Republican life support

Republican life support
  •  emoticon

As I write this, Rick Santorum has just finished winning the twin southern primaries of Mississippi and Alabama. It’s being treated as something of an upset — Mississippi in particular was thought to be anyone’s game — but really, it’s hard to be too surprised. The deepest of the deep south was always natural territory for someone carrying such substantial so-con bona fides and an Evangelical-friendly message, and it will probably continue to so be in coming weeks, as states like Arkansas, Kentucky, and Texas procede to hold votes of their own.

As Jon King on CNN never tires of pointing out, however, the prospects of a Santorum nomination at this point are virtually nill. Even if the former senator is able to pull off a string of incredibly unlikely victories in major states like California, New York, and New Jersey (you can do your own math with the handy-dandy CNN Republican primary calculator), he will, at best, merely deny Mitt Romney an absolute majority of delegates at the August nominating convention, and thereby plunge the GOP into even more chaos, uncertainty, and infighting than it’s already experiencing. I guess it’s possible Santorum is so drunk on his own Kool-Aid he may believe that this sort of turmoil is actually in his party’s best interests, but even if he’s hoping for doomsday inTampa, the likelihood is still incredibly remote. Jon Dickerson on Slate has a great breakdown of just how one-sided the math is at this point.

At least Santorum can still win the occasional state, though, which is more than we can say for Newt Gingrich. The speaker’s last great hope was that he would be able to leverage his only two victories to date — Georgia and South Carolina — into some sort of “southern darling” identity for himself, but that effort has now decisively failed. There is really no reason for Newt to remain in the race at this point since his chance to play catchup is even more remote than Santorum’s, though I guess that by continuing to split the non-Romeny vote now he may be trying to provoke a contested convention too. This would allow him to emerge as a potential swing vote kingmaker, should the delegates be forced to chose between Romeny and Santorum, though a more likely scenario will just have Gingrich embarrassing himself with a string of further losses that never culminate in much of anything.

In ordinary circumstances, one would expect the Gingrich and Santorum campaigns to have run out of cash and supporters at this point, but in one of the more unusual phenomena of this election cycle, neither has been the case. Thanks to a couple eccentric millionaire donors who have some odd, hopeless fascination with the two men, both have been able to contest races far longer than logic would dictate they should. It’s an interesting statement on the power of money in politics, but also one that challenges a lot of our traditional stereotypes about the topic.

There are a lot of tired tropes in the US about elections being “bought and sold” under a regime of “democracy of the highest bidder.” But the 2012 GOP primary is proving incredibly difficult to purchase outright. In the Tuesday contests, for instance, the Romeny campaign outspent Santorum by a margin of three-to-one and still lost. In Ohio, he outspent him 12-to-one and only won by the narrowest of margins. According to some observers, the overall primary tally may be close to 10-to-one, with Romney literally burning through $10 million bucks for every million Santorum spends. Romney’s wins, similarity, seem to be as much about a split opposition as anything else — few deny that had the race been a strict Romeny/Santorum match-up earlier on (or basically any Romney/not-Romney duality, for that matter) the former governor would now be joining Meg Whitman in the political graveyard of least cost-effective campaigns.

The real role of money in modern politics seems to be as a kind of life support rather than victory elixir. Money keeps candidates alive, active, and thus “viable,” but the actual amount of money required for this appears to be fairly low. Santorum and Gingrich would probably be dead without their sugar daddies, but it’s not at all clear that an ability to on-par spend with Romney would make them that much more competitive than they already are, as Romney himself has proven. In the age of the 24-hour news cycle, a great deal of campaign publicity is free, after all, and as I’ve commented before, the press’ vested interest in making elections long and contentious tends to handicap front-runners and benefit plucky challengers.

I’m still skeptical that Romney will be able to beat President Obama in November, but not because of one conventional narrative, which holds that Romney has “wasted” too much of his campaign’s funds on the primary battle. If anything, blaming the cash gap may be little more than the last refuge of the loser. Sometimes voters simply don’t like you. And money can’t buy love.

But it’s still the easiest thing to blame when it doesn’t.




^ 37 Comments...

