Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is It Over Before Iowa?

So has Mitt Romney wrapped up the nomination?

I've been saying forever that Romney and Rick Perry are the only viable candidates, but it's getting harder and harder to imagine Perry rebounding. Jonathan Chait has a typical (and fun) version of the "Perry's toast" take on the debates. Nate Silver, however, has a somewhat more measured approach, concluding that Intrade's current 5% or so odds for Perry sound about right.

The case again Perry still being viable is obvious: party actors aren't going to invest in a campaign that's spiraling down or a candidate who just guaranteed he'll be a national laughingstock for a while, at least.

The case for him?

He seems to be handling the gaffe in good cheer, hitting the morning shows and planning a visit to Letterman tonight. Could that possibly earn him a bit of sympathy? It's also, don't forget, a ton of publicity for a candidacy that was starting to have difficulty breaking through the assumption that he was old news only (ask Michele Bachmann about how easy that is to get), and that's outside of the frenzy about Herman Cain's (alleged) misbehavior, a frenzy unlikely to go away soon. Can he find a way to take advantage?

(By the way, note that one of the reasons Cain's head-to-head polling numbers haven't tanked in the last week could easily be that in a race in which most voters aren't yet engaged, the massive publicity for Cain mean that he may be the only candidate some voters have actually heard of. I'd pay more attention to the favorable/unfavorable ratings).

Beyond that, the logic for Perry remains, really, the same as it's ever been: if you assume as I do that Cain, Gingrich, Bachmann, Santorum, Paul, and Huntsman are not going to win because they don't fit into the group of candidates with conventional qualifications who are in the party's mainstream on policy, then you are left with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. And if that's the case, then Perry has to absorb whatever percentage of the chance to win that Romney doesn't take. I don't know what that is -- Romney has clearly moved into the lead -- but whatever it is, that's Perry's chance.

Unless, of course, I'm wrong about Cain, Newt, et al. That's what Ed Kilgore argues in a new (pre-debate, for what its worth) TNR piece. I continue to disagree, but go ahead and read the case he makes. I just don't buy it -- and I'll note that while Kilgore says we should "follow the lead of Republican voters," the truth is that those voters haven't said anything yet and won't until January. All we have so far is polls which may just be showing name recognition and recent publicity. So perhaps he's right that the usual rules won't work, but then again it's also fairly likely that the usual rules are working just fine, and they delivered a contest that Mitt Romney has won, or almost won.

At any rate: I'll stick with my usual belief that there's upwards of 90%, and probably upwards of 95%, chance that a candidate with conventional credentials who holds mainstream conservative views will win the nomination, and that given who is running now that means either Romney or Perry. I've never made any prediction between them, but I have no reason to doubt the consensus that Romney has (at least) a solid lead in that race. Beyond that, I don't know, so I'm not going to venture any guesses.


  1. Should more Romney endorsements start flowing in these next couple weeks then, if it's all so clear to sane Republicans that he's the one to go with? Or at least some more endorsements of both Romney and Perry? If they're clearly the only two viable options, then it shouldn't be too hard for politicians to choose who they should endorse, since they clearly represent different wings/factions and power bases.

  2. Kilgore writes: "The criteria for seriousness in the sub-primary being conducted by the Tea Party to choose a champion against Mitt Romney are not the same as the conventional criteria for the party as a whole."

    To whatever extent Kilgore's argument about seriousness is worth taking seriously, then, in addition to bolstering the "this time maybe it really is different" position, it also would suggest that the nomination can't really be settled until the convention votes.

    This is always true, just always unlikely - that the super-skeleton from the super-closet suddenly rambles forth, or an assassin acts, suspending all of the rules but confirming them as the typical exception.

    The TP wants to BE that typical exception. It's the one and only reason for its existence, even (especially?) now.

    Not that I think Palin is about to jump in, but her stated decision rationale was whether a true conservative would or wouldn't be able to carry the banner. I think the blogger is probably right, and it's "probably Romney, but just maybe Perry even now," but if it could somehow be Cain or somehow be Gingrich, then why couldn't it be Palin/Huckabee/Christie/Daniels/Jeb/(?) ?

  3. "(By the way, note that one of the reasons Cain's head-to-head polling numbers haven't tanked in the last week could easily be that in a race in which most voters aren't yet engaged, the massive publicity for Cain mean that he may be the only candidate some voters have actually heard of. I'd pay more attention to the favorable/unfavorable ratings)."

    I wrote the below thinking you were talking about his numbers in the GOP race, but then re-read the above to imply head-to-head against Obama. Even if so, I think the conclusion might be similar. Anyways:

    I'm not so certain about this. The Gallup tracking data seems to imply exactly the different conclusion: that Cain has only become stronger the more Republicans hear about him. His recognition numbers were lower than pretty much everybody until recently and even now fewer recognize him than Perry, Romney, or Bachmann.

    What is interesting is that his positive intensity score has been pretty consistently in the mid-20s, even when not many people knew of him. The score has remained steady, however, even as more Republicans hear of him - again indicating the inverse of the stated chain of events.

    Ultimately, the harassment stuff may kill his 'candidacy,' but time will tell about that.

  4. JB:

    I don't think he has a chance myself, but could you explain what prevents Rick Santorum from being a "credible candidate"? After all, he was a Senator of a good-sized state and a fairly well-known part of the Republican Senate leadership as well. Is it that he's been out of office for so long? Is it the scale of his loss to Bob Casey in 2006? Is there something aberrant in his political views?

  5. MacLeod, What about Kilgore's analysis makes you think it goes all the way to the convention? I didn't follow. I think it's clear he's right that the Tea Party (or TP-sympathetic) primary voters aren't applying the normal rules of qualification or else they wouldn't have deserted Rick Perry en masse for Herman Cain?

    JB, Also not sure what the basis is for saying no candidate without conventional qualifications can win. The precedent for open Republican primaries without an incumbent president or vice is only 4: 1980, 1996, 2000, 2008. In the first 3 of these, you had establishment-approved frontrunners (with conventional qualifications) with weak resistance from the conservative base? But isn't it the last part that matters more than the conventional qualifications or lackthereof of the rival contenders? Reagan beat Bush Sr not because the latter's lack of conventional qualifications but the former's lack of veto-worthy flaws. Reagan was a conservative hero. Romney is not. The base's resistance to him will likely be strong enough to give an unconventional resume-ed rival a chance. And if that rival ends up blowing it, it'll probably owe less to their unconventional qualifications than to Rick Perryesque problems: political heresies, disastrous debate or have a problematic personal scandal.

  6. Anon @3:40, wasn't suggesting that "all the way to the convention" was Kilgore's expectation, only that it followed logically from the "this time it's different/there are no rules" premise. You could concoct several scenarios under which a convention challenge could be mounted - I think it was Tony Blankley doing so just the other day. The more salient point is that if we can call organization-less outliers like Cain or Gingrich credible or almost-credible - "serious" - then why couldn't we call any of a number of possible late entrants at-least-as-serious, arguably a whole heckuva lot more serious, in the same and additional ways, if they decided to jump in after all?

  7. I'm convinced by your analysis, except for the strength given to the claim that Romney fits as someone who "holds mainstream conservative views." I think some part of that claim has to do with voter perceptions, and I strongly suspect that the median GOP voter puts any Mormon outside the category of people who 'hold mainstream conservative views'.


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