Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Republican "Sticks" and Democratic "Carrots"

I'm going to run the risk of heaping it on George Will, but something he said in his Sunday column begged for a response.

Any Republican delegate-selection event held before the first day of April shall be penalized: The result cannot be, as many Republicans prefer, a winner-take-all allocation of delegates. March events "shall provide for the allocation of delegates on a proportional basis." This means only that someof the delegates must be allocated proportional to the total vote.

Because Democrats are severe democrats, they have no winner-take-all events, so they do not have this stick with which to discipline disobedient states. Instead, they brandish -- they are, after all, liberals -- a carrot: States will be offered bonus delegates for moving their nominating events deeper into the nominating season, and for clustering their contests with those of neighboring states.

First, I question the level of punishment the Republican shift to proportional delegate allocation rules -- no matter how formulated -- will affect states opting to hold presidential delegate selection events before April. By FHQ's count, there are 32 states whose governments -- or state parties in the case of caucus states -- will have to move from their current positions to avoid "punishment". Our guess is that a sizable portion of those 32 states will take their "punishment" and attempt to influence the process. After all, that is the commodity states trade in during the presidential nomination process: influence. Will mentions that the national parties desire "lengthening the nomination process to reduce the likelihood that a cascade of early victories will settle the nomination contests before they have performed their proper testing-and-winnowing function". Well, national parties want that insofar as the process ends like the 2008 process did for the Democratic Party. But that will not always be the case. There has been a fair amount of talk about the Tea Party/Establishment GOP split within the Republican Party. Will proportional allocation only accentuate that division?* Some states may take their punishment in an effort help a non-establishment candidate, if one has emerged to take the mantle, stay in the delegate race for the nomination. [FHQ will have more on this issue of non-establishment goals in a post tomorrow.]

States, in the end, are self interested. They want influence over the identity of the presidential nominee. And that is a goal that is, depending on the angle, at odds with what the national parties want. In other words, the national parties end up with what they don't want: a nominee who is initially unelectable or becomes unelectable because of a divisive nomination decision. I just don't see how the states are penalized by the change to proportional delegate allocation.

One other point on the above excerpt: Will deftly employs some revisionist history in discussing the Democrats' "carrots". He fails to mention that the bonus delegate regime began across the aisle with the Republicans at their 1996 national convention in San Diego. It was there that the GOP put in place a bonus delegate system for the 2000 Republican nomination.

Will also fails to recognize the "sticks" the Democratic Party utilized in 2008 and has carried over to the 2012 cycle. Sure, states under the Democratic rules, as is the case under the Republican rules, lose half their allotment of delegates, but they also call for candidates who campaign in violating states -- those that go too early -- to lose their delegates from that state at the national convention (Rule 20.C.1.b from the 2008 and 2012 Democratic Delegate Selection Rules). In theory at least, that rule would have had more bite in 2012 if the Democrats had not flip-flopped and then flipped again twice on how to deal with Florida and Michigan. That muddled implementation of the rules may end up hurting both parties in 2012, but the Republicans more since theirs will be the only contested nomination. What I mean is that states will be more likely to test the Republican rules because of the Democrats' actions in 2008. The Republican Party still has the half delegation penalty plus the new proportionality requirement as penalties to rule-breaking states. FHQ is still skeptical as to whether that will be an effective rule in curbing state frontloading.

If a short history of presidential primaries is going to be constructed, it would at least be helpful to include a full and accurate account of the most recent events that will more greatly affect the next nomination cycle.

*Of course, that assumes that the Tea Party faction is a lasting one that faces no backlash following the 2010 midterms or before the 2012 nomination race kicks off in earnest.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

A short history of presidential primaries meets reality.

There must have been a lull of sorts reached in this midterm election cycle yesterday because it had Washington Post opinion columnist, George Will, gazing off into the future, but not without a tip of the cap to the past ["A short history of presidential primaries."]. The truth is that FHQ just didn't care too much for Will's history lesson. Well, actually the history part wasn't all that bad. The story of the intent of the Founders in creating the Electoral College is one I always like telling my Intro to American Government classes. However, the esteemed conservative columnist is guilty of not only omitting some important information from the recent past of presidential primaries but also of making a fairly large assumption in regard to the 2012 nomination process.

