Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ryan Might Run! Christie Might Run! Reagan Might Run!

OK, I made up that last one, but what are we to make of the sudden avalanche of rumors that either Paul Ryan or Chris Christie is about to get into WH 2012?

There are several questions to ask:

1. Are the rumors true? It's certainly possible that (for example) Christie's pollster might have tossed in a couple questions about a presidential run, or even something tangential to that, for a focus group even if there's no real serious plan to get it. As Jonathan Chait said this morning, interpreting potential candidates' denials of interest is a fine art indeed, and it leaves all sorts of misinterpretation very possible -- especially for anyone who has an interest in or a preference for a new candidacy.

2. If Christie or Ryan got in, would they be plausible nominees? I'll give the same answer to this that I've always had: they would not. Members of the House don't get nominated, and rarely compete seriously for the nomination. Ryan would be a whole lot closer to Dick Gephardt than to Michele Bachmann, so all things being equal he'd be a more plausible nominee, but that's not saying much. Christie? Again, giving a nomination to a recently-elected governor wouldn't quite be unprecedented (Woodrow Wilson), but there are good reasons it doesn't happen often at all. And all things aren't equal; it's very, very late to jump in from scratch, which is (as far as we know) what they would be doing.

Note: They could get in anyway! I'm sure there are plenty of people close to both who absolutely believe that Ryan/Christie are heavyweights among the lightweights, and sure nominees if they were to get in...and plenty of consultants who would be happy to pretend to believe it if it helps them pick up a nice check (or: plenty of consultants who sincerely believe that they could steer anyone willing to take their advice straight into the White House).

3. If it's not about Christie or Ryan actually getting in, what's driving it? This is a really big question. It could be a few individuals who for whatever reason don't like Rick Perry. Or, it could be important groups within the party who are genuinely searching for an alternative. That's probably very difficult to report on, but such reporting could help us sort this out.

I'll stick to what I've been saying. My guess is that neither Christie or Ryan will actually get in. If they do, I'll continue to call them implausible nominees until proven otherwise. It's not inconceivable that an implausible nominee could win, but I've set the chances at well under 10%, and see no reason to change that now. There's just an enormous amount of grass-is-greener thinking going on here, sparked among other things by the length and, well, invisibility of most of the invisible primary.

And at any rate, I needed an excuse to quote Alex Pareene's reaction:
I dunno, does Chris Christie screaming insults at a room full of random people really count as a "focus group"?


  1. It occurred to me recently that the Tea Partiers may in practice be unwilling to support anyone who is anything but a member of the House, a very recently-elected governor, or something similar. That is because anyone who has a more traditional resume has very likely been forced in the past to make the sorts of compromises and otherwise do the sorts of reality-based things the Tea Partiers won't tolerate. We discovered that with Romney and Pawlenty, and now it is starting to happen with Perry too as people go over his record.

    Of course it may well be that the previous history and logic of presidential nominations will win out over the Tea Partiers in 2012. But I am never 100% confident in such predictions, particularly in light of what has happened in some other Republican primary contests recently.

  2. We could also get an early start on that other parlor game, unless the sun explodes or some such, certain to be the basis of several blog posts or op-eds until the nomination is actually settled - what about a brokered convention or something close? How do we compute the odds of that?

    I think the Tea Partarians would love it... would go well with the stances against direct election of senators, the income tax, unions...

  3. @BrianTH

    I've had just that thought for a while now. Most of the Tea Party stars of 2010 were genuine newcomers to the national scene, and even some of them occasionally veered off message (such as when Rubio suggested we should keep the ACA's ban on exclusions for preexisting conditions). Veteran pols behind the TP movement, such as Dick Armey, have stayed mostly behind the scenes, away from scrutiny.

    Tea Partiers still talk about Obama's inexperience, of course, but it's pretty much an empty talking point, just one of their numerous ways of saying "I hate Obama." I've seen no evidence that they value experience in their own candidates, and if anything, the opposite seems to be true. You can see an example of this disconnect at this very blog earlier this week, when the troll called Anonymous argued that Michelle Bachmann was more qualified to be president than Barack Obama. (After I singlehandedly demolished Anonymous's arguments, the commenter pretended not to have read my post.) Anyone who has actually had to govern is likely not to pass the TP's purity test. I truly believe that the only person who would satisfy this crowd would be Zombie Reagan (a very different animal from the real Reagan, who would be denounced as a RINO if he lived today). There are elements of this type of thinking on the left--those who attack Obama for not passing a Krugman-style stimulus and single-payer health-care, totally ignoring the question of whether he had the votes in Congress for either--but it reaches almost epic proportions in the Tea Party.

  4. Kylopod,

    I'm calling "foul" on that one. Anonymous is surely wrong about experience being an effective issue against Obama in 2012, but he or she is not, by my definition at least, a troll. Feel free to demolish arguments, but please refrain from personal judgments.


    The Management

  5. Oh, trust me, Obama's status as an inexperienced neophyte is alive and well with the mainstream of the country, my lefty friends.

