate over whether the USA should drop a nuclear bomb on Iran or simply proceed with a conventional invasion.)

    Dave H

  3. Dave,

    It's a limited claim: if the GOP nominates Palin, then they've lost touch with reality. There's all sorts of reasons they might not nominate her, including the fairly good chance she won't be interested by then. But, yeah, I think there's a reasonable chance that the situation is bad enough that they really can't read the polls. If you take what they say at face value, then that would be the case (they claim, for example, that the ACA is very unpopular, when in fact it's just below 50/50). The probably is there's no way, right now, to know whether that's spin or their honest beliefs.


    If conservative/Republican leaders united against a candidate, I think that candidate has no chance at all. Don't believe me? Look at Crist/Rubio.

  4. *Her unpopularity with the American people as a whole is irrelevant - see Clinton, 1992, elected with 43% of the vote. *

    Really, this analogy only works when there's a third-party candidate who can draw at least 19 percent of the vote.
    In a straight-up red-vs.-blue election, she gets crushed.

  5. Jonathan, I think there might be a contradiction in your position.

    Here you say Palin 2012 will be the real test whether Republican party leaders believe their nonsense rhetoric.

    Elsewhere you say that in your framework non-officials such as Rush or Ailes or Hannity are party leaders.

    You also have noted the Republican Party is in an unusual situation where major party leaders (Rush, Ailes) are insufficiently incentivized to win elections, since losing elections and stirring up anger in the base is good for ratings.

    Mightn't party leaders (per your definition) both know the rhetoric is nonsense and support Palin? By that logic Palin 2012 is no test as to what they "believe".

    The test still makes sense if you restrict it to official party leaders, but who are they now?

    Steele? Pawlenty? McCain? Romney? Cheney? McConnell? Palin? (did quitting erase any claim she has?)

    I'm not sure the current Republican Party has a functioning official leadership. That seems precarious with so many unofficial party leaders unafraid of defeat.

    Discredited as he is, the Republican Party really needs GWB to step in and supply some adult leadership to a listing ship. Sadly, even after eight years it remains unclear that GWB is either a leader or an adult.

    “He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.”
    Chinese proverb

  6. Tom,

    Really good point. So if Palin wins the nomination, it could mean that the GOP is cut off from reality -- or it could mean that the party leaders who have an incentive to lose are in control and acting on that incentive. Which would mean that Rush et al. are *not* cut off from reality; they would correctly understand that Palin would be a lousy candidate, but they would be in favor of that!

    I'll have to think about that one.

    I guess the next question is: how does one go about studying that empirically?

  7. Andrew,

    Your counterarguments aren't very convincing. Specifically:

    >Her unpopularity with the American people as a whole is irrelevant - see Clinton, 1992, elected with 43% of the vote.

    Winning with a minority of the popular vote happens because there is a major third-party contender, not because the winner is necessarily unpopular. Show me polls from 1992 where Clinton was disapproved of and considered unqualified by an overwhelming majority of Americans, and we can talk.

    >Her intellectual shortcomings don't matter - see W. Bush, 2000 and 2004

    That's a pretty black and white way of understanding "intellectual shortcomings." There's a clear downward slide when you go from Dubya to Palin, which is why many of Dubya's former supporters have been singularly unimpressed by Palin. Dubya had political skills that Palin does not seem to have, and unlike her he knew how to shut up and listen to his handlers. He also successfully courted the center in 2000, something Palin would sooner swallow arsenic than even attempt to do, if her past behavior is any indication.

  8. Our experience with Palin is that the more people see of her the less impressed they are. She is a niche candidate who already has all the support she is going to get.

  9. @Kylopod:

    It's far from impossible that Palin will run on a third-party ticket, or that someone else will run on a third-party ticket if Palin is the GOP nominee.

    Perot's run in '92 was no coincidence: there was a solid faction of voters who were sick of Bush but wouldn't touch Clinton with a 10-foot pole. I don't think it's outrageous to suggest that the same thing might happen again in 2012.

    In that situation, Palin wouldn't even need to appeal to the center like Bush did in 2000 (I think he lost most of the center in 2004 and still won). All she needs to do is rile up her base and hope that unemployment stays around 10% for the next couple of years.

    (See Andrew Sullivan's latest screed for more on why the concept of GOP "leaders" preventing Palin from winning the nomination is hogwash.)

  10. I agree there may well be a significant third-party challenger in 2012, and it could be Palin herself, or someone challenging Palin as the GOP nominee.

    But whoever it is, the likely effect will be to split the GOP vote, making it easier for the Democrats to win, even if they are unpopular.

    No third-party candidate since Lincoln has ever won the presidency, and after Lincoln the effect of third-party candidates has always been to weaken the chances of the major party that the third party is closest to.

    If Obama, or whoever the Democrats nominate in 2012, gets challenged by a Nader-type candidate who manages to get at least 10% of the popular vote, that could possibly allow Palin to win the presidency. But that sort of scenario doesn't look very likely right now.

    By the way, I agree 100% with Sullivan's post.


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