Let me address the latter first. I will be among the first in line (and was) to commend the parties for their ad hoc coordination of the two sets of rules governing presidential nominations for the 2012 cycle. [The intra-party groups -- the GOP Temporary Delegate Selection Committee and the Democratic Change Commission -- were not ad hoc, but the inter-party efforts were.] FHQ said soon after the 2008 cycle was complete that the parties working together was a necessary, if not sufficient, way of reigning in the frontloading that has "plagued" the process essentially since it was reformed during the 1968 nomination process. But the national parties merely changing their rules for presidential selection is but one piece to this puzzle. There is a whole process that will begin playing out as soon as the midterm elections are over in November. Once the newly elected state legislatures begin sessions in early 2011 by filing -- or not filing -- bills to change the election laws of states across the country, we'll begin to understand whether this will be a harmonious process or not. While the GOP may have their "sticks" and the Democrats their "carrots", eighteen states must still alter their election laws to shift their primaries to later dates and thus back into compliance with the national parties' presidential selection rules.

FHQ will not say that this is impossible.* We will, however, point out that those eighteen states represent eighteen opportunities for shirking. That shirking, in turn, poses a threat to an unraveling of the whole process. And yes, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina will sit on the sidelines and wait as other states act -- or don't act. Those "Entitled Four" will bide their time and shift the dates on which their contests occur accordingly; earlier than everyone else.

Will really need look no further than Florida and Michigan in 2008 for examples of this. Actually, it is fundamentally irresponsible for him to have omitted the two violators from the last cycle from his column. The Florida and Michigan examples hold the key to the 2012 process. States will either follow the rules as most have throughout the post-McGovern-Fraser reform era or they will treat Florida and Michigan in 2008 as a sea change; a states' rights sea change. States' rights is a loaded term in American political history, but in this case, it is appropriate if only because the states will have the option to flex their muscles, if they so choose, against the national parties' sanctions. As I have argued, the states have the incentive to balk at the rules simply because the penalties are not strong enough.

I guess we'll start finding out in January when the newly elected state legislatures convene in state capitals across the nation.

*It should be noted that Arkansas as well as Illinois and Montana Republicans have moved their contests for 2012 back already.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Has something been missed here?

This simultaneous rally idea that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have hatched seems at best oddly timed and at worst counterproductive. In the case of the former, the "Rally to Restore Sanity" and "March to Keep Fear Alive" are scheduled for the weekend before the November 2 midterm elections. Yeah, that's almost as coincidental as Glenn Beck holding a Rally to Restore Honor on the same day and at the same location as Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. Coincident or not, Stewart and Colbert are appealing to moderates, but are more likely to energize liberals and Democrats on a weekend that those people would probably be better served volunteering their time going door to door to turn out "on the fence" Democratic voters who might help cushion what looks to be a fairly significant blow to the Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

Again, the timing seems odd whether you hold the view that the two Comedy Central late night personalities are Democrats at heart, or like I tell my classes I try to be, equal opportunity offenders.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Pence for President Gets and Assist from the Value Voters Straw Poll

Indiana congressmen, Mike Pence, just topped the fifth Value Voters Summit straw poll (723 voters) for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. [No, the group isn't expressly aligned with the Republican Party, so it was for the whole thing and not just the GOP nomination. However, there weren't a whole lot of Democrats in attendance.] Here's how the ledger looked when members of the group had cast their votes:
  • Mike Pence (24%)
  • Mike Huckabee (22%)
  • Mitt Romney (13%)
  • Newt Gingrich (10%)
  • Sarah Palin (7%)
  • Rick Santorum (5%)
  • Jim DeMint (5%)
  • Bobby Jindal (2%)
  • Mitch Daniels (2%)
  • Chris Christie (2%)
  • John Thune (2%)
  • Bob McDonnell (1%)
  • Marco Rubio (1%)
  • Paul Ryan (1%)
  • Haley Barbour (1%)
  • Ron Paul (1%)
  • Jan Brewer (less than 1%)
Pence is the real surprise here. If you were going to pick a Hoosier to have a good shot at the Republican nomination, you might have opted for Mitch Daniels instead of Pence. Yet, there Pence is, having doubled his share of the vote from last year's straw poll, on top. Sure Sarah Palin is on the low end in terms of share of the vote, but she was not in attendance. Neither was Tim Pawlenty, who pulled his name off the ballot because he wasn't going to be there. The Minnesota governor was in a similar position to Pence a year ago and there is no telling how he would have fared this year. Finally, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney essentially maintained similar shares of the straw poll vote as they did in 2009.

