30 May 2011

Early musings on the Republican Presidential race


Prognostication a year and a half ahead is always risky, but I think the Republican starting line-up, at least, has pretty much taken the shape it's going to have. There will be no "man on a white horse" to deliver the party from its lack-luster field (Perry, if he runs, will be just another Barbour or Huckabee, a fairly-skilled politician with regional appeal but bulging gaffe-baggage in tow). The right wing remains divided into two factions, Sane and Nutty -- and the party is now down to just two Sane Presidential candidates, Romney and Huntsman, both of whom happen to be Mormons and thus deeply suspect in the eyes of the party's fundamentalist base. Further, Palin is now showing every sign of being seriously back in the race.

Could a Republican beat Obama? It's unlikely but possible. If Republicans unite behind a Sane nominee, if the slow economic recovery collapses back into recession (something Congressional Republicans seem to be actively trying to bring about, with their mania for cuts and their debt-ceiling brinkmanship), or if Obama is wounded by some event like a scandal, a major terrorist attack, or a foreign-policy disaster -- yes, it could happen. It's true that the Republicans have massively blundered with the Ryan budget, and that the new breed of teabagger governors like Walker and Scott now have approval ratings roughly equal to that of E. Coli, but the party still has a year and a half to recover, if it can bring itself to recognize its problems. And each of our two major parties always has some chance of winning -- that chance may be low, but it's never zero.

What's Palin up to? I remain skeptical that she really wants to be President. Ever since McCain first drew her into the national spotlight, she has shown far more appetite for celebrity (and its attendant cash-flow) than for the hard work of actually holding office, and she must know that the Presidency is an even more demanding job than being Governor of Alaska. If so, her smartest move is to maintain the appearance of being in the race for as long as possible, to keep attention and speculation focused on herself. Her bus tour, the Rolling Thunder stunt, and the hype surrounding her upcoming film (not the film itself, which will turkey out as fast as Atlas Shrugged did) make sense in this light.

What about Bachmann? We tend to think of Bachmann as essentially another Palin, perhaps a tad less colorful; but as a non-quitting career politician who has held one office or another since early 2001, she's actually more dangerous. If she runs for President, there's no reason to doubt she's in to win.

Could a Sane candidate get the nomination? Yes. First, if Palin and Bachmann both run, they could split the Nutty vote in the primaries; their rivalry would be all the more fierce given that they would be competing for the same constituency. Second, the prospect of a Nutty nominee could panic the party establishment into rallying behind Romney and crowning him. Either way the disgusted teabaggers and fundies might stay home on election day -- or they might not; it all depends on whether hatred of Obama trumps RINO-phobia and anti-Mormonism.

Could a Nutty candidate get the nomination? Definitely. There's no clear front-runner; Palin polls only two points behind Romney among Republicans, despite it not even being clear yet whether she's running; Trump led the field during his brief foray into it. Paul, a niche candidate, is unlikely to expand his support beyond the libertarian cult, but Pawlenty might appeal as a Nutty wolf in Sane sheep's clothing who could fool the voters for long enough to get elected. (Gingrich seems to genuinely straddle the two camps, but with his history of gaffes and hypocrisy and his flip-flop on Ryan, I think he's very unlikely to be nominated.)

So what happens? Kevin Drum produced this amusing graphic of the results if the Republicans choose a "wingnut" or a "reality- based" nominee, and if that nominee wins or loses:


A Nutty candidate winning the Presidency would indeed be the worst-case scenario, but it's also the least likely one; Palin, for example, is considered unqualified to be President even by a majority of Republicans. Still, as I noted, the probability is never zero. The Republican party is one of the two major parties of the mightiest nation on Earth; for it to nominate a grossly-unqualified person for the most powerful office on the planet would be an act of existential irresponsibility, but these are weird times.

Here's a suitably-weird scenario I find plausible: The Republican establishment puts its foot down and makes Romney the nominee. A major Nutty figure, most likely Palin, runs as a third candidate and draws off the teabagger/fundie vote, allowing Obama to win in a landslide. Republicans are left in total confusion about whom to blame. It could be the perfect scenario for Palin, who would thus remain the center of attention down to election day and perhaps beyond, but with no risk of actually winning and thus facing the drudgery and responsibility of the Presidency.

As a hedge against such a scenario, a Sane nominee might well choose a Nutty running mate -- perhaps even Palin herself. Palin would certainly hurt him, though; she hurt McCain, even though her flaws were far less apparent back then, and no Republican would have had much chance in 2008. Pawlenty or Gingrich, less terrifying to centrist voters, might be more likely VP picks; the trouble is, they make the teabagger/fundie crowd yawn, too.

The problem is that a Sane nominee losing to Obama -- the most likely scenario overall -- might well strengthen the Nutty faction among the Republicans, as Drum's graphic implies. The next-most- likely scenario -- a Nutty nominee losing to Obama in a landslide -- might bring the Republicans back to their senses, something the country desperately needs. But don't count on it. These people are dedicated to reality-denial, and the apocalyptic-minded Christian Right already tends to view worldly rejection as a mark of virtue. And what if some freak set of circumstances allowed that Nutty nominee to win the Presidency? The world can't afford the risk.

It's going to be an interesting race, and many sets of nails -- not all of them American -- will be bitten over it in the months to come.

25 Comments:

Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

I have heard that statistically, Democrats have the tencence to more often stay home during elections than do Republicans. My fear is that in a election where Obama is running against some "nut case", Dems might think "Oh he can't lose so I'll just stay home". Obama won in 08 because Dems here highly motivated to get out the vote.

I have long had the hunch that Jesse Ventura won the Minnesota governors race because people thought he couldn't win and voted for him as a joke. Viola' The same could happen with a Palin candidate, people voting for her as a joke (as many don't think their vote counts anyway) and... Viola'

Then there is the what I call the "Borg Factor"; Republicans are like the Borg Collective, whoever the candidate is, even if it was a trained duck, Republicans will vote for the Republican - period.

Side note: I would love to see Palin bumper stickers that say: "Vote Palin, she promises not to quit this time".

30 May, 2011 09:38  
Blogger Leslie Parsley said...

This time it won't be just a case of getting Democrats to the polls. It will be a much bigger issue getting them photo ID'd and through all the other red tape Republicans have constructed to keep certain groups from being able to even cast their votes.

Personally, I feel we're headed for a major constitutional crisis and we sure as hell can't turn to the current Supreme Court with any expectations of doing anything but making it worse.

A wonderful analysis, Infidel. I hope you're right.

30 May, 2011 19:01  
Blogger Tommykey said...

The only potential Republican presidential candidate I could even consider is Jon Huntsman, but he probably would not get the nomination precisely because he would alienate the Tea Party types because he fails their purity test.

In some ways, having a Palin or Bachmann or some other far right Tea Party type get the nomination in 2012 might actually help the party move towards the center afterwards. If a Tea Party annointed candidate gets clobbered by Obama, the saner elements of the Republican Party could move it back a bit to the center by saying "You had your chance. Now it's time for the grownups to take away your car keys."

30 May, 2011 20:00  
Blogger Tommykey said...

Vote Palin, she promises not to quit this time".

Robert, go for it! I'll buy one if she gets the nomination!

30 May, 2011 20:01  
Blogger Tommykey said...

BTW, this post made me think of that Monty Python skit with the election pitting the Serious Party versus the Silly Party.

In rereading this post (I had actually skimmed it before my first comment, so apologies for points that echoed yours), one name that popped into my head as a potential VP candidate if someone like Romney gets the nomination is SC governor Nikki Haley. As a female and an Indian-American, she would be a twofer. I know Sarah Palin was a big supporter of hers when she ran for governor of SC and I believe she was a Tea Party supported candidate. Admittedly, I haven't been really following Haley and I don't know how she's been faring as governor of SC. But if she has decent approval ratings and can present herself as intelligent and well spoken, she might very well be considered VP material for someone like Romney.

30 May, 2011 20:16  
Blogger Beach Bum said...

Could a Republican beat Obama? It's unlikely but possible.

While I believe the president has a better than average chance at reelection the shape of the economy still concerns me. If the unemployment rate does not go further down or, heven forbid, go back up we are looking at a possible 1992 situation.

Another possible problem I see is the spoiled liberal brat issue with disaffected democrats staying home because their particular issue was not addressed enough. While no democrat is making noise about running against Obama I have heard more than enough whiners complain that the president has not waved his magic wand in their direction.

For the record I do not blindly follow Obama, the man has pissed me off more than a few times but I'm not stupid enough to cut my nose off to spite my face.

31 May, 2011 00:53  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

RtS: Democratic turnout is always more erratic than Republican, which is why Democrats do better, the higher the turnout is. Overconfidence is a risk, as I've pointed out before.

A few people may vote for a candidate as a joke, but not enough to sway an election. People wasting their votes on third candidates is a bigger problem.

LP: Thanks. If the new Republican disenfranchisement measures do result in significant numbers being turned away, it would indeed mean a Constitutional crisis -- such rules were a big part of the Jim Crow system, and we long ago reached a consensus that they aren't legitimate.

TK: Nominating Huntsman would show that the Republicans had moved back fully into the realm of "normal" politics, but as you say, it's not very likely.

