Thursday, December 1, 2011

State of the Race/WH 2012 Notes

I've been saying at various places that I don't think Romney is done for, and I still don't think that Newt is a plausible candidate. Just to put some clarifications about what I'm thinking overall in the same place, plus some of things I haven't followed up on...

No, I haven't ruled out Rick Perry yet. He's run an awful campaign, and campaigns matter a lot in primary elections. Maybe it really is his back; maybe Kevin Drum was right all along and Perry is just too stupid. No idea, but it sure has been a terrible campaign. Nevertheless, I'm still where I've been all along: there's at least a 90% chance, and probably around 98%, that the winner will be a mainstream conservative with conventional credentials, and the only two remaining who fit that are Romney and Perry. What I used to say, including when Perry was surging, was that I had no idea how to apportion that 98% between the two of them; what I've been saying now for the last few weeks is that obviously Romney is ahead. But I haven't tried to break that down into odds because I really don't know how to calculate it.

Granted, this is basically what I said about Pawlenty as his campaign was dissipating. So make of it what you will...I guess I'll say that I think both Romney (at 50%) and Perry (at 2%) are clear buys to me at Intrade right now.

I need to also answer Neil Sinhababu's Newt-optimist post* which cleverly uses me against myself to make the case for Newt. He notes that I've argued in the past that the GOP entertainment division (Rush, Fox News, everyone hawking books) creates perverse incentives because they're probably better off financially with a Democrat in the White House. If that's so, why shouldn't they support Newt?

If that were the case, and I do think it's depressingly plausible, I think we would be seeing a little more consistent support for Newt from the fringier politicians than we've seen so far (indeed, they would have jumped on the Bachmann or Cain bandwagon earlier, too). I guess that while I do think there's some effect here, the way it's working out is on issue positions. Put it this way: in normal parties there's tension between purists who want positions that are poison in the general election, and pragmatists who just want to win; the conservative marketplace (I think that's my brother's phrase) tilts the scales towards the purists. It can do that with candidates, too, but I guess I just don't buy that the incentives wind up dictating a Bachmann, Cain, or Gingrich nomination. After all, there are still a lot of pols that just want to win elections, and campaign and governing professionals and party-aligned interest groups who also would rather win. I think it might help explain why joke candidates have displaced mediocre non-joke candidates as the high-profile losers, but I think that's all.

Naturally, however, in the unlikely even that they do nominate Newt, I'll be happy to have anyone make the argument that I called it. and ignore the dozens of blog posts and columns and tweets and whatever in which I explicitly said the opposite. I am taking credit for calling (along with Josh Putnam and others) that Romney would contest Iowa.

One more thing that came up in comments the other day that I want to be clear about. When I say that party actors generally determine nominations, I'm very much not saying that "insiders" or "the establishment" do so; lots of party actors, certainly including activists but also including even some elected officials, don't think of themselves that way and don't coordinate with those they believe are the "establishment." Also: I not only believe that nominations do work that way, but I believe that they should work that way, but only on the condition that parties are internally democratic in some real sense and are highly permeable. Under those conditions, I think nominations in which party actors play the dominant role are more democratic than those in which the voters make choices without party intermediation. I don't believe that about general elections because the presence of partisan cues makes it easy for voters to be sufficiently informed that they can make reasonable choices, and because the democratic stakes are different for elections compared to nominations.

*And a chance to make my vocabulary clear: candidate "optimists" are those who think the candidate will win or do well; candidate pessimists are those who think the candidate will lose or do badly. Doesn't imply anything else about what one thinks about the candidate.


  1. the winner will be a mainstream conservative with conventional credentials, and the only two remaining who fit that are Romney and Perry

    Just curious - and I'm sure I could just google your archives and find the answer in minutes - but what is it about Newt that puts him out of the mainstream and unconventional, in your view?

    Sure, he's strayed from conservative orthodoxy, but not any more than the others (think about the nominee from last time around).

    And he used to be third-in-line to the presidency. Is it really that much worse to have "ex-Speaker of the House" on your candidate's resume rather than "ex-Governor"?