  1. Guest

    While you've decisively proven that there is a direct correlation between wealth and electoral chances, would Romney be dominating if he was spending a tenth of his current amount? Could it be that money is a multiplier and that an otherwise poor choice of candidate (too dissimilar politically from much of the GOP's base, too tied in with establishment cliques, and subject to anti-Mormon sentiment) must spend more money to put themselves on the same footing?

  2. Guest

    there is a direct correlation > there isn't a direct correlation

  3. Zeke

    What a coincidence! That's the exact same correction that AGW supporters need to make.

  4. Nicolasrll

    I assume that by "AGW supporters" you mean "climatologists".

  5. Anon

    Hooray for bitter internecine conflict

  6. Gray

    With regard to money, I think you're right…though it also raises another dynamic (i.e. allowing campaigns to absorb one or two defeats). The tendency towards rapid clearing of the field is relatively recent (witness the 1976 contests on either side…Reagan lost several key states before his campaign found its groove, while Carter had to fight off a lengthy list of challengers late into the season), really only dating from the late 1980s and the 1990s. 1996, 2000, and 2004 were probably outliers in this regard, brought about by the sheer cost of campaigning and the presence of one do-or-die round of primaries relatively early in the process. Ironically, this does feel a bit more 'open' (as well as being a throwback to the 1960s and early 1970s), as a campaign only needs the support of a handful of folks to keep going, rather than needing tens of thousands of donations. I agree that disclosure improvements are necessary, but there's definitely an argument to be had that a process that doesn't shut a campaign down after one or two losses will make for some better-vetted candidates.

    With regard to the GOP's situation, part of the problem is that Romney is really, really disliked by a lot of conservatives. In general, the attitude is that he will be at best tolerated as being "the guy on the ballot not named Obama" rather than embraced. Yes, the votes will come in, but I think there will be a lot of volunteers missing. To put it another way, if everyone else dropped out, I think Romney would still be losing 30-40% of the vote in some states (witness the results in Virginia, for example) versus the 15-20% of the vote that you usually see lost in this manner.

    For what it's worth, my opinion is that a long race being nasty falls largely upon Romney's campaign for setting a very ugly tenor when they let loose on Gingrich twice (first in December and then again in January), and then upon Gingrich for similar reasons to a somewhat lesser extent. Romney basically made the decision in December to carpet bomb his way to victory…which has left more than just Newt less than pleased. I think there is a very serious question as to whether, were the race to end tomorrow, Romney would be able to mend all of those fences in the coming months or if there are people that his "rough handling" and barrages of attack ads have cost him.

    It didn't have to be this way…if we were instead facing a debate over what issues to focus the most attacks against Obama on for this fall (Santorum arguing for social issues versus Romney for economic stuff), I think the process would be productive (particularly as the Romney-Santorum dynamic has been far more amiable than the Romney-Gingrich dynamic…not that that's necessarily saying much), particularly in building party organization in the way that 2008 was for the Democrats.

    As it is, while I agree that Romney is unlikely to be overtaken in delegate math…it doesn't seem impossible that he's going to fall far enough short of 1144 to leave things up in the air. Most (but not all) of the "there will not be a convention fight" talk has been from Romney supporters (McCain comes to mind, as does Karl Rove and so forth)…and frankly, it feels like the gentlemen doth protest a bit too much to say that they're not worried about the prospect. Romney's folks are spending way too much time trying to talk down the possibility /not/ to be worried about it, and I don't see Romney pulling off some massive surge without a good reason.

  7. drs

    Funny how Ron Paul wasn’t mentioned. :) Whose campaign started some of the ‘ugliness’ (telling the truth about ugly behavior?), with a killer ad against Gingrich.

    2008 had three virtually identical front-runners on the Democratic side. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference in the stated policies or general beliefs of Obama, Clinton, and Edwards. Clinton even serves well as Obama’s Sec. of State.

    2012 GOP though is showing the big business, social conservative, and libertarian strains in competition, with the socon rhetoric winning even though the front runner is more of a big business guy. A lot of moderate support for Romney is based on the assumption/hope that he’s currently lying continuously to appeal to the primary voters. This is a genuine values fight, not a beauty contest over electibility and competence like 2008.

  8. Gray

    Ok, you're right…I forgot the early Paul attack. To be fair, Romney slamming Gingrich was more high-profile, but I'm at least willing to concede that Paul may have fired first.

  9. Person #929384-2

    Santorum is still in it because, let’s face it, once he’s out of the race he’s out of the public spotlight.

  10. David Liao

    I think even Fox News might balk at taking him on as another talking head when Gingrich is a much better choice for that (and has been).

  11. ThePsudo

    This feels as if it were taken from my own mind. The nomination race has seemed to be a foregone conclusion for a while (at least since the Super Tuesday results), yet the illusion of a competition has been maintained at an incredibly high cost and with very little obvious justification. Romney is not the greatest candidate conservatives can imagine (not remotely), but he's easily the best currently running and our best chance to unseat Obama this year.

    One highly ignored factor is that Romney has been able to take home SOME delegates from virtually every state, whereas his opponents have only about a 50% chance (at best!) of taking something home. This shows that, despite opposition from the hardcores of Team Conservative, Romney has at least some support almost everywhere across the country. Santorum and Gingrich simply cannot say that.

    Another method of analysis says "Look at who wins states that will be swing states in the general election." Romney won Florida, Nevada, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, and Vermont while Santorum won Minnesota, Colorado, and maybe Missouri. That's 6 states for Romney vs. maybe 3 for Santorum. Or, you predict the effects of winning these states onto the general election by looking at the electoral votes of these states: 85 swing state electoral votes for Romney vs. 29 for Santorum.

    Conservatives may not particularly like Romney personally, but how can they not like him as a political countermeasure against Obama? After the National Convention, the Republicans will join ranks behind their nominee the same way they do every time. Heck, if they can "Get Drunk and Vote McCain" they can certainly sober up and vote Romney.

  12. Nicolasrll

    I don't know. While Romney personally fills me with a weird mixture of revulsion and pity, it does seems pretty clear he's the only one that has a shot at beating Obama. But the narrative in the social conservative camp seems to be that whenever they lose, it's because their nominee wasn't conservative enough, and they seem deeply committed to proving themselves wrong by sending Santorum to the slaughter. Sure, they'll pick Romney over Obama if it comes down to that, but I don't think there will be a lot of enthusiasm there. And of course there's the Mormon thing.

  13. Republicalifornian

    My main concern about Romney is his inability to use his good attributes to tell a good narrative to finish off weak opponents. Everything that Newt and Santorum are doing to him will be magnified once Obama steps into the race. That said, that weakness pales in comparison to Newt's disaster of a personal life, Santorum's ability to make middle of the road positions seem extreme with stupid comments, and Paul's utter unpersuasiveness. So, I guess I'm glad he's winning over the alternatives, but I'm wondering why we don't have anything better. I'd love to see Romney show the same passion that Newt has, because I feel the conservative side has a compelling argument to offer, so long as we don't undercut it with tepid salesmanship or personal dysfunction.

  14. ThePsudo

    That's an excellent question: why don't we have anything better?

  15. robota rozum

    America loves an incumbent. More importantly, everyone knows that America loves an incumbent. There are US Senators that run for re-election literally unopposed. Look back at the last century of U.S. Presidents, at the times an incumbent has ran and lost:

    President Taft, unseated essentially by the ego of Teddy Roosevelt
    President Hoover, unseated by a highly charismatic FDR
    President Ford, unseated by a highly charismatic Carter
    President Carter, in turn unseated by a highly charismatic Reagan
    President Bush the Elder, unseated by a highly charismatic Clinton

    President Taft (and in a way President Johnson) aren't analogous to the Republican chances in this election, as the Democrats are not going to split, so you're essentially looking at a 4 out of 16 chance. You would have to be crazy to bet millions and endure all the personal trials of a Presidential campaign on a 25% chance, right? As a candidate you also don't have the various intangibles in your favor: we're not in the Great Depression, President Obama (to my knowledge) didn't issue a pardon for President Nixon, you're not a movie star, the Soviet Union didn't just fall apart.

    It's the same reason a stiff like Senator Kerry ended up with the nomination in 2004, or Senator Dole in 1996. Gleeful predictions of certain victory by their most zealous supporters (or really their opponent's most zealous detractors) notwithstanding, incumbents just don't go down that easy in America. As a party, why waste resources on a fight you're almost certain to lose?

  16. Gray

    I strongly dispute Carter being considered "highly charismatic". He was a nice enough guy, but he wasn't a Reagan, JFK, or FDR. I think it's more that Nixon was unseated by Watergate and Ford just wasn't suited to either the mantle or the challenges of the 1970s.

  17. Jake

    No President has won election with approval ratings this low nor with unemployment this high (Great Recession). There is a huge chance Obama will lose. It just takes the Republicans getting their ducks in a line and not destroying themselves before then.

  18. robota rozum

    Approval ratings are a quantitative distinction: President Obama is at 48 (or whatever) instead of 49, the previous low. It's not a difference you can sink your teeth into, and you can in fact find any number of voters who absolutely distrust polling. Incumbency is all or nothing. Obama is the President. You can find plenty of voters who think Obama is a Muslim, or a Kenyan, or a Commie, but they must nevertheless agree that he is President. Something about incumbency just impels re-election. I don't know what it is, but 75% is 75%.

    Which ducks can the Republicans get in a line? It's been clear for months that their nominee is going to be Romney.

  19. Jake

    Say what you will of polls but they are pretty accurate for the most part. Especially when there is constant polling about the election. RCP has Obama up 4 points. That will narrow about that much after the nomination and convention. RCP has his average at 47%. Since Bush won only by 2%. Any dip in Obama's approval will have a huge affect in the ballot box. Even if it is just one percent. Especially since the electoral college has swung enough toward the Reps to be about 1 state worth of delegates. In a narrow election with Obama facing someone with the organization of Romney, Obama will lose.

    Bush won with low approval but unemployment wasn't this bad. It has to be unemployment AND low approval ratings. Either will hurt a President but both is really bad. Just ask Carter. You are looking at numbers for an incumbent. You are not looking at numbers for an incumbent in a both a recession/high unemployment and bad approval ratings.

    Again the Republicans are not facing your 25% chance but rather a much much higher. Under your logic no one should ever challenge an incumbent. If there ever is an incumbent to challenge, it is someone in the situation of Obama. High unemployment AND low approval.

  20. Jake

    The math works in the Republicans favor. Look at http://www.270towin.com/

    Looking at the swing states Republicans don't need that many. Ohio and Missouri has to be won for a Republican to win the White House. FL, NC, and VA have all gone Republican since 2008 and will go back to the GOP. Which leaves 4 delegates. Mitt can carry NH. And it is highly unrealistic to think Romney couldn't win one of Nevada, Colorado or Iowa. He even has a realistic outside chance in MI or NM depending who he picks for his VP.

    The chance is not 25% because Obama is not a straight incumbent. The delegate math works for the Republicans. And if Mitt picks the right VP to balance out the fact some people are worried about voting for a Mormon (which are probably not that many of for argument shake) and holds the South. The likes of Nevada and even Colorado can go to the GOP just because he is Mormon.

  21. ThePsudo

    Speaking as a Mormon living near Colorado, Mormonism has less influence with Colorado than you seem to think.

    In general, I find your pro-Republican-victory arguments encouraging but overly optimistic. The reasoning that the modern economic hardships are inherited from and prolonged by Republicans is deceptive and factually flawed, but it's also plausible enough to be persuasive among independents. I don't think that anyone can honestly claim Republicans are totally innocent regarding the current economy, and that is easily twisted into the persuasive lie that "Obama has done all that can be done in the face of Republican obfuscation."

  22. robota rozum

    We'll see. :)

  23. Thomas

    You forgot that Hoover was president for the start of the Great Depression.

    Economic disaster tends to make an incumbent look bad.

    Obama might not of started the current economic woes, but there is little evidence he has improved anything. Had there been improvement he could of done anything he wanted in office and be assured re-election.

  24. robota rozum

    I specifically cited the Great Depression as an intangible working against Hoover, and did so with the understanding that the Great Depression is to our recession as World War 2 is to the Iraq War: there is simply no comparison.

    The Republicans may certainly try to hammer "economic disaster" into the public consciousness, but do you really think anyone will buy it? How many stockbrokers jumped off buildings when the Dow went under 9000? How many Obamavilles sprang up? How many veterans marched on Washington, and were met with bayonets and poison gas? Unemployment in our recession reached 10%, in the Great Depression it reached 25%.

  25. Jake

    HW Bush lost due to the recession even though it was over by election day.

  26. ThePsudo

    HW Bush also substantially lied to his constituency. I don't think the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay Detention Center can be used against Obama to the same extent that "Read my lips: No new taxes." was used against HW.

  27. Jake

    Have you seen the amount of people that have killed themselves because of this recession? Obamavilles? Just look at Michigan. This is only 2nd to the Depression. it is the single worst recession in US history.

    Again things are not as bad as the Great Depression. But this is hardly a regular recession in which you can paper over the problems. Presidents in better conditions have lost cause of less.

  28. David Liao

    I think that's the intangible that Romney is missing – fire. His life is probably the most well led by conservative standards since Richard Nixon (and that field includes Reagan and McCain).

    Romney has shied away from any details about his life however even the good parts that might even hook in Democrats or independents. You might see him opening up more during the runup against Obama, however, when being Mormon or obscenely wealthy isn't as much of a drawback.

  29. J.J. McCullough

    I actually think the opposite is true. Right now, Romney has only had to fend off criticism from conservatives, who as a rule are generally less inclined to criticize religion or wealth. Not so with the left.

  30. Gray

    He got hammered for it back in January (at least, with the Bain-related stuff), which was interesting to watch…as some commentators noted at the time, the Romney camp was a bit at a loss that they were taking that shot then.

  31. Mr. Rick Santorum

    I object to the depictions in this comic.

    I, in no way, have ever slept in the same bed as another man, much less in the same bed as Mr. Gingrich.

    Should you continue to make such heinous personal accusations against me or my campaign, I shall be forced to take action.

    Thank you.

    PS: Don't forget to vote in your upcoming primaries! With me in the White House, we will all see a stronger, safer America!

  32. Jon Bennett

    I think Santorum and Gingrich are trying to force a brokered convention, in which they believe they'd be able to manipulate into getting the nomination. I don't think either of them have support so deep that their delegates would win the political battle against Romney, who WILL have the plurality of delegates, and by then probably popular support.

    Others want the RNC to just choose a candidate, which will just cause the party to implode, particularly if that candidate's last name is Bush.

  33. Jake

    Actually they know the GOP won't force a nominee. It suicide especially after 2000. They both want VP or a cabinet position. Which frankly is Santorum gets anywhere near the ballot will cause Romney to lose. Gingrich maybe can do as VP but the Dems hate him so its going to be a Clinton v. Gingrich VP battle as Obama will pick Hillary. It will be which ticket does America hate the least kind of thing. So it won't be Gingrich. Best bet is a Sec position. Gingrich for Defense or State or even some other position as he has lots of ideas. Santorum at best would get Health and Human Services as he has done a ton with healthcare in the Senate, can't stop saying he will repeal Obamacare and is so anti-abortion he will always take the flak for anything related to it.

    Romney will pick a Southern but not deep south VP. Allen West/Marco Rubio or Fred Thompson. Someone who appeals to the conservative base but knows how to work with moderates or appeal to them when needed.

  34. ThePsudo

    You think Obama will pick Hillary? Why? After their 2008 rivalry, I think Obama would be eager to get her out of the cabinet. If he has gained some respect for her as Secretary of State, he'll just keep her there.

    I will be absolutely flabbergasted if Obama risks undermining his incumbency advantage by changing running mates for his second term. That would be both wildly unorthodox and blatantly stupid.

  35. ThePsudo

    Why would any delegate support Jeb? I can't even imagine unbound delegates from Florida doing that. That's fantasy thinking, like Hillary winning the Democratic Primaries.

  36. Virgil

    Actually on a certain level it continues to be a very interesting primary season. Santorum may agree with Evangelicals on a number of issues, but good luck getting a Yankee Catholic to win two southern primaries twenty years ago. Heck, Alabama was a place where George Wallace WAS STILL GOVERNOR in the mid 1980's.

    So some things have changed. The burning question will now be whether there will be a convention or no. I think its actually a very open question. If there is a convention all bets are off and who knows? As a historical tidbit, it took 3 ballots to get to Lincoln.

  37. ThePsudo

    The National Convention has been a very different affair since 1976 (and television) than it was before. It would be downright bizarre if the convention was anything but a and rubber-stamp for Romney and a broadcast of Republican values.