Monday, February 20, 2012

The Myth and Disaster of a Brokered GOP Convention

David Frum takes on the myth of a "brokered convention" this summer when the GOP gathers in Tampa.  He does a good job of explaining how the rise of the primary/caucus system and the demise of the party bosses have made such a myth less and less of a reality and if it did happen, it might spell doom for the party.

1) Imagine that Romney falls just slightly short of the 1144 needed to nominate.
In this scenario, an individual party chairman from a smaller state with more old-fashioned rules might be lured to find some way to redirect his state's votes to Romney. That is what happened in 1976, when Gerald Ford narrowly defeated Ronald Reagan by gaining the last-minute support of the Mississippi state delegation; that's the most recent occasion when a convention chose a nominee.
The problem is that there are many fewer such old-fashioned states today than there were in 1976, with the result that the price such "available" states might be able to exact will be considerably higher than it was back then.

Ford only needed to replace his vice presidential candidate, dumping Nelson Rockefeller, anathema to party conservatives, in favor of Bob Dole, then a conservative hero.

But what price would be exacted from Romney? And what effect would that have on the election? Romney badly needs to pivot back to the center for the general election. Would a convention-season deal to get the votes of strongly conservative delegates veto that pivot and doom his hopes?
 Frum's piece also reminds us that a party that had smoke-filled rooms was a party that had more control and was also a place where moderates could thrive.  What had weakened the power of moderates is not simply some kind of "kidnapping" by the far right as much as how American political parties have been transformed over the last half century. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

Why Is Jon Huntsman Losing?

I've never made it a secret that I really like Jon Huntsman for the GOP Presidential Nomination. I like the former Utah governor's record as a solid Republican that had more moderate to liberal social opinions. He seemed to court a lot of love from a number of moderate and liberal pundits, but when it came to actually campaigning for President, he's been at near the bottom of opinion polls. Why is that? Back in November, Ross Douthat tried to answer that question and came up with the following which is pretty plausible:

Huntsman has none of Romney’s health care baggage, and unlike the former Massachusetts governor, he didn’t spend the last decade flip-flopping on gun rights, immigration and abortion. Meanwhile, on many of the highest-profile issues of the primary season (the individual mandate, Paul Ryan’s House budget, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), he has arguably been more consistently conservative than Gingrich.

At the same time, because Huntsman is perceived as less partisan than his rivals, he has better general election prospects. The gears and tumblers of my colleague Nate Silver’s predictive models give Huntsman a 55 percent chance of knocking off the incumbent even if the economy grows at a robust 4 percent, compared to Romney’s 40 percent.

In theory, then, Huntsman seems like he could occupy the sweet spot that Gingrich claims to have all to himself. In practice, though, his campaign to date has been an unmitigated disaster.

This isn’t for want of substance. On issues ranging from foreign affairs to financial reform, Huntsman’s proposals have been an honorable exception to the pattern of gimmickry and timidity that has characterized the Republican field’s policy forays.

But his salesmanship has been staggeringly inept. Huntsman’s campaign was always destined to be hobbled by the two years he spent as President Obama’s ambassador to China. But he compounded the handicap by introducing himself to the Republican electorate with a series of symbolic jabs at the party’s base.

He picked high-profile fights on two hot-button issues — evolution and global warming — that were completely irrelevant to his candidacy’s rationale. He let his campaign manager define his candidacy as a fight to save the Republican Party from a “bunch of cranks.” And he embraced his identity as the media’s favorite Republican by letting the liberal journalist Jacob Weisberg write a fawning profile for Vogue.

This was political malpractice at its worst. Voters don’t necessarily need to like a candidate to vote for him, but they need to think that he likes them. Imagine a contender for the Democratic nomination introducing himself to liberal voters by attacking Planned Parenthood, distancing himself from “left-wing nutjobs” and giving a series of interviews on Fox News, and you have the flavor of how Huntsman’s opening act was perceived on the right. The substance mattered less than the symbolism, which screamed: I want your vote, but I don’t particularly care to be associated with your stupidities.

There was a time in my life I would have been upset at such a statement.  I would have totally disagreed with the analysis. Now?  Not so much.  The thing is, if you're going to run as a Republican, you have to respect the base of the party.  No one should expect to get very far in the GOP selection process if you call those who you're going to vote for cranks.  Douthat is correct that people don't need to like a candidate, but they need to know that the candidate likes them.  While people on either side of Mitt Romney see him as a flip-flopper who tries to please the base, the fact of the matter is if he wanted to be considered a candidate he was going to have to tailor his views to the GOP electorate.

Of course, if moderates were more involved on the party level, then candidates like Romney wouldn't have to give up their views on gay rights and abortion in order to be considered in the GOP. 

But I think this all goes back to how the base is treated.  I don't think one has to give their more moderate social views to be considered for President, but you need to bring the focus on issues like jobs and not give Christmas presents to pundits by calling folks who might vote for you crazy.  It's crazy to think you can do that and get votes in the current primary system.