    That's why R governors are coming out of the woodwork to run... they know the lay of the electoral land... and even if they don't they've all got campaign hustlers explaining it to them.

    A governor is going to take out Obama first Tuesday of November 2012, and they want to be that governor.

    Exhibit 4,877 of Obama's fecklessness occurred yesterday, when he elevated a candidate in the Republican primary, while simultaneously opening himself up for attack later on this campaign season.

    Just a pure amateur mistake, the kind made by those who've never actually had to do anything but participate in coronations (and yes, super delegates coronated him in 2008).

  6. Anon,

    With all due respect -- why should we trust you on that? Around here, we'd like to hear evidence, or at least a reasonably strong argument.

    Of course, some people who dislike Obama will find or invent reasons to believe that they dislike him. But overall, there's no evidence *at all* that he's particularly unpopular given the economy. One can certainly argue that he's done a lousy job as president, which then affects the economy, which then affects his popularity; I don't especially buy it, but it's a plausible argument. But the idea that given the economy he's particularly unpopular is, sorry, ridiculous.

  7. Anon:
    I'm sorry, but your white-hot hatred of Obama (it's VERY clear from the posts you make here) makes it quite difficult to trust that your opinions aren't biased.

    You may be right that Obama will lose next year. But the reason will be quite plain: after 4 years of a bad economy, Obama will have inherited the blame for it. It doesn't matter whether it's true or not; it's pretty hard to directly blame Bush for the state of the economy in 2008. The GOP still lost, and McCain's vote share is almost exactly what a model based on the economy (as well as Prez approval) would have predicted.

    With Obama at 39% (mostly because of the economy), and the economy being bad, it doesn't look good for Obama's chances. But our models have predicted presidential vote shares pretty decently for the entire post-WWII period, and I fail to see how 2012 is that different. This is also true in all industrialized democracies: if you know the state of the economy, you have a really good guess at whether or not the incumbent will win. Simply put: people seem to behave as if the performance of the economy is the number one influence on aggregate vote choice in any modern democracy.

    And the experience argument? Really? Say what you will about Obama circa 2008, but for anyone to make the claim that they have more relevant experience for being president than the guy who's done the job for 4, yeah. You can make the argument that Obama's values are out of sync with the US, or that he's not intellectually up to the task, or that he has the wrong temperment. But any argument based on experience in 2012 is just laughable. I don't think any challenger has ever accused a sitting president of being inexperienced at being president.

  8. Your implausible scenario included Pawlenty dropping out after NH. Now that he's already dropped out after Ames, does it change your calculations?

  9. Jim,

    Well, Pawlenty went from in and relatively healthy at that point to caput, Daniels and Huck went from maybe to out, and Jeb and Palin both appear less likely to win it now than they were then...against that, Perry went from inactive to fully active. I think, if you balance all that, it probably means that Team Implausible has move up a couple of ticks.

    On the other hand, the potential entries from Team Implausible have lost another four months (unless we find out that one of them really has been actively campaigning all summer, but even then the active part of the campaign has lost four months). I didn't talk about Ryan/Christie/etc in that post, but that was at least part of it.

    So all told, it was in rare event territory then, and it would be in rare event territory now, but I could see arguments either way over specific estimates.

  10. Oh, I don't hate Obama. I think he's a failed president, yes, and has about zero chance at reelection because of that failure.

    And you're correct, no campaign opponent is going to come out and say "he's inexperienced". But I'm a dog, and I hear all the dog whistles, and these are starting to sound like the ones I heard in 1980.

    He's failed at least partially because he's an inexperienced neophyte. Hillary knew that. Folks know that now, and they'll act accordingly. We'll have to disagree with that, but I don't see any changes from that initial assessment. He's still making blunders. But the most important part of it is the failure itself. The reasons why he's failed don't matter, lack of experience or otherwise.

    But those reasons would include that he's upside down on most all major issues. See Gallup. That may be the only near direct measure of folks thoughts as regards his competency.

    Yes, it's always the economy, stupid. I'm stupid and even I know that. But more than that, this guy is getting perilously close to having that invisible switch go off, something that sometimes occurs in December/January time frame, generally, when the electorate grades an incumbent's report card and makes a decision. Can this guy do the job? Twice in my lifetime, that switch let off an audible "click". I think we'll be hearing it again this cycle.

  11. Devil's Advocacy perspective on the experience question: suppose GE was doing succession planning, and let's say the competition came down to Vice-Chair John Rice and...a nobody such as myself. Suppose I got the job.

    If that decision came up for review four years later, the BOD would likely not declare me "inexperienced" - at least not in the dictionary sense of the word - but they would probably still feel that Rice was much more experienced, in the sense of better equipped, for the job than a neophyte like myself.

    Of course, Obama came from a much more plausible pre-Presidential place than I do for the GE CEO job. That said, to the extent the inexperience argument is really a statement about how well equipped Obama is to be the nation's CEO, well, that's a fairly compelling argument to me.