Does this result prompt Pence to jump in? Well, it is a little early still, but it might give him something to think about. Once the calendar turns to 2011, we will start seeing Republicans line up to throw their hat in the ring for the nomination. That's the next step.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Will the Tea Party Pull Extend to the 2012 GOP Nomination?

The back and forth this morning concerning the long-term impact of Christine O'Donnell's primary victory in Delaware last night has been interesting to say the least. First of all, I don't think we know the long-term effect of her victory or those of other Tea Party-backed candidates during the 2010 primary season. Talk coming out of the 2008 election was that the Republican Party had a choice in the face of such a sweeping defeat: 1) shift to the right in an effort to purify the party or 2) take the pragmatic route and just win, baby. Last night's results were a microcosm of that battle. A moderate, electable, yet not terribly popular candidate (Mike Castle) lost to a more ideologically, if not extreme, candidate (O'Donnell). But will this rightward shift in some primary races in 2010 extend to the battle for the Republican presidential nomination race in 2012?

First Read answers with the question with an absolute: "One thing is certainly clear, however: This temporary evolution within the Republican Party will end up pushing the 2012 GOP presidential field more to the right."

Joe Scarborough finds a surge and decline type of pattern in past midterm to GOP nomination elections. In other words, a rightward, corrective shift in the midterms will yield a more establishmentarian two years down the road in a presidential nomination race.

Hmmm. Which one is right? In FHQ's mind, neither. Scarborough cites the 1966 Republican Revolution followed by the nomination and subsequent election of Richard Nixon and the 1994 Contract with America wave and the 1996 nomination of Bob Dole as examples. Well, 1966/68 is not particularly applicable since it occurred prior to the McGovern-Fraser reforms that reshaped how presidential nominees were (and are) chosen. Primary and caucus results were not binding on the nomination decision made later at the convention. To say, then, that an establishment candidate was chosen is a no-brainer. Of course an establishment candidate was chosen. The establishment chose them; in this case, Richard Nixon. That leave us with the 1994/96 example. Even if we could count 1966/68, we're talking about just two data points and that just isn't often going to yield anything conclusive. It is all we have, but it isn't necessarily a representative sample. In fact, the odds are that those two examples are not representative at all.

But let's focus on 1994/96, but let's take a micro view of the context of those two elections instead of the macro brush Scarborough is painting this with. If we follow the surge and decline theory that 1992 and Clinton's victory brought with it a series of Democratic victories that otherwise wouldn't have been in Congress, then 1994 was a huge, rightward correction to that shift. But was 1996 and the Republican nomination of Bob Dole that year an example of a correction to that "overreach"?

Possibly, but how could that be measured? One way to look at that race is by looking at the field of candidates. Gingrich was the face of 1994 and there really was not a Gingrich-type candidate who entered the race for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination. Pat Buchanan made some waves with some early primary victories and could stake some claim to the mantle of rightward shift representative, but to FHQ's recollection he was not a direct extension of Gingrich and the Contract Republicans he brought with him in 1994. The story of that race was that Dole outlasted both Buchanan and the self-funded effort Steve Forbes made. It had little to do with a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. There was no purist versus establishment battle in 1996, and if there was the establishment won a pyrrhic victory. Dole was so cash-strapped from winning the nomination race that he had no way to counter Clinton's efforts to define the Kansas senator and former majority leader over the summer.

But was Dole an establishment counter to a purist overreach in 1994? I don't know that that is the conclusion to be reached. Given a limited field of candidates against a president on the rise after the 1995 government shutdown, Republican primary voters opted for their best chance to win. That just happened to be the next guy in line.