  2. In what sense is Newt Gingrich not a "mainstream conservative with conventional credentials"? He's certainly conservative, but not more so than Rick Perry or less so than Mitt Romney, so he's probably mainstream too.

    He was Speaker of the House, which would seem to make him the most credentialled person running. He used to be second in line for the presidency, and spent four years in one of the most powerful and influential offices in American politics.

    I don't really see a coherent definition of "mainstream conservative with conventional credentials" that includes Perry and Romney, but not Gingrich.

  3. Speaker is an odd, but not disqualifying, credential. But credentials aren't just about chalking up positive things; they're also about avoiding negatives. And he's been out of office for over a decade, which in itself puts him right on the borderline -- when's the last serious contender who had that long out of office? Plus there's an ethics scandal, plus there are the multiple marital scandals. There are no remotely similar resumes that have come anywhere close to a nomination, certainly not since reform.

  4. Gingrich isn't a conventional / mainstream candidate (if I have this right) because he's been out of office and not a candidate for anything for much longer than any major-party nominee (twice as long as Nixon, for instance), and because he launched what was obviously at the outset a "business plan" campaign, a la Herman Cain, not a serious effort to line up party actors and interest groups, raise campaign funds, set up ground operations in the early primary states, etc., the way candidate do when they're actually running to win.

    (Written before the JB response just posted, but I'll post it anyway....)

  5. what I've been saying now for the last few weeks is that obviously Romney is ahead.


    Well you may be saying it repeatedly, but that just makes it a repeated false statement, as the data tells us.

  6. While JB/Jeff do make a defense of the measure, I think that the spirit of Andrew/anon's point is a valid one.

    It forces us to ask the question: WHY must a candidate be conservative? WHY must a candidate have conventional credentials?

    The answer to the first question is obvious: the party they want the nomination of is conservative. The second one, however, I think is a question worthy of a post in itself.

    Personally, I think there's a number of reasons for "conventional credentials." Some of those reasons are specifically about the credentials themselves, but others treat the credentials as a proxy variable.

    -Fundraising ability: Folks elected to governors or senators of decent-sized states have rolodexes & name recognition that can lead to $. The elected office they held is just a decent measure of that ability; it's a proxy.

    -Name recognition: Can't get the polls needed to raise money or get support if nobody knows you. While the reason why you have name recognition is your previous job, I think it's still more proxy than real effect here. In this regard, I wonder if Bachmann and the new wave of permanent talk-show fodder MCs erode the quality of the traditional measure (or, could in the future). Proxy.

    -Getting treated as serious by the media. If they don't write stories about you, you have little chance to move your numbers. Just ask Ron Paul and his supporters! :P Anyway, Ron Paul aside, you need to get media attention to compete for poll support (which is very helpful for money). This is both a proxy effect (having the right elected office is associated with being famous) AND a real effect (as there's a reason why they get the fame). Mixed.

    -Connections to party networks. This is not a proxy effect. Conventional credentials are themselves a direct E-ticket to the party networks. In your "conventional credential" job, you are going to interact with party networks that the rank-and-file House member won't. This is where Newt is so problematic to place: Speaker -> awesome connections. Speaker 13 years ago -> well, how awesome are those connections?

    One thing, however, that I don't think should be included in the measure is Jeff's argument for "type of campaign they ran." My perspective would be that we would use that as a reason why a potential candidate lost. I also think that it's also partially a product of the "mainstream & conventionally credentialled candidate" variable. Giuliani ran the stupid Florida-only campaign that he did BECAUSE he couldn't win Iowa or NH or SC, and he couldn't win them because of ideology/credentials. His campaign tactics didn't lose him the race; it was lost because of who he was, but it may have been the best tactic available to him.

    For what it's worth, I think that Gingrich qualifies as both mainstream & conventionally credentialled, because I think his scores on dimensions 2 & 3 are really good, and dimension 4 ain't half bad.

    But, to reiterate, I'd like to have "conventionally credentialled" better defined, particularly causally, so we can suss out what the measure is telling us from what it's obscuring.

