Friday, September 28, 2012

Catch of the Day

Today's goes to Dave Hopkins, who read today's Politico story in which Mitt Romney's personal flaws are alleged to be the source of his current campaign woes, and tweeted out:
Paging @jbplainblog: anon. Romney-ites admit he's a bad politician but say he'd be a really successful pres. Unlikely!

Political skills are equally important to succeeding in office as they are to successfully gaining office.
Yes, exactly. Now, in fact, I think Romney's political skills are, at the moment, underrated; no one accidentally winds up as a major-party nominee for president, certainly not in an era in which parties have re-asserted control over nominations (I'd be willing to go with Jimmy Carter and perhaps George McGovern as accidental nominees). But that points to the real point here: there's more to being a good politician than simply being able to come up with the right folksy metaphor all the time.

Note, for example, that the "$10,000 bet" that Politico makes much of didn't actually seem to hurt him very much in his quest for the nomination. But something did help him: his apparent ability to assure party actors that he was an acceptable candidate.

(There's also the question about whether Romney's current problems have anything to do with his electioneering skills or with the campaign at all; remember that he's down by about four points in current polling, which isn't very far from where "fundamentals" models would put him, depending on which model you look at).

Granted: there's George W. Bush. While I don't think his general election candidacies were anything special, his nomination victory in 2000 was a truly impressive political accomplishment. Bush did successfully sell himself to key party leaders -- most notably, the other Republican governors of the time -- as a good presidential candidate and presumably someone who could be a president who would not damage Republican interests. That turned out to be dead wrong, and the skill Bush appeared to show in doing so turned out to predict little of how he would behave in office. Still, I think the point generally holds: good political skills are useful both in campaigning and governing, and glaring weaknesses revealed in one most likely reveal defects in the other. What I'd probably say is that if we break political abilities down into specific skills, we would wind up with a broad overlap between those used in electioneering and those used in governing. Not identical, and some would show up in both lists but would be more central for one than the other, but nevertheless overlapping.

Also: nice catch!


  1. It's not just political skills, it's managing skills. They're saying he's a poor candidate, but an excellent executive. But of course he's been shown to be a failed executive of his own campaign: poor strategies, poor execution, poor resource management, poor message discipline.

  2. I sometimes hear analysts talk about how different skillsets needed in an executive (president or governor) compared to a legislator.

    How would you characterize the overlap in skillsets between (1) winning a nomination, (2) winning a general election, (3) governing as an executive, and (4) acting as a legislator? Are all of these broadly overlapping one with another?

  3. I think Romney's political skills are, at the moment, underrated; no one accidentally winds up as a major-party nominee for president

    Depends on what you mean by "accidentally". Romney surely benefitted from the fact that he competed with a historically weak field of primary candidates.

    That is to say, Mitt's winning the nomination doesn't necessarily mean he was able to "assure party actors that he was an acceptable candidate." It just meant that he succeeded in convincing those party actors that he was more acceptable than the alternatives. Which he undoubtedly was.

    But convincing people that you're a better candidate than Herman Cain, Rick Santorum et al. is not exactly a political accomplishment worth gloating about.

    1. There's also the fact that Romney has been running for this since at least, what, 2006? That's an awfully long time in which he should have learned something about winning elections, or at least primaries. His personal wealth has enabled him to carry on one of the longest presidential campaigns since Harold Stassen. At this point, he's like a 28-year-old dominating AA ball.

  4. You say that being down 4 points from where his fundamentals would put him is not far off. But, I wonder, what would be "far off" enough from the fundamentals to question their applicability to this election? It seems that, without knowing anything about this election, you could guess that each candidate will get 46% and be "right" if given a little leeway. Will, say, the Hibbs model be proven wrong if the numbers don't change between now and the election?

    1. I think what JB was saying is that Romney is down 4 points against Obama, which is close to the fundamentals models, where the median prediction was probably Obama by a point or two. (So, the potential Romney effect is "-2 points" in that case)

      Not saying I agree (or don't), but I don't think JB was saying Romney is running 4 points behind where he "should" be.

    2. Yeah -- thanks, Matt.

      As far as disproving Hibbs or whatever: the models all have margins of error, and have hits and misses. It's all about strengthening or weakening their case, not really proving or disproving. Plus, which models come closer and which don't can give researchers some hints for what to look for in studying what happened.

  5. Bush did successfully sell himself to key party leaders -- most notably, the other Republican governors of the time -- as a good presidential candidate and presumably someone who could be a president who would not damage Republican interests. That turned out to be dead wrong, and the skill Bush appeared to show in doing so turned out to predict little of how he would behave in office.