Haley is a teabagger type, with all that that implies, and I've already heard claims of corruption in her administration. Also, non-white Republicans face problems in the current party environment. She's been accused of being a Sikh (her ancestors' religion, though she's Christian) just as Obama is accused of being Muslim, and other non-white Republicans are suspect in the eyes of the birthers. The revolution devours its own.

BB: It's impossible not to be suspicious of the Republican policies which seem almost calculated to wreck the economy and send unemployment back up after two-plus years of Obama have made some progress in getting it down. I do suspect them of actually wanting such a crash, in the hope that voters would blame the Democrats.

No argument from me on the spoiled ideological purists. I hope the smarter Democrats have written them off and are focusing on more pragmatic-minded groups like union households and gays.

31 May, 2011 01:10  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dudes, Obama's got this in the bag. Corporate America was already backing Obama pretty well last election and as they've done well these last couple of years even more money will flow toward Obama. Repub candidates will waste their money on defeating each other and will have to have a super special convention. Dem convention will be a cost effictive praise-fest.

Obama has not shown the LBJ style toughness I hoped he would, but he's still pretty crafty. His whole "Texas Two Step" program got me to to to a caucus (Texas has a hybrid primary/caucus system) and I helped tip the balance towward Obama even though Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" tipped th eprimary vote to Clinton.

Voter supression may be an issue. I know some states have passed new laws, and there's always little spoofs every election day. Still, I think no candidate today has the infrastructure in place to pull of what the Bush team did in 2000 and 2004.

I do not consider the 2000 and 2004 elections legitimate. Many were excluded from the 2000 voter rolls in 2000 for felonies committed in 2006! The 2004 vote saw a huge dead people turnout in Ohio and a huge number of "none of the above" votes in New Mexico and other states. Read Greg Palast's _Armed Madhouse_ for more details.

31 May, 2011 06:02  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great pic of the Babbling Barbie. Looks like she's in her Kochsucker cum catchers pose.

31 May, 2011 06:09  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Can we seriously believe that a candidate who has never sat down (post-2008 election) to an unscripted serious discussion on foreign and domestic policy with a serious interviewer make it as the presidential nominee of her party?

A person who, only a few weeks ago, called the Israeli/Palestinian problem a "zoning issue?" A person whose grasp of the English language is so poor that she makes GWB look like Cicero?

As I've stated on my blog and elsewhere, I don't believe Palin is so self-delusional that even she herself believes she could win the presidency.

She could be a spoiler--attract an enormous amount of attention with a third-party candidacy.

She does NOT have the temperament nor the intellect to lead this country. Never has, never will.

That we even speculate on her running as a presidential candidate shows how shabby we have become.

31 May, 2011 06:44  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ms. Onymous 1: This is just the kind of complacency I'm trying to discourage. Obama hasn't got it in the bag unless people work for it. We must fight every fight as if we could lose.

Good point about the Republicans damaging each other in the primaries, but I don't believe that people were excluded from the 2000 voter rolls because of things they did six years after the election was decided.

Ms. Onymous 2: I was trying to suggest the contrast between her and the less colorful but more Presidential Romney. She does seem to account for more than her share of photoshoppable pics.

31 May, 2011 07:02  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

SK: Obviously I agree with most of what you say, but with the aggressive anti-intellectualism pervading much of the right these days, lack of qualification is almost considered a positive qualification in those circles (see talk of "standing up to the experts", etc.).

31 May, 2011 07:06  
Blogger Eric said...

"Still, as I noted, the probability is never zero."

When you flip a coin, there is always the very slip but definite possibility that it will land on its edge.

31 May, 2011 08:13  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The infamous Florida "scrub list" in 2000 had over 4000 pruged for felonies with no date listed, and over 300 had conviction dates in the future:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Central_Voter_File

It seems like they're at it again in Florida for the 2012 elections.

31 May, 2011 08:57  
Blogger Eric said...

Typo alert on my previous comment: "slip" should have been "slim".

31 May, 2011 09:28  
Blogger Batocchio said...

The lousy economy, particularly on the jobs front, helps Republicans – who have hindered efforts to improve anything. However, the GOP field is extremely weak. Kevin Drum's chart is amusing and a good launching point for conversation, but conservatives didn't embrace sanity after the disastrous Bush years, and electoral defeat in both 2006 and 2008. Mitch McConnell didn't care what the people said then, but magically, he claims the 2010 elections validate his goals to slash the social safety net, even though polls show otherwise. McConnell is far from alone in the GOP in his m.o. Perhaps the number of conservative defectors-to-sanity will increase in certain scenarios, but I fear that won't be a widespread phenomenon. In the past 30 years, with few exceptions, Republicans have gone more plutocratic and right-wing with electoral victories, not more responsible.

