Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cranky Wednesday Blogging 2

I'm mostly still over at Plum Line still today, but I seem to be running across stuff that gets me I think it's time for some Cranky Blogging. Which I should have used for my earlier item about Ron Paul, but it's definitely appropriate for this one, about a bogus attempt by NRO's Jim Geraghty to place Iowa and New Hampshire in "perspective" by looking at the delegates up for grabs and how they are allocated.

Which misses the point entirely. Iowa and New Hampshire aren't important because of the delegates, because nomination politics is in many cases not about the delegates at all. Oh, sure: you wind up winning most of the delegates when you win. But Tim Pawlenty didn't drop out because he hadn't won any delegates. He dropped about because he believed he didn't have the resources needed to win the nomination. And doing well in the first contests remains an important factor in allocating resources. Not the only factor (the invisible primary is more crucial), but important nonetheless.

It's certainly possible to overstate the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire. But it's not because they don't send a lot of delegates to the national convention, or because they're not winner-take-all. Geraghty isn't placing them in perspective; he's yanking them out of context.


  1. I would say that the real overstatement of the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire is this-- 99 percent of the time, the favorite wins every presidential nomination. Barack Obama is the only non-favorite in my lifetime that won, and he was a second favorite with huge amounts of money behind him running against a person who was unacceptable to large parts of the Democratic electorate because of her support for the Iraq War.

    Iowa and New Hampshire do not determine presidential nominations because money and insider support and influence determine them. Iowa and New Hampshire, in contrast, are a show that is put on so the media has something to talk about. You could start with California and New York and we would have the same nominees every time.

    The problem with Iowa and New Hampshire is simply that they increase the already prevalent anti-urban and anti-minority biases is American politics, because politicians pander to them because they are first. If politicians had to pander to big states instead, the public would be better off.

    But as nominating contests, Iowa and New Hampshire don't matter at all. The nominee will always be the early favorite except in very specific circumstances.

  2. Dilan,

    That's not wrong, but it's not quite right either. Iowa and New Hampshire are an important part of how success in the invisible primary translates into actually getting nominated.

    And sometimes it's not clear who won the invisible primary, and Iowa/NH help clarify that. It was true in 2004 on the Democrat's side, and I think in 1996 for the GOP.

    And it's basically true this time around, as well. Romney perhaps "won" the invisible primary, but probably not decisively. There's a non-zero chance that it won't take. Iowa and NH are mostly this year part of the process of Romney winning the nomination, but they also provide a chance for (probably only one or two of) the losers of the invisible primary to appeal the verdict.

  3. 2004 is not the mystery you seem to think it was. Kerry was the presumptive nominee at least 2 years out. Same with Dole in 1996. The fact that they lost their leads in the polls is irrelevant; daily tracking polls are statistical noise and are not elections. Indeed, the fact that favorites fall "behind" and "come back" to win is powerful evidence of how unimportant this all is.

    The thing is you have to basically ignore everything the media says in covering the horse race. The horse race is a show, which is necessary because the media needs drama and will always contrive to find it.

    Romney IS the nominee. That's totally uninteresting, but it's true.


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