  12. I remember a quote from What It Takes where some reporter asked Dick Gephardt in 90’ if he was going to run again and he responded something like “Why don’t you run buddy. It’s not like going across the street for lunch!” His point being running for president is one of the most consuming, trying and difficult thing any politician can do. And most people who try it fail. It exists in the realm of possibility (in a mathematical sense) that a Ryan or Christie might run, but its not something most politicians—especially savy ones like Ryan and Christie—do on a whim.

    As far as speculative candidates we can all start yakking about how about someone with experience in the business realm and national politics? And he's from a state the GOP needs to win as well! He’s rested, he’s ready, (everybody all together now) DRAFT QUAYLE IN 2012!

  13. Hey, if I had been blogging in whichever year it was that Quayle ran (2000, right?) I would have been calling him viable up to the point he dropped out, and at this point I'd be fielding cheap shots about it.


    Well, I'm not really going to play along because I hate CEO/president analogies. But what I would say about it is that it's perfectly reasonable to assess whether Obama's relative inexperience, or specific parts of his background, have been relevant to his conduct in office. But the idea that "he's inexperienced" is going to resonate as a campaign message against an incumbent president is just goofy.

    Now, what I can imagine is a condescending "nice guy, just isn't up to the job" kind of message.

    Keeping in mind at all times that mostly what matters here is the reality of the economy and other events. If 2012 is a recession year, then any message and almost any candidate will win.

  14. All this discussion. Well, take it from a poorly-educated amateur: before the next 18 Republican debates and before the next several months go by, I'll tell ya right not that Rick Perry IS the nominee, and he CAN win. To me, it's terrifying and unthinkable, but things truly are that bad for the right and for voter turnout.

  15. "If 2012 is a recession year, then any message and almost any candidate will win."

    That's when political science manages to annihilate its own supposed subject.

  16. Now, what I can imagine is a condescending "nice guy, just isn't up to the job" kind of message.

    Exactly what the GE BOD would have said about me after four muddling years at the head of that organization.

    (Minus the 'nice guy' part, of course).

  17. CSH,

    If you negotiate 0% corporate income tax payments for GE, you'll be rehired with a raise. ;-)

    I'd remind you all, those of you speaking of the "economy" as root issue here, about what happened in November 2010.

    That wasn't an affirmation of Republicans, who the electorate want waterboarded, as we all know.

    It was a vicious backlash against what Obama and Pelosi did. Bailouts, Porkulus, Cap and Tax and ObamaCare. Yes, all of these digressions taking place in time of bad economy, but let's make sure we understand what the people understand. They don't blame Obama for this economy... even today if you check the numbers (they will get to that from now until November 2012, doubtless).

    However, they do and did blame Obama for pushing for leftist dogma in that bad economy, during which he hasn't focused like a laser beam on it.

    That's why the Left got viciously smashed, and it was a direct slap to them, make no mistake. We're not prophylactically sealed off from November 2010, as we move into 2012. Obama is going to face the music for what he's done, just as Pelosi's crew did.

  18. One of the main arguments used against "Obamacare" in the 2010 campaign is that it cut Medicare (radical forms of this message being that it would subject Medicare recipients to "death panels"). I'm not entirely sure winning with that message constitutes a repudiation of "leftist dogma".

    Generally, as I understand it there is a lot of reason to believe that heightened economic anxiety tends to increase status quo bias, such that voters become more conservative in the small-c sense (meaning they become adverse to significant changes in policy). But that isn't the same thing as saying people have adopted Movement Conservatism, which in its own way seeks equally radical changes in U.S. policy.

    And I think recent polling is bearing that out--voters dislike the House Republicans' agenda as much or more as they disliked the Democratic agenda. And again, that is because people just don't like any sort of ambitious policy agenda when they are filled with economic anxiety, whether that agenda is "Left" or "Right".

    Of course they also don't like "do nothing" officials. Which more or less puts incumbents during times of heightened economic anxiety in a very difficult situation, which of course we knew.

  19. Oh, Pelosi and Obama "did something"... and we saw the electorate's reaction to that something last November. ;-)

    And as for the electorate's reaction to what the other crew is doing, well, all we have on the table to view right now is that Wisconsin SC judge election, and the recalls of an R in a +20D district, and of a philandering R nepotist, in trade for massive leftist upheaval and several tens of millions of leftist dollars. A strategic defeat politically, and of course no change on policy.

    Gimme odds, and I'll bet Walker both faces no recall and wins +55% next election.

    So what we can firmly say is that the Left got smashed last November for what they did, and got repulsed in Wisconsin for fighting what their opposition did. We'll see how that referendum in Ohio goes down. The Left and the public employee labor unions absolutely MUST win there... that is their last stand, I'd say. Apres that, le deluge. Every state in the union is gonna be watching that one. You could have right-to-work states sprouting like mushrooms.

  20. I'll miss reading the comments on this blog, but one can only read so many "The Electorate SPOKE Last November!" posts before you realize the direction the conversation's going.



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