    I don't think this is correct at all. Bush ended up doing long-term damage to the Republican Party, but there are a lot of Republican constituents whose interests were served greatly by his presidency. Oil businesses, defense contractors, neo-cons, people who want to see pro-business justices on the Supreme Court, the ultra-wealthy whose "temporary" tax cut exists to this day - they all have a lot of reasons to be happy with George W. Bush.

    1. That's a fair point; Bush was for the most part ideologically reliable, although a fair part of that was Congress -- don't forget Harriet Miers.

      But if you accept as a given that a GOP-governor endorsed nominee wins in 2000 -- obviously not something that's necessarily true, but accept for argument -- then I think Bush probably was no more ideologically and interest-group loyal than anyone else would have been, but significantly less competent. And therefore worse off for Republicans than a similarly electable and loyal alternative would have been.

    2. I think TN is getting at the importance of Dubya's "pliability" to those interest groups - presumably, there's an inverse relationship between "competence" and "malleability" for (otherwise-loyal) GOP governors.

      When we realize that CEO of Bain Capital is not a terribly (personally) taxing job, we're up to four cycles in a row with a Republican nominee that ably fits the Fredo Corleone mold. Four times is not an accident; it's not a mistake.

      The explanation is probably in the interests of those such as the Koch Brothers netted against the weakness of the Presidency as described by Neustadt. Why would someone with a Republican's priorities want to be President? Isn't it much easier to put a malleable Fredo-type in the office, from which a Koch brother can get all of his interests met by POTUS, plus he doesn't have to waste all that time making kissy-face with the likes of Nancy Pelosi?

    3. I don't know that I'd go that far, but I would certainly say that competence in governing is something the GOP has shown no interest in selecting for. Bush showed himself to be incompetent - or at least uninterested - in running the government, in everything from post-Saddam Iraq to Katrina to handling the financial meltdown of 2008. But who exactly is the prominent Republican who would have acted more effectively? If any of the potential GOP presidential nominees campaigned on a promise to restore FEMA as a fully functioning government agency, I sure missed it.

  6. Well, Willard is a career loser politically, as history tells us.

    And he gathered up much of the Goldman Sachs cash that Obama soaked up in 2008, and used it to obliterate his primary opposition with negative advertising. That and his own name recognition bought with $55M of his own cash in the 2008 primary brought him a shaky nomination win.

    In a stand up fight, without that massive cash advantage, he'd likely have lost again, as per his history. He's pretty much a lying progressive crapweasel from Taxachusetts, and people seem to know it.

  7. But, really, that just kind of shows a fundamental disconnect between how political scientists view the presidency and how journalists do.

    Note how the article really buys into the notion that politics is one thing, and governing is a completely different thing. That's just not true. And I'm not talking about how Obama needs to go public or anything. I mean classic Neustadt. Presidents have to persuade. In a polarized era, they really can't persuade the other side in Congress. But they CAN persuade their own! If they aren't with you, you're toast legislatively. You need to persuade the EPA to go along with allowing mercury in the water; if you don't, they're going to leak the story in ways that hurt. You need to persuade your economic advisor to go out and say things supporting your views; that same economic advisor is going to quit within a year or two and go back to academia or a think tank, and so they don't want to burn that bridge.

    This takes persauvive abilities. Some of that can be cold logic. It can be arm-twisting. Whatever. The point is: while some folks are indelibly tied to you, and have to support you regardless, most aren't. They're tied to the party, the ideology, or an interest group (or network of groups). They have their own ideas about right and wrong. And it's rare that every tie every person has in government (Congress, the White House, the executive branch) aligns with your goals on everything.

    Neustadt argues (persuasively!) that it's ALL politics. Some skills are more useful for some political tasks, yes. I could envision a person that would be good at winning elections but bad at making policy, sure, or vice-versa. But, given the way in which our system works, it's pretty unlikely for that person to get elected president. Perhaps Romney is demonstrating part of why that is.

  8. What do your three examples of "accidental" nominees have in common? In 1972 the Dem party establishment was still defending a war its base opposed, and the effect of the murder of RFK can't be underestimated in terms of party leadership. That establishment Dem party was done, coming apart.

    Jimmy Carter caught the wave of revulsion against Watergate--that Republican party of Nixon was done, coming apart, and the Dems had no other answer but Carter in 1976. The fractures in the Dem party showed up in 1980.

    There was no center in any sense of the word to the Republican party this year. As it is now, it's done, coming apart.

    However, I'm not entirely sure about the thesis of accidental candidates. What do you say about Bill Clinton? Or Barack Obama? These were not the establishment favorites, and even in office they paid the price.


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