Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Republican Presidential Nomination

Opening caveat: I know that quoting yourself in an article is a terrible habit. That said, because I'm basically combining several months worth of essays into a single piece, I decided that connecting my previous work together here through those quotes made sense.

Plus, let's face it: I'm too lazy to rewrite thoughts that I had already put down somewhere else.

Since this blog's inception, I have posted dozens of essays providing speculative analysis regarding the 2012 presidential election. This editorial is intended to serve as my definitive - and thus final - word on that subject.

Ten days ago I wrote a blog article on Sarah Palin's growing influence in the Republican Party (http://riskinghemlock.blogspot.com/2010/09/about-last-night.html). As I observed:

If you had asked me a year ago whether I thought Sarah Palin could receive the Republican presidential nomination, I would have responded that there was no way in hell. In my mind, Sarah Palin belonged in the same category as Robert Taft and Dan Quayle - i.e., someone who, despite being beloved by the right-wing grassroots voters which are such a key part of the Republican base, was widely recognized as too unelectable to ever be a smart pick for that party's presidential nomination.

Instead, as I explained in an article written exactly one month before the aforementioned piece (http://riskinghemlock.blogspot.com/2010/08/obamas-great-failure.html), I felt that the Republicans would most likely nominate Mitt Romney.

Republicans will wisely nominate Mitt Romney as a candidate whose business resume makes him the ideal opponent to a Democratic incumbent dealing with a weak economy (incidentally, his pro-business policies will also help him create a formidable fundraising apparatus to propel his candidacy, an invaluable asset in any successful presidential campaign). Helping his cause will be the fact that independent voters, who will no doubt be turned off by the radicalism of the Tea Party movement and further dismayed with what I expect to be the rabid political bloodlust of congressional Republicans (see http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/244143/you-ll-get-served-robert-costa), will perceive Romney as an ideological moderate and advocate of political stability, thus making him far more attractive in a general election contest...

Of course, all of that was before a string of Sarah Palin-endorsed candidates swept Republican primaries in congressional and gubernatorial contests throughout the nation. It was before the Tea Party movement showed itself adept at swinging elections by serving as a grassroots base which, when tapped by shrewd political aspirants, could single-handedly transform an underdog into a nominee. Most important of all, it was before the nominations of candidates such as Sharron Angle in Nevada, Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Dan Maes in Colorado, and Carl Paladino in New York made it clear that electability was less important to Republican primary voters than puritanical rigidity in one's allegiance to the beliefs of the radical right.

These developments have two major implications for the 2012 election:

1) As I pointed out almost two weeks ago (http://riskinghemlock.blogspot.com/2010/09/on-2010.html), Romney's viability as a presidential candidate depends on Republican primary voters deciding that "support for right-wing ideologues like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee" should come second to "a pragmatic desire to select the most electable candidate." After all, such a situation allows Romney's strengths - his business background, his strong fundraising abilities, his greater appeal to independent voters, his ability to exude an aura of moderation and stability - to almost automatically recommend him as the ideal nominee.

In a situation, however, wherein Republican primary voters feel that ideological steadfastness is more important than electability, Romney's prospects immediately disintegrate. From his support of an Obamaesque government health care plan while Governor of Massachusetts and his flip-flopping on abortion rights to his refusal to associate more closely with the Tea Party movement and his Mormon faith (which many in the Christian Right view with great suspicion), Romney's conservative armor simply has too many chinks for one to believe that they wouldn't prove fatal in a climate where acceptability depended upon passing stringent philosophical litmus tests. Since the 2010 midterm elections have provided strong evidence that those litmus tests are exactly what Republican primary voters are using to decide their candidates, the likelihood of a Romney nomination diminishes accordingly.

2) They suggest that, in lieu of Mitt Romney, Republican primary voters will likely turn to a candidate whose stalwart support for a strongly conservative social, economic, and international agenda is beyond dispute. Although plenty of GOPers fill that bill quite nicely, history has shown that the modern presidential primary process is so labyrinthine and expensive that only candidates who have reasonably strong name recognition from a very early stage wind up being competitive enough to have a chance at the nomination. Indeed, since 1976, every candidate nominated by one of the two major parties has ranked among the top four prospects in his party's opinion polls within two years of the actual election (the last exception to this rule was Jimmy Carter). That leaves Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and (of course) Sarah Palin as possible winners.

