Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Two articles this morning, a WaPo piece by Dan Balz and another by Michael Sheer in the NYT, both use the excuse of Haley Barbour's exit to analyze why the GOP field is so small (at least if one only counts the candidates with a plausible chance of winning).

I can only repeat what I've been saying: it's not that the field is small; it's that the winnowing has begun early.

Now, on top of that, it's possible we'll wind up with a normal sized field of candidates in Iowa, with Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Mitch Daniels joining Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. But the key point here is that the GOP field for 2012 surely included those five and Barbour and John Thune and perhaps a couple others.

I sort of covered this yesterday, but just to be clear...we don't know what's happening with every case. But Barbour clearly was doing the things that candidates do who are running for the nomination when we're a year and less away from the Iowa caucuses, and it's not unreasonable to conclude that it didn't go as well as he hoped. Now, again, we don't know what his threshold was. Some candidates (say, Chris Dodd) are willing to keep pushing up to the point where the voters get involved, even if it's clear that their once-promising hopes have been reduced to a sliver of vague possibility. Others aren't willing to continue -- and that's the correct word, continue -- unless they retain a good chance of winning.

So what happened with Barbour (and Thune, and Mike Pence, and perhaps others)? Maybe he failed repeatedly to hit fundraising goals. Maybe some key endorsers notified him they were going with other candidates. Maybe the polling came back all wrong (not just the topline numbers, which we know stunk for him, but maybe they tested some attack lines and got bad news back).

And, yes, maybe given the same bad or mixed news, Dodd or Joe Biden or someone else might have stuck around; it could be that Barbour really did lack a bit of "fire in the belly" as he said in his withdrawal statement.

But, look, we call this period the "invisible primary" for a reason: just like in the state-by-state primaries to come next year, the current contest has winners and losers, and the losers tend to drop out. Now, some potential candidates really haven't contested the invisible primary...I haven't read anything, for example, about Jeb Bush. So I'll chalk him up as a "did not run." But those who hired staff, sought endorsements, traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina -- they contested the invisible primary. They were candidates for 2012. Even if they didn't quite make it all the way to 2012.


  1. But wasn't there an invisible primary in 2008 that would have included all the candidates that made it to the real primary plus a whole lot more? I guess what I'm asking is...at this point last year was the clear field bigger or smaller than what we have today...or has the invisible primary gotten invisibler?

  2. It's not all that different from when candidates drop out after New Hampshire. Mathematically, they could easily win, but they've measured enthusiasm for their run and seen there basically is none. However, Huckabee and maybe Jeb Bush too, are more like Cuomo 92 or Gore 04, who might be more deterred by the incumbent than their path to the nomination. And Daniels, if he doesn't run, was probably winnowed by his wife. Sorry that sounds so inappropriate for children.

  3. @Jim- I'd need to do some more digging on the Republican side in '08, but I'd say the Dem side definitely had an invisible, winnowing phase. Clark, Daschle, and Feingold talked about testing the waters. Warner was clearly examining things. And hell, Bayh and Vilsack ANNOUNCED, then skedaddled. So this isn't anything new.

  4. Aren't both linked articles really more about how GOP elites think running against Obama is a death march?

  5. I think that Barbour just realized that he couldn't beat Obama. Some Republicans spun the story as Barbour thinking that Democrats would frame Barbour as a Southern racist, which is a spin on the truth: Barbour is a Southern racist, and he realized that he could not win the Presidency as a Southern racist. He has made a number of slip-ups on race recently, and that probably helped him reach his conclusion to drop out of the race. Some of those slip-ups include saying that the "Citizens Councils" which notoriously segregated and disenfranchised blacks were a good thing and he also pretended that there was little racism going on at the time that he was becoming a man in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Era which is a laughable lie.

  6. I really disagree with those who say that Barbour (or Thune) dropped out because they realized they couldn't beat Obama. Makes no sense; Obama hasn't suddenly gotten any stronger. Much more likely that they found the nomination tougher than they hoped, since stuff is actually happening with that.


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