I'm pretty sure she's a Democrat. (Flickr/Philip Marley)
Today I have a piece in Politico Magazine under the grabby but somewhat misleading headline "Left Turn = Dead End?" (So you know, for better or worse, writers don't usually write their own headlines.) My main point is that while economic populism is always good politics for Democrats, it isn't enough to just stake out the leftmost position (on economics or anything else) and hope that can win you the Democratic presidential nomination, just as it isn't enough to be the most conservative candidate in a Republican primary. There will indeed be an ideological debate within the Democratic party in advance of the next presidential election, which is a good thing. As they approach the end of the Obama years, Democrats are going to have to hash out who they are, what they believe, and where they want to go. But the reason being the most liberal candidate is insufficient is that primary voters aren't ideological maximizers, they're ideological satisficers.
If there’s one simple lesson from past presidential elections I wish reporters and pundits could adopt, it’s this: Stop declaring candidacies dead before the primary even starts! Mistakes during the invisible primary can doom a campaign. But they usually don’t.
Yes, pundits of all stripes are already starting to handicap the presidential fields for 2016. Yes, that’s a long time from now … although we are under three years to the Iowa Caucuses, and probably just about two years from the first debates, so it’s not all that long. More to the point: as long as the candidates are running—and they are—there’s no reason to pretend the contest hasn’t started yet.
My first Democratic National Convention came when I was ten. My parents took me along to the new Los Angeles Sports Arena for the second night of the 1960 gathering that nominated Jack Kennedy. The tickets came courtesy of my father’s employers, who ran a mega-tract-home construction company. They may well have been to the right of the Democratic Party; my parents were still stubbornly to its left —members of the all-but-extinct Socialist Party—but no matter. A national political convention didn’t come around every week, and besides, my parents increasingly considered themselves close to the liberal reformers who dominated California’s Democratic Party.
As chance would have it, the second night of that Democratic Convention provided the last gasp of liberalism’s romance with Adlai Stevenson, the party’s nominee in the past two elections, which he lost both times to Dwight Eisenhower. More through his eloquence and his pose of somehow being above politics than through any of his policies (he had disgracefully ducked supporting the fledgling civil-rights movement), Stevenson had become the darling of anti-big-city, machine liberal professionals during the 1950s. He still had strong support in those circles, among California reform Democrats in particular. Kennedy, who was closing in on the number of delegates needed to secure the nomination, had dispatched the genuine liberal in the field, Hubert Humphrey, in a series of primaries, and many liberals were still resistant to his charms. Big-city bosses like Chicago’s Richard Daley still held the balance of power at the convention, since only a relative handful of states held primaries that bound delegates to vote for the candidate their state’s voters preferred.
As we know, Mitt Romney is not all that likeable. Now Mike Huckabee, there's a likeable guy. He used to say (and maybe still does) that he's a conservative, but he's not angry about it. It was a clever line, positing himself as the happy warrior and other Republicans as needlessly unpleasant. Huckabee has an easy smile and a friendly laugh. He plays bass. He invites liberals on his television and radio shows to have respectful discussions about issues. So how do we interpret it when Huckabee allows fundraising letters to be sent out under his name that say things like this:
"Listen, you're a person of faith and so am I. In his administration and now on his re-election campaign, President Obama has surrounded himself with morally repugnant political whores with misshapen values and gutter-level ethics."
Yeesh. Should this lead us to change our opinion of Huckabee? Or can you be a likeable guy and a vicious partisan at the same time?
The existence of the Republican Party has been marked by five incarnations in its century and a half, peaking early with its first president and the country’s greatest, Abraham Lincoln. The second Republican age culminated at the outset of the last century with Theodore Roosevelt; the third age with Dwight Eisenhower; the fourth with Ronald Reagan—whose harbingers were Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon—and whose coda was George H. W. Bush. The fifth that ultimately would coalesce around the presidency of Bush’s son was inaugurated by Newton Leroy Gingrich of Georgia, and not even W. has better represented the party’s style and substance these past 20 years.
