Monday, April 25, 2011

The Case for an Implausible GOP Nominee

To follow up on the previous item...I've been saying throughout that there's no precedent for the Republicans nominating anyone from the list of candidates who either hold (within the GOP) fringe policy positions, or do not have conventional qualifications, or appear to be disliked and mistrusted by elite Republicans, or some combination of all of that. The list currently has ten names, in no particular order: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Roy Moore, Buddy Roemer, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and John Bolton.

I'm not going to change my tune...but I will break it down a bit more, now that we're down to two active candidates other than these ten. The most likely scenario, by far, is still that either Romney or Pawlenty will win, or Palin, Huck, or Daniels will win, or even perhaps Rick Perry or Jeb Bush will win. I'd still put that at over 90%. What I think is happening is that the field is just winnowing down earlier than usual, for whatever reason.

Still, it's not entirely impossible to imagine a far-fetched string of circumstances that winds up with one of the ten winning after all. Let me check that...I'd say that Newt, Bachmann, Hunstman, and Santorum are at least plausible implausible nominees...the rest are even more unlikely.

What would it take?

First step: no one else gets in. It's just the Mittster, Pawlenty, and these ten.

Second step: one of them finishes second or first in Iowa. Not impossible! After all, I'm already assuming a situation in which one of them has to run third.

Third step: either Romney or Pawlenty then drops out, either right away or after finishing third or worse in New Hampshire.

Fourth step: the remaining plausible candidate has something go drastically wrong. Either a personal scandal, or horrible gaffe that offends movements conservatives in just the right way...something like that.

And, presto! The GOP is stuck with a nominee who will give away 5-10 points beyond the fundamentals.

Now, I know what you're thinking: what about an alternate scenario in which a Bachmann or a Newt hangs on until the winner-takes-all states, and then the crazy vote defeats the sane vote, which is split multiple ways (or at least two ways, between Romney and Pawlenty)? I don't find that one even remotely plausible. GOP elites would swiftly move in and push one of them out before the damage is done.

No, the only way that it's going to happen is if one of these candidates quickly goes into one-on-one with a presumed nominee, who then un-presumes himself or herself. Even then, it's possible that Republicans would find a way to avoid the grim results, depending on when it happens and what happens. But that's how it could play out.


  1. There's also no precedent for running against a black incumbent president amidst high unemployment & high gas prices & huge deficits.

    Ron Paul's a minor candidate and Tim Pawlenty's a major candidate? I just don't buy it.

  2. Wait. I buy the establishment rushing in to save the day from Bachmann or Palin (don't she and Huckabee belong in the "distrusted by the establishment" category?) but would they do so to stop Huntsman or Bolton? And are you so sure someone like Gingrich or Trump couldn't beat Romney one-on-one no matter what the establishment did? They've each topped him at least once in some kind of poll be it a national or a major state.

    I do think half of the "implausible" list won't even make it to Iowa.

    Also, I don't think Christie will run, but is he really that implausible if he runs? I feel like the establishment might rally to him if he got in.

  3. There's a hidden fifth step there: the dropped out candidate has to decide to stay dropped out, instead of saying "just kidding about quitting" and re-entering the race after the other plausible candidate disqualifies himself. I really don't see that happening.

  4. Anon: He doesn't mention Christie, but I think your analysis is right about him. Gary Johnson is another Governor who would do well against Obama, but currently lacks the notoriety of Christy.

    Jarrod: You're right, Pawlenty just isn't a national figure right now. But my hunch is that powerful people in the party are prepared to make it happen for him. Ron Paul doesn't have the power-brokers in his corner, but he does poll well against Obama compared with other Republicans.

  5. I just can't imagine how either Romney or Pawlenty drops out of essentially a two man race. It seems like it would take something like T-Paw coming in fifth in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

  6. Anon 6:38,

    Hard to tell about Huntsman...I think he has a much more serious form of the problem that Romney has. I assume that GOP insiders would be much more willing to put their trust in Romney or Pawlenty than in Hunstman.

    Yes, I'm confident that Newt, Bachmann, Trump, etc. couldn't beat Romney/Pawlenty one on one -- actually, I don't think those three would have a chance in a fair fight, let alone with GOP elites (broadly understood) putting a large finger on the scale.

    As far as Cristie is concerned,

    He has two strikes against him if he jumped in now: a very late start, and very little big league political experience. I'm really not sure that Perry, Jeb, and Daniels can really afford this late a start (Daniels, it seems to me, has more of a running start than the others); for anyone else, I just think it's highly unlikely for it to work.

  7. JB: What I think is happening is that the field is just winnowing down earlier than usual, for whatever reason.

    I want to know what that reason is. That's what has me so perplexed about Barbour. This isn't Liddy Dole dropping out of 2000 becuase Bush has it sown up. This isn't Mark Warner dropping out of 2008 because Obama, Clinton and Edwards are sucking up all the oxygen. This is something else, becuase this is a weak GOP field. The answer for how Barbour got the nod was the same as for everyone else: all the other candidates got vetoed. He still had a plausible shot at the nomination, as near as I could tell. Not Romney, Huck, Palin, or T-Paw plausible, but plausible nonetheless.

  8. @Matt- it's probably a different reason for all of the candidates that have "dropped out" so far, isn't it? My guess is, for someone like Barbour, it was more to do with finding a path to victory in the general. For Romney or T-Paw, that path is obvious, win back the Bush states, maybe pick up PA and NH. But Barbour had to really wonder how he'd do in those places.

    @ Jarrod- Well, the gas prices are gonna come down, as they always do. For that matter, unemployment is coming down, too, and the black incumbent is pretty much treated like a typical Democrat at this point. So all we've got is "incumbent amongst high, but dropping, unemployment and high deficits" and, well, we do have precedent for that.

  9. @Colby: but that was the landscape for Barbour 6 months ago, 9 months ago, 2 years ago. I just don't know what changed for him in the meantime.

  10. Yeah, true, and I certainly don't know what's going on in his head. But it might be like- y'know, it's one thing for you and me to say Barbour has little hope of swinging Ohio or PA or wherever, but it's quite a different thing for Barbour's pollster to say it, backed up by hard data, etc. But there's plenty of other possibilities, too (didn't hit fundraising goals, hated Iowans, etc.)

  11. Matt,

    Two possibilities I'm aware of: one, that the longer we have stable rules and stable parties the easier it is for parties to coordinate; two, the post-matching funds money environment.

    I suspect it's both.

  12. You have far more expertise in this field than I, but I think you underestimate the power of small but focused, vocal and active minorities, especially in caucuses and primaries.


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