All told, 1994/96 is 1994/96 and 2010/12 will likely hold some similarities, but also some differences. First Read takes things too far in terms of the likelihood of a shift to the right in the Republican nomination race. It should be said before I go any further that a lot of this talk hinges on the assumption that the 2012 environment will (closely?) resemble what we are witnessing in 2010. That obviously isn't necessarily the case. Much can change in two years. It wasn't all that long ago that some were speculating on the potential impact the Sonia Sotomayor nomination would have on Democratic chances in Texas (in the electoral college) in 2012. However, if we follow that assumption and 2010 manifests itself in the form of presidential candidates (Palin or Jim DeMint, for example) in 2012, then perhaps there is something to the theory of a rightward shift in the 2012 Republican nomination race. The impact is likely to be similar to 1994/96, but for different reasons.

The end result -- a weakened nominee -- will be the same, but how Republicans get there will be slightly different. In that scenario, the fight would be between the grassroots and the establishment. Let's say that both factions quickly narrow their options down to one each. Let's say Palin and Romney for illustrative purposes. At that point, the reaction in some Republican circles will be that a competitive, two-person race is a good thing for the party in the same that Clinton and Obama yielded an energized base of Democrats in 2008. There is one major flaw in that premise though: While Clinton/Obama felt like a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party at times, the truth was that the two potential nominees were not all that fundamentally different. They weren't candidates from two different factions of the party so much as they were candidates who fared well with particular constituencies within the Democratic primary electorate. A Romney versus Palin or establishment versus grassroots battle for the 2012 Republican nomination is a different animal. That is a fight that potentially tips the balance of the race from beneficial due to competitiveness to detrimental because of divisiveness.

In the end, will 2012 represent a correction or a continued shift to the right? The answer is somewhere in the middle of those two absolutes and much of it depends on the environment in 2010 extending to 2012.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Turnout always matters unless it doesn't.

Daniel Hopkins over at The Monkey Cage has this to say on the subject of turnout in November:
Last year, political scientists Stephen Ansolabehere and Charles Stewart pointed out that most of Barack Obama’s increased vote total over John Kerry came from black and Hispanic voters. Those two ethnic/racial groups together accounted for an increase of 7 million votes for Obama, as compared to 3 million added votes from non-Hispanic white citizens. So in thinking about the upcoming elections for the House of Representatives, it makes sense to ask about how blacks and Latinos are represented in the most competitive districts. Consider the 42 seats currently held by Democrats that analyst Charlie Cook considers to be “toss ups.” As these races go, so goes the House in all likelihood. According to the Census Bureau, the median toss-up district’sresidents in 2006-8 were 3.6% Latino and 4.8% black—as compared to shares of 15.1% and 12.3% nationally. Simply put, irrespective of turnout, the electorate that will prove decisive in which party controls the House has fewer voters of color than the electorate that proved decisive in electing Obama.
Food for thought with just one more round of primaries between us and a full scale general election campaign.

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Gary Johnson for President?

If you follow GOP12 at all -- and if you aren't now that the site is back up and running, you should -- this is not much of a revelation. However, both MSNBC's First Read and Political Wire (via AP) are talking about the former New Mexico governor this morning.

First Read:
The AP's Glover profiles former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who appears to be running for president. "Despite two terms as governor of New Mexico and recent visits to 26 states, most Americans have never heard of Gary Johnson. The former Republican governor is mulling a run for president, and his libertarian views and small government platform fit the disenchantment many voters feel toward Washington. Among his supporters is Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, who drew a committed following in his 2008 campaign for president and was quoted in the conservative online website The Daily Caller as saying if he didn't run again in 2012, the best candidate would be Johnson."
Political Wire:
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) is exploring a presidential bid even though he knows most people have never heard of him, the AP reports.

Said Johnson: "There are two courses of action. One would be to do nothing and the other would be to burn some shoe leather and see what happens. I'm burning some shoe leather."

Johnson supports slashing government spending, including big cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but also defense spending. He also supports legalizing marijuana, expanding legal immigration and legalizing civil unions for gays and lesbians.

FHQ is of a mind that Ron Paul has a better chance of being the Ron Paul of 2012. Johnson would likely get a pretty good look from the Libertarians and appear on their line in November 2012. That's a second order question at the moment. First Ron Paul and then Gary Johnson.

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