It is here that the outcome of an Iowa straw poll held last month becomes important, not only for what it reveals about the mindset of Republican primary voters, but for the simple reason that the outcome of the Iowa caucus - the first presidential primary in the nation - has a long history of deciding which candidates ultimately receive their party's nomination*:

Mike Huckabee - 22%
Mitt Romney - 18%
Newt Gingrich - 14%
Sarah Palin - 11%

Most noteworthy about Sarah Palin's fourth place finish is that it does NOT reflect a lack of support, or even affection, among Republicans. Public opinion polls have shown that GOP primary voters tend to have a very favorable opinion of the former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee, even though this position puts them at odds with the overwhelming majorities of independents and liberals who strongly disagree. Indeed, as pointed out before, Palin's political brand is so powerful within Republican ranks that her endorsement has helped the decide the outcome of several key primary elections.

That said, what her poor showing demonstrates is that - despite the high regard within which she is generally held by Republican primary voters - the fact that she is believed to be unelectable is still enough to give them pause. The caution that they are willing to throw to the wind in local contests carries more weight when the presidency is at stake.

It is here that an understanding of the nuances in voter psychology becomes important. On the one hand, they are shrewd enough to realize that nominating Sarah Palin would doom them to defeat, and place enough stock in their determination to win the White House in 2012 that they aren't going to abandon savvy in a fit of ideological passion. At the same time, ideological passion IS still a determining factor to them, and as demonstrated by the outcomes of the midterm primaries, they aren't going to choose a candidate who runs against their passions (or at best leaves them only lukewarm) just because he or she is perceived as being "more electable" than more appealing alternatives. To resolve this, Republican primary voters will probably find a middle ground - i.e., a candidate who has the "right" ideological character while being deemed "electable" according to political conventional wisdom.

Enter Mike Huckabee. Unlike Sarah Palin, Huckabee is widely perceived as being electable, in no small part due to his deftness in keeping his name prominent (his own TV show on FoxNews, constant visits to important political functions) without becoming overexposed (as has happened to the controversy-prone Palin); unlike Newt Gingrich, he is a fresh face and (so far as the general public knows) relatively free of skeletons in his closet; and, in his own right, he has a record as Governor of Arkansas with which most conservatives can readily assent, a knack for silver-tongued oratory, and a charmingly affable public persona. Most important of all, Mike Huckabee is 100% with the Christian Right and the Tea Party on social, cultural, and economic issues. In short, Huckabee is acceptable and electable enough that - despite some initial difficulties due to the aversion with which he is held by moderate Republicans in the northeast and heavily metropolitan states (which will probably swing to Romney as an anti-Huckabee) and by Mormons (who dislike his bigoted comments against their faith and will also probably swing to Romney) - the chances are greater than not that he will win the Republican nomination.

Fortunately, I don't think he'll win in the general election. There are several reasons for this:

1) Huckabee's Christian Right ideology will ultimately be too radical for mainstream America. For more, see:
http://atheism.about.com/od/mikehuckabeechristianity/a/ConstitutionGod.htm

2) Huckabee has a history of bigoted comments, particularly against homosexuals, women, and Mormons. For more, see:
On homosexuals - http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0610/38841.html
On women - http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/12/10/12517/525/811/420237
On Mormons - http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D8TFL9B81&show_article=1

3) Huckabee has been involved in TWO explosive scandals akin to the Willie Horton debacle that did so much damage to Michael Dukakis's presidential bid in 1988. For more, see:
Wayne Dumond - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2007/12/04/documents-expose-huckabee_n_75362.html
Maurice Clemmons - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/29/multiple-police-officers-_n_373119.html

In short, when all is said and done, the chances are that an Obama-Huckabee election would turn out roughly the same way as an Obama-Palin contest, which as I wrote earlier (in the same blog that I quoted at the very beginning of this article), means that Huckabee "
would walk away with the the bare minimum of what would go to the Republicans anyway in these contests - i.e., between 37% and 43% of the popular vote", as well as the electoral votes of Alaska, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Indiana.

And there you have it. At long last, my FINAL prediction on the 2012 presidential election.

* From http://riskinghemlock.blogspot.com/2010/09/amazing-case-of-reverse-evolution.html:
Remember that the Iowa caucus is the first major presidential primary in the nation. It was the Iowa caucus in 2008 that eliminated Rudy Giuliani from serious contention and established McCain, Romney, and Huckabee as the GOP frontrunners, as well as gave legitimacy to Barack Obama's then-underdog campaign against Hillary Clinton; it was the Iowa caucus in 2004 that destroyed Howard Dean and made John Kerry the heir apparent to the Democratic presidential nomination; heck, the Iowa caucus even helped launch Jimmy Carter to the presidential stage in 1976 and George H. W. Bush in 1980 (although the latter lost his party's nomination to Ronald Reagan, his choice to be on Reagan's ticket was in no small part due to his success in the Republican primaries, beginning with Iowa).