We can officially call the GOP nomination, or so sayeth a team of experts at The New Yorker. Teaming with political scientist Josh Putnam of the blog Frontloading HQ, Ryan Lizza and Andrew Prokop gamed out the remaining primaries and caucuses, using demographic data from the states that have voted thus far to project vote totals in next several months of contests. They go through their extensive calculations in the post, but the gist of their conclusion is as follows:
Romney currently has 504 delegates. And so, according to our model, he is projected to end the contests on June 26th with 1,122 delegates.
As the 2012 Republican nomination contest peters to a close, each successive primary becomes less exciting than the last. Tomorrow's Wisconsin, Maryland, and D.C. primaries are no Super Tuesday, and April's slate of races looks to be the most Romney-friendly yet. The contest in Wisconsin is particularly odd because the state's GOP elite is almost unanimously pro-Romney—a consensus that the front-runner has lacked in other bellwether states. The pro-Romney bandwagon is partly due to the fact we're in the primary's coda, but there's a state-specific reason too. The Wisconsin GOP isn't thinking about tomorrow—they're thinking about June 5 and Governor Scott Walker's recall election.
The GOP candidates gathered in Iowa for an August debate (Flickr/IowaPolitics.com)
After the flurry of debates during the invisible primary, the cable airwaves have recently been bereft of candidates bickering with each other face to face. A final debate had been scheduled to take place this coming Monday, March 19, in Portland, Oregon—a state that doesn't hold it's primary until the middle of May. The local party and media were moving ahead with preparations, announcing moderators last week, but it looks like that debate won't come to fruition.
Should Barack Obama win reelection this fall, the 2012 Republican campaign might be remembered as much for those who decided to remain on the sidelines and leave a feeble frontrunner unchallenged as for the party's actual nominee. Even though Mitt Romney has held onto his place as the only candidate who can realistically win the nomination, it has become increasingly evident that the former Massachusetts governor was a weaker candidate than anyone initially envisioned. The fact that Rick Santorum—a candidate dismissed as a bottom feeder by his opponents, the media and Republican voters alike as little as three months ago—has caused Romney this much trouble provides all the proof needed that, should Romney have faced a strong field of opponents, he wouldn't seem so inevitable.
Earlier this week, I postulated that Rick Santorum needs to firmly position himself as Romney's runner-up to put himself in line to be the party's pick in 2016. Salon's Alex Pareene followed the similar logic but took it a step further, declaring, "Now Rick Santorum is the 2016 GOP nomination front-runner."
But political scientist Jonathan Bernstein isn't so convinced by the myth that Republicans turn to the runner-up in the previous presidential cycle to select a new nominee. Bernstein writes:
Super Tuesday, with its mix of primaries and caucuses, has led to some interesting discussions about the merits (or lack thereof) of the latter. Rick Hasen argues that Congress should ban caucuses outright. Jonathan Bernstein has a response defending caucuses. Is Bernstein's defense of caucuses—which he concedes are on some level exclusionary and unfair—convincing?
Last night, as the Super Tuesday numbers rolled in and journalists scribbled furiously on their keyboards, little energy was wasted on the prospects of America’s favorite gold-loving goober, Ron Paul. He won 47 delegates in all, just a tad shy of the 1,144 needed to seal up the nomination. He made his end-of-the-night speech against the backdrop of a white curtain, with no smiling supporters or even a stage to aid the visual. His best finish was in North Dakota, where he came in second with 28 percent of the vote; he also secured third place finishes in Idaho and Alaska, with 18 and 24 percent of the vote, respectively.
Newt Gingrich had a terrible Super Tuesday. Yes, yes, he won Georgia, his home state, going away. But he not only failed to win any of the other nine states that held elections, he failed to place second in any of them as well. He came in third in the other two Southern states that held contests—Tennessee and Oklahoma. In five states—Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, and Vermont—he ran fourth, behind Ron Paul.