Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Anti-Romney

Josh Putnam tweeted:
There will be anti-Romney. Perry still best positioned.
I don't think that's quite right, or at least I don't think it gets at how things play (of course, to be fair it's a tweet, so of course he didn't lay out the full case for what will happy; I'm just using it as an excuse).

Anyway: I think there's a very live possibility that there will be effectively be no anti-Romney -- that Romney will wrap things up in the next few weeks, and the primaries and caucuses will just be about making it official.

That's what appears to have happened on both sides in 2000. Wait, you're asking -- both sides? Yup. As I read it, the late McCain challenge to George W. Bush was really a sideshow, with Bush having already wrapped up the nomination by securing the backing of the overwhelming bulk of party actors (and facing attempted vetoes from none of them). Even when the nomination is settled, a rogue candidate can fight on, and might even win a few states (and on the Democratic side, can win some delegates), but it doesn't really have anything to do with actually nominating a candidate. That's easy to see when it happens after the winner has already accumulated enough delegates to win, but it can be just as true, I think, even in Iowa and New Hampshire.

So one possibility is that Romney wins early, but even if that's the case someone will at least finish second in Iowa and New Hampshire, and it's even possible that someone could win in one -- maybe even both -- of those states while still not having any plausible chance of being nominated. If Cain or Bachmann or Gingrich or Santorum or Paul or Roy Moore wins early but doesn't win any significant endorsements or support from party actors, odds are he or she will fade out rapidly, and Romney will be nominated easily.

So I'm not sure that Rick Perry at this point has the best chance of winding up challenging Romney in the early states. What I do think is that if Perry gets his campaign going enough to do that, then he'll have a solid shot of actually winding up the nominee. That's why I agree with Seth Masket that Perry is still viable. But if Perry succeeds in making himself unacceptable to Republicans, then it doesn't really matter who serves as the early-state anti-Romney, because whoever it is isn't likely to come anywhere close to being nominated.


  1. Ha! Whatever excuse, right?

    I got caught up in New Hampshire in December mania and didn't get back to that point about Perry as the alternative to Romney.

    Let me explain.

    It's funny because I actually had the example of Bush/McCain in my head when I was thinking about Seth's post. There are alternatives to the frontrunner and there are alternatives to the frontrunner. Perry is stuck in between the type of alternative Obama was to Clinton in 2007-08 and the alternative McCain was to Bush in 2000. He has solid fundraising, slumping poll numbers and some elite level support. That makes him more like Obama than McCain, but the thing Perry will be fighting the most is what McCain was fighting: the inevitability of the frontrunner meme.

    Perry is the best positioned to be the alternative to Romney, but that doesn't mean that he will be able to challenge Romney much less beat him out for the Republican nomination next year. It means that he has the resources to stick around longer than anyone else and be the last office-seeking (in Norranderian terms) standing. For practical purposes, this likely means that there will be some split of the remaining big/reluctant endorsements/donors, but that they will likely favor Romney or at least not break in Perry's direction. Time just isn't on Perry's side to be anything more than McCain-plus, an alternative, but nothing more than a sideshow on steroids.

  2. Josh,

    I don't think that McCain's biggest problem was the perception of Bush's inevitability; I think his biggest problem is that GOP party actors were (foolishly, but anyway) happy with Bush, while many of them despised McCain. And that made McCain an implausible nominee.

    Even after, what was it, five years working hard to mend fences and with awful competition, all of that came close to derailing him the next time around. But in 2000? No way.

  3. I think Romney would be a welcome addition.

  4. In this, I tend to agree with Josh. Soon and very soon, I think we will see the anti-Romney vote begin to come together under one person. If I were a Romney supporter, I would be very alarmed about the fact that as other candidates inflate and deflate, none of the support comes to him.

    The examples from 2010 are legion of the Republican establishment being unable to get their preferred candidates, and while a national election would be much more difficult, I still have a feeling that this last year and next year will be quite a case-study for future generations of political scientists.

  5. Anon: I've been trying to suss out how much the polling tells us about an "anti-Romney" vote. Suffice it to say, I don't know.

    In the column of evidence for your POV are the data you refer to: Romney's numbers seem to have nothing to do with the rises and falls of everyone else's numbers.

    However, Romney is doing very well in the "2nd choice" question, consistently near the top there. That would suggest that maybe the conservatives are trying to figure out which is the best conservative candidate, not which is the best Romney-killer (though the ideal for them may, in fact, be both of those things). What I'd love to get access to (haven't found it yet) are raw data (or, at the least, crosstabs) to figure out where these second choices stack up.

    I'd like to make something of the "never consider voting for" questions, but they're just so unreliable.

    So, from what I've been able to cobble together from polling, I don't know the answer to the question of whether there's an "anti-Romney" vote. I think this may be a question better suited to JB's style of analysis than my own quantitative bent.

  6. The "2nd choice" data would be unreliable at this point, because only the geeks are paying much attention right now. It's only the first choice stuff that's close to reliable, and Romney's bumping up against a hard ceiling, and has been, even amongst significant volatility all around him. That tells me all I need to know about the anti-Romney vote. It's significant.

    Remember, Romney couldn't defeat one of the most despised men in America in 2008, and the only reason he even got to second was his own money. Nothing much has changed since then, other than he's gained the name recognition stemming from that '08 run.

    Says nothing about Cain and Perry, of course. They'd still have to get by him. But Romney is closer to a Pawlenty approach than you think (waiting around to scoop up the nomination as last man standing, but exciting nobody).

    In fact, if Pawlenty had $40M of his own money to spend, he'd still be in it, like Huntsman.


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