4 comments:

MichiganWolverine said...

Huckabee brings to the table many things that Obama lacks.

1. 10 1/2 years of executive experience as governor of Arkansas.

2. Leadership in times of trouble. When Katrina hit, and evacuees were coming into Arkansas, instead of dithering due to red tape, Huckabee took action. He used the camp cabins that were ready to be shut down for the summer and used them to house the evacuees. He fed them and housed them right away and said he would worry about the red tape later.

3. Congenial. Huckabee has the ability to talk and work with those who are ideologically opposite of him. He sat down with Jon Stewart and talked about abortion. He talked with Rosie O'Donnell about gay adoption. On his show, he talks with liberals on hot topics. He is a conservative but is not angry about it.

4. Love of Country. Huckabee has an inner optimism that he voices each week on his show. He is patriotic and loves the troops. He has used his show to bring attention to the military strengths as well as their needs.

Huckabee beat Obama in the latest PPP poll, 47-44.

Huckabee is electable. He can beat Obama.

Matthew Laszlo said...

I do not deny that Huckabee possesses administrative competence (as you established in Point 1 and Point 2), a congenial temperament (as you established in Point 3), and the ability to effectively convey the right image to his ideological base (as you established, albeit not precisely in those terms, in Point 4). Indeed, if you read my article carefully, you will notice that I already touched upon all of those themes:

1 & 2: "... he has a record as Governor of Arkansas with which most conservatives can readily assent..."
The reason I qualified that statement with "conservatives" instead of "Americans" is that, although Huckabee's performance during Hurricane Katrina was laudable, much else of what can be seen from his gubernatorial tenure is only likely to be viewed as praiseworthy from those who already agree with his right-wing agenda.

3: "... a knack for silver-tongued oratory, and a charmingly affable public persona."
I think that speaks for itself.

4: "Most important of all, Mike Huckabee is 100% with the Christian Right and the Tea Party on social, cultural, and economic issues."
Although your fourth point focused on Huckabee's patriotism, the real relevance of what you said lies in what it reveals about his ability to come across as "one of your own" on the issues that strike a deepest chord with his ideological base. In this specific case, that would be the cultural issue(s) of patriotism, support for the military, and by inferential extension, the belief among right-wingers that liberals lack those things.

Hence the question you should be asking: If I am fully aware of the assets you mentioned, and indeed made note them in my article itself, how can I still believe that Huckabee is going to be easily defeated?

See everything I wrote from "Fortunately, I don't think he'll win." to the end of the Maurice Clemmons link.

To all of that, I will only add two addenda:

1) America has a long history of rejecting presidential candidates who are perceived as being too ideologically radical. This has been true regardless of whether they come from the far left (see George McGovern in 1972) or the far right (see Barry Goldwater in 1964). As such, the assumption I made in my first point - namely, that Huckabee's radicalism will work against him - is based solidly on historical precedent.

2) Current polls comparing Obama to Huckabee are misleading because the details of his radical ideology and personal scandals are not commonly known; in general, people are mostly familiar with the fact that he is conservative and has a gregarious personality. That said, once details of his radical beliefs, history of intolerant statements, and personal scandals (particularly Wayne DuMond) come to light, there is every reason to suspect that his standing in the polls will plummet. For comparison, simply look at how Michael Dukakis had a 17-point lead over George H. W. Bush in 1988 before his controversial stands on prison furloughs (particularly the Willie Horton affair) and the pledge of allegiance came to light. Also look at how Sarah Palin was considered a great asset to John McCain's ticket before her ideological extremism (to say nothing of intellectual shortcomings) began to surface.

In short, although I believe that presidential primary polls have value this early on, general election polls are notoriously misleading.

Matthew Laszlo said...

PS: I'm curious how you feel about the blog article directly before this one, "The Wall of Separation Between Church and State". In this piece, after all, I only explain why I think Huckabee will lose; in that one I point out why he MUST lose.

Matthew Laszlo said...

"The Wall of Separation Between Church and State" can be found here:
http://riskinghemlock.blogspot.com/2010/09/wall-of-separation-between-church-and.html