31 May, 2011 09:59  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Eric: Unfortunately the Republicans' chances aren't quite that slim.

Ms. Onymous: I see what you mean. If so, rather sloppy fakery on somebody's part.

Batocchio: If anything, the Republicans' real plunge into madness followed their 2008 defeat. Teabaggerdom, the birth-certificatards, and extremist tactics like holding the debt ceiling hostage to political demands (unprecedented in American history) all date from since that point, though some manifestations of reality-denial were present earlier.

But I don't see what, aside from defeat, can snap them out of it. "Winning" in 2010 certainly didn't help. It may take a succession of defeats.

31 May, 2011 10:18  
Blogger Batocchio said...

Infidel, I agree about the series of defeats. They need to be banished to the political wilderness for a generation or so. They're not quick learners.

31 May, 2011 11:03  
Blogger Robert the Skeptic said...

House Republicans are voting against raising the debt ceiling even though their Wall Street buddies have warned them that not raising it could likely result in another major economic downturn through financial default. It dawned on me after reading some of the others comments whether the Republicans; would purposefully drive the economy in the ditch in order to blame Obama and thereby turn the tide against him in 2012? With no viable Republican candidate to offer, would they be so focused on winning at all costs as to further eviscerate what insipid recovery we currently see? Yes, they would – in a heartbeat.

31 May, 2011 21:56  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Batocchio: Since the lunacy on the right is largely religion-based, it will probably prove very difficult to uproot -- it may take several defeats or even generational change.

RtS: It's hard to interpret their actions otherwise. Let's hope it makes Wall Street itself re-think its support for these wreckers. They helped create a monster, but if it now turns against them.....

01 June, 2011 05:57  
Blogger godlizard (aka dotlizard) said...

I heard a random pundit musing on a Palin candidacy a few days ago, saying, "She's someone who does not have to follow all the traditional old rules of campaigning. She can just throw them out the window and run her campaign in a completely different way."

I was momentarily scared by that thought, and indeed the idea that a Presidential race could devolve into American Political Idol, and that enough of the spectacle-saturated public would follow right along. And this would tend to toss conventional political wisdom right out the window.

My significant other said the same thing you and several others have here, that she's just in it for the fame and the money. He said she wants to be the next Oprah.

Bachmann, on the other hand, could present a very real problem. I know several women who were big Hillary supporters and yet will step in and defend Bachmann against her detractors by saying silly things like "people are threatened by strong women." Though they won't admit it, these women and many like them are strongly influenced by gender and would support pretty much any strong female contender. I could be wrong, of course, but that does scare me.

01 June, 2011 16:16  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

GL: Palin's whole appeal is fundamentally lacking in the gravitas most people associate with a President. I think she is running for celebrity of the year, not for President. Unhappily for the Republican party, she's hoovering up all the media attention; sensible conservatives are already exasperated that she's making it hard for Romney, the party's real front-runner (though not by much) to get coverage.

Bachmann I will admit to knowing a lot less about. She's certainly more serious than Palin, but also seems even more extremist and disconnected from reality than most of the "Nutty" faction. Not a promising stance, at a time when the Ryan plan and the Republican governors' antics are waking people up to just how far from the mainstream the party has drifted.

I know several women who were big Hillary supporters and yet will step in and defend Bachmann against her detractors by saying silly things like "people are threatened by strong women."

This is the debased and degraded remnant of the PUMA movement which arose at the end of the Obama-Clinton nomination battle in 2008. They've forgotten that Hillary Clinton is not only a strong woman, but a strong woman who holds specific views and stands for specific things, to which Bachmann and Palin are anathema -- she was said to be the most determinedly pro-choice member of the Senate, for example.

many like them are strongly influenced by gender and would support pretty much any strong female contender.

I think such people are now very few, fortunately.

01 June, 2011 19:59  
Blogger Grung_e_Gene said...

Mitt Romney is seen as sane.

Osama Bin Laden dead = Ineffective President

Doomed, we are...

01 June, 2011 21:16  
Blogger godlizard (aka dotlizard) said...

PUMA! I couldn't remember the name, but that's it. And they ladies I know who were with that movement seem to now be actively searching for another woman to support. Oddly enough, in spite of the political similarities between Obama and Clinton (who Michael Moore once referred to as "Senators Coke and Pepsi"), this group (or at least the members of it that are on my FB friends list) abandoned that ideological stance in favor of searching for another strong woman to support.

It's terribly odd to me, to see these individuals embracing some of the teabagger rhetoric chiefly because they seem to hate President Obama for beating their candidate. Just a very weird form of backlash.

02 June, 2011 11:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice work, regards

04 September, 2012 02:34  

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