  7. I see, so you mean credentials as a candidate, not as a president. Is that accurate?

  8. Now this is an interesting political science post and it will be interesting to see how accurate it turns out to be. I think one of the major problems with pundits is they don't have to live up to their predictions. I'm sure political scientists do have to live up to theirs, one way or another.

  9. Is there evidence that Limbaugh or O'Reilly can 'deliver votes' - any votes at all?

  10. Mitt Romney's been out of office for a while too...

    And Newt Gingrich has been highly integrated into the conservative mainstream, otherwise they wouldn't have elected him Speaker. The conservative mainstream now has more in common with that of 1994 than that of the Bush years. As Speaker he was much more prominent than that office usually is. He's just not the sort of left-field candidate that Cain and Bachman are. If he gets real endorsements (and he's starting to) that makes up for his early campaign being basically a book tour. The only real problem he has is electability--this probably means his polling numbers in the primaries won't hold up and his voters may desert him for Romney. But I don't see any good argument at this point that he's less of a plausible nominee than Perry (who regardless his paper credentials is dead in the water.

  11. Following on David's question.. can we clarify whether FOX "News" Channel and Limbaugh are party actors in this context?

    See: Romney's testy experience with Bret Baier, and Newt batting down softballs from Sean Hannity. Remember this is the network that teamed up with Koch Brothers' money to grow the Tea Party movement from fringy independent seedlings into the lush astroturf lawn we know it by today.

    Newt has been around long enough to look like he has enough government credentials to be a plausible candidate, where a businessman like Cain or a mid-bencher Congresswoman like Bachmann do not.

    And I think Newt made a savvy play by making a big deal out of not going negative on Mitt. Of course he doesn't have the campaign money to go toe-to-toe with the carpet bombing Romney can self-finance, so if he has a chance to survive, he can play victim.

    I just think Newt speaks to Republicans in a language the understand, and with a combativeness they like. He's the man they want on that wall, defending the last breath of freedom they've been told for 3 years that Obama is threatening. Romney has no charisma - and if his support is a mile wide among Republican primary voters, it's three inches deep.

    (All that considered, I think it's still Romney's race to lose, as he can survive January, and then his money advantage will at worst give him a second chance, even if Newt were to sweep the first five states. Plus if the pattern holds, Gingrich's five weeks as 'Flavor of the Month' end just before Christmas.)

  12. For the average R primary voter, Gingrich is a known quantity, and thus everything about him has already been priced in, meaning his numbers aren't subject to the flavor of the month effect. No, those soaring poll numbers won't likely hold, but neither will they collapse, as the others did when they were given their time in the box. Those numbers are built on a known quantity, and the known quantity of Romney, and are a direct reaction to that known quantity of Romney.

    That's the critical point to understand here, that Gingrich's rise is directly related to Romney, and the circuitous path through the Anybody But Romney candidates that we've been witnessing. I've never seen anything like it, this ABR phenomenon. We saw a junior version of it with the Anybody But McCain primary last time through, ironically with this same Romney taking part, morphing himself into a "conservative".

    Romney has bought himself a campaign, starting in 2008. Whatever his numbers are, they are only built on what he's bought and paid for. And those numbers are not impressive. They are not a mile wide, and are in fact quite narrow. The question is, are they even 3 inches deep?

    If the current numbers hold, and Gingrich grabs Iowa and SC, he's gonna be near impossible to stop. NH wouldn't do it for Romney at that point, and he may not get even that. But Gingrich is still his own worst enemy. He's more than capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

    Outliers: Perry could go on some populist rant, like he seems to be doing with the Wall Street rants yesterday, but he's finished I'd say. And Paul will stay in the race, even after most others drop out following Iowa/NH. He's probably the only one who could benefit from Gingrich/Romney clashing, if they somehow take each other out like a Japanese monster movie.

  13. Party insiders are much more important than you seem to think. Just ask Gary Johnson.

  14. I think anonymous @6:11 gets this right by saying that Gingrich's rise is entirely a function of the ABR phenomenon. It seems somewhat silly to evaluate Gingrich on his own merits...he's a dependent variable, after all.

