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Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Now that my Ideological Critique bourse is concluded, let me return to the Hot Stove League for some more reflections on the bizarre spectacle of the Republican race for the presidential nomination. I have been giving this some serious thought [thereby demonstrating once again that it is possible to think seriously about things that are beneath contempt]. Herewith my latest musings. As always, the rules of the Hot Stove League apply, which means that neither I nor anyone else can be held accountable for predictions that do not pan out.

Recall that I have laid it down as an unquestionable premise that someone is going to get the nomination. That may seem even less likely than when I first fired up the hot stove, but bear with me. So who will it be? It is essential to ignore the bloviations of the Inside the Beltway conservative commentariat [George Will, Charles Krauthammer, et al.] and focus on the process by which the decision will be made. Starting next January, there is going to be a series of Republican caucuses and primaries, in the course of which 1921 pledged delegates and 378 quasi-unpledged delegates will be selected [a "quasi-unpledged" delegate is one who is not officially committed to any candidate, but who has been chosen by an election, and hence has some sort of tacit commitment to whichever candidate wins that state]. In addition, 123 genuinely unpledged delegates will be given votes at the convention [akin to the Democratic Party's "super-delegates."] There will thus be 2422 delegates, and 1212 will be required to secure the nomination.

None of the delegates will be chosen by Fox News, or Ralph Reed, or Grover Norquist, or Rush Limbaugh, or George Will, or the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal.

As I see it, there are four possible states of affairs when all of the caucuses and primaries are done with.

[1] One candidate has 1213 delegates, or more. In that case, that person will be nominated, regardless of how much he or she is hated by some wing of the party, and regardless of his or her standing in head to head polls with President Obama.

[2] One candidate emerges with a clear plurality of the delegates -- say 1100 or so -- and no other candidate has more than 500 or 600, the remaining votes being scattered among other candidates and the quasi-unpledged delegates and genuinely unpledged delegates. In that case, I am dead certain that the candidate who is almost there will get the nomination, either by winning over enough unpledged delegates, or by cutting a vice-presidential deal with another candidate. I say this because there is no way that bosses in behind the scenes deals are going to frustrate the will of almost half of the delegates in the hall and hand the nomination to someone who has clearly failed to win sufficient support over the course of a long, expensive, rancorous primary fight.

[3] The race settles into a two person battle, with neither winning a majority, but the two of them, between them, winning maybe 1800 of the delegates, the rest scattered among die-hard candidates who refuse to drop out. In that case, no matter the identities of those two, the nominee will be one of them, and not some White Knight riding in at the last minute to save the party. If those two, for example, are Romney and Bachman, the Party bigwigs and pundits may decide that since they hate Romney and know that Bachman cannot win, they want to turn to Huntsman or Christie or Perry or someone not yet on anyone's radar screen. That just is not going to happen. The Convention will erupt into a full-scale revolution if three-quarters of the delegates there see their candidate passed over for someone who could not even win a respectable plurality of the delegates in the primary process. [Keep in mind that the people who actually stand as delegates for a candidate are die-hard loyalists who really believe in their man or woman. This is a big enough country so that even oddballs like Ron Paul and Herman Cain, and dirtbags like Rick Santorum, