Monday, March 5, 2012

Endorsements, Party Actors, and the 2012 Cycle

I linked to a couple of Matthew Dickinson's posts about the nomination battle earlier today, and mentioned that I disagree with him on a bunch of stuff with respect to the presidential nomination process. Here's one more.

Dickinson wrote in a post about Super Tuesday "misconceptions" that:
The Republicans Establishment is Closing Ranks Behind Romney.  Stop me if you’ve heard this before. On the heels of today’s endorsements of Romney by Eric Cantor and Tom Coburn, the “closing ranks” theme has once again been resurrected by the talking heads.  Are today’s endorsements really news?  According to the ongoing tally listed at TheHill website, Romney has been running away with the endorsement race since before January.  We don’t need two more to convince us that the “Party Establishment” wants Romney to win... Forgive me if I don’t get overly excited over two more endorsements.  I suppose at some point the “Party Decides” crowd can claim victory.  But it is going to ring pretty hollow, given events to date.
A few things. The minor one is that I don't think it's right to consider Cantor and Coburn just two more endorsements. There's a difference between these two -- who are among the most prominent elected officials with clear movement conservative credentials -- and many of the others who have endorsed earlier. Okay, I might be a bit idiosyncratic about this, but way back in early December I declared Coburn one of five key endorsements to look for (along with the Huck, Nikki Haley, Jeb Bush, and DeMint). Why not Cantor -- or Speaker Boehner, or George W. Bush, or some other better-known Republicans? I didn't say it then, but the top party leadership and party elders generally, I believe, publicly endorse after it's over, to ratify what's happened. So, yeah, I think this one is worth a headline.

The second bit is that I don't understand what Dickinson means by "establishment." I'm sure Tom Coburn doesn't think he's an establishment Republican. Is he? If so, are there any well-known Republicans who are not?

But the main problem I have is Dickinson's reference to "events to date." It sure seems to me that events to date have been all about Mitt Romney wrapping up a very open nomination quickly and fairly easily. Not as easily as George W. Bush did in 2000 (when he had a much better record of endorsements). But to me, Romney's nomination is quite comparable to the nominations of Kerry in 2004, Dole in 1996, and Dukakis in 1988, and a lot more certain a lot earlier than that of McCain last time around. That seems to very much fit a model in which party actors compete and coordinate on nominations and voters in primaries and caucuses ratify it, rather than a model in which candidates compete in a weak party environment and voters in primaries and caucuses determine the nomination. Yes, there's been momentum and press effects and other stuff that has produced a few oddball primary and caucus results, but none of that has really, as far as I can see, done as much to shape the contest as has decisions by party actors. In particular, the party's apparent lack of interest in Rick Santorum, seen through a lack of high-profile endorsements after Iowa and again after Colorado and Minnesota, appear to have been far more predictive than Santorum's strong showing in those states.

No one believes -- and I certainly don't believe -- that a "party decides" view of the nomination process rules out stray candidates winning the occasional primary or caucus. What matters is the nomination. And it sure looks to me as if the nomination has been over for a long time, exactly as those of us who push this view would have expected given most indications of party actor support.


  1. Jonathan, hindsight being what it is, do you still think that Haley (whose endorsement came to naught, at least electorally in her state) was an important endorsement?

  2. Isn't the question whether the endorsements are just predictive rather than causative? I have the impression that if Santorum had been unable to speak for the last two weeks he would be doing much better, and if someone had convinced him to repeat his Iowa caucus night speech rather than talking about Kennedy, and making such a both intellectually dishonest and foolish attack on the President over additional education he would have won Michigan and be a prohibitive favorite in Ohio.

    Presumably the "endorser pool" were fairly confident that Santorum would make himself unelectable.

    Surely, the negative comments of party leaders after the Gingrich SC result is much better evidence for a veto effect by party leaders than their silence re Santorum.

  3. I wonder if the specific issue with regard to Dickinson is one of institutional analysis versus dynamic analysis. Dickinson seems superb at analyzing relatively fixed institutions such as the presidency or congress. However, interpretation of a more fluid situation, for instance electoral politics or the internal dynamics of political parties and voting coalitions, requires a different skill set.

    I found Dickinson's analysis of the range of possibilities during the debt ceiling fight quite good. His commentary on the health care fight was also good while he was looking at the institutional aspects of congress and the presidency. However, he seems to constantly misunderstand the internal dynamics of the parties (for instance he just didn't get where the Democratic center of gravity was with regard to health care) and his understanding of electoral dynamics also seems ... strangely out of touch.

    Maybe it has to do with his approach. On his blog he makes a big deal about being "objective," and "not putting forth his own point of view under the guise of analysis." He seems to regard the hurly-burly of actual politics and advocacy with disdain, and vents loudly and with zeal against those who practice it (particularly Paul Krugman, who for whatever reason especialy raises his ire). Now, a lofty disinterested viewpoint as all very well when you are talking about fixed instituions. Maybe it isn't so much for practical politics. There, maybe, you have to get down into the stream and flounder around for a while, testing the currents and feeling the waves for yourself. And that is just the kind of thing that Professor Dickinson avowedly wants NOT to do.

    Professor Dickinson also seems not to like either academic liberalism (and as a former academic myself I understand how tiresome that can be) or the press, and seems to express a strong contrarian streak against any themes he finds coming from those sources. Thus he opined loudly that both were underestimating the intelligence of Newt Gingrich and the political skills of Rick Perry, and now is quick to say that the press and the "establishment" have overestimated the skills and electability of Mitt Romney. He may have good points all around, but as with his vivid disdain for Paul Krugman one wonders if his emotions are not sometimes clouding his judgment.

  4. I agree with JB that this thing has been 'all but over' since last summer. Romney has the fundraising, the campaign infrastructure, the elite endorsements, everything the 'establishment' candidate is supposed to get. So what if the electorate flirts with candidates who aren't the party's choice? They get to deceive themselves into believing their votes matter....

    One thing I think has been left out here and that is without the Super PAC spending we've seen on behalf of Santorum and Gingrich both of their campaigns would likely have folded after Florida, if not earlier. The rules have been changed making it possible for non-preferred candidates to hang around longer but the party still decides IMHO.

    1. Complicating that final point, however, is that the party (including many of its major actor groups) and general Republican ideology has long supported the views that led to the Super-PAC situation. It's not like they've gotten themselves into a situation they didn't desire to be in. Super-PACs have also allowed Romney to employ a particular funding and advertising strategy he couldn't have otherwise.

  5. "The Party Resigns Itself"


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