    If Perry had not gone wacko on back meds, would we even be talking about Gingrich today? Of course not. Perry would be the frontrunner, Romney would be the dutiful, unlikeable forlorn alternative, there in case (against hope) Perry might have problems with pain meds, or something.

    I think anonymous is also correct in saying this ABR thing is unlike anything we've seen before. As such, for me the interesting thing is not how Gingrich's resume fits the primary process, but rather how we got to this weird place where a placeholder was needed, and - what the hell - Gingrich was the best of a shrinking lot.

  15. Its also curious that intrade has both Huntsman and Paul at >2X the probability of Perry. They're both at 5%, which is a big improvement for Huntsman.

    Seems to me that Huntsman's rise is almost as interesting as Gingrich's, and further evidence of the discussed Anyone-but-Romney movement. (Is Huntsman's rise proportionately greater than Gingrich's?) What's particularly curious about Huntsman is that he argues against Mormon prejudice as the reason Romney can't close the deal.

    I think we just don't like the guy.

  16. Heh. I'm a big fan Jonathan but the idea that we shouldn't take Newt seriously when he's got double digit leads in 3 of the first 4 states with one month to go is itself geting a little crazy. You're overstating the degree to which Republican voters take things like "mainstream conservative" literally about actual previous policy positions and understating the emotional appeal to pathos that Newt is riding, as well as Newt's quite effective strategy of appealing to Republican unity. His campaign has tapped into a powerful emotional something in the GOP base and while he certainly could fuck it all up, you cannot underestimate the importance of that.

    But anyway I'm looking forward to your next few months of articles:

    "Yes, Newt won Iowa. No, you shouldn't take him seriously."
    "Yes, Newt won South Carolina and Florida. No, you shouldn't take him seriously."
    "Yes, Newt won the nomination. No, you shouldn't take him seriously."

  17. when's the last serious contender who had that long out of office? ... There are no remotely similar resumes that have come anywhere close to a nomination...

    I don't know that there's ever been a contender for the Presidency that's been out of office this long.... but then, there's never been a ex-Speaker of the House running for President (at least not since the time of Polk!)

    I guess that's the problem, then, with ruling out a candidate as "unserious" based on his credentials. There just is too small a sample size to reach any real conclusions about who is viable and who is not.

  18. For all the reasons to look at Newtmentum and ask "could this hold up?", I think Jonathan is looking more to the theory that "no one in the GOP field has taken a shot at Gingrich yet" (Ron Paul apparently kicking the STOP NEWT effort off). I think Newt has a chance, but it's still a long way to the Florida primary.

    My contention is that the GOP primary voters like the way Newt talks, and the way he talks to them.. but there's a whole lot of issues another campaign can use to remind voters that Newt is a candidate who's had a business plan for the last 20 years, not a candidate that's been putting together a coherent rationale for a national campaign.

    And Romney has the gobs of money to run ads over the next month to disqualify Gingrich as a 'true conservative' (or lie his head off about Newt, as in the Obama 180°-out-of-context ad). One thing I hadn't considered is that if Newt runs the table in the early voting states, Perry's the one who might be able to take advantage if Mitt dies on the vine. Perry would be the next logical 'party establishment' candidate - and he could quickly raise the money if the insiders turned to him as the "non-Newt".

  19. Andrew,

    The question is whether there's a systematic reason why House leaders *don't* make good presidential candidates; I think there is, although one cannot be sure, for the reasons you say.

  20. there's never been a ex-Speaker of the House running for President (at least not since the time of Polk!)

    Courtesy of Wikipedia, speakers since Polk who have run for president:

    James Blaine (the Republican nominee in 1884)
    Thomas Bracket Reed (Republican candidate in 1896)
    Joseph Gurney Cannon (Republican candidate in 1908)
    Champ Clark (Democratic candidate in 1912)
    John Nance Garner (vp under FDR; presidential candidate in 1932 and 1940)
    Joseph William Martin (Republican candidate in 1948)

  21. ". . . when's the last serious contender who had that long out of office?"

    When asked, of course, Newt likes to compare himself to Charles de Gaulle, who was called out of a 12-year retirement to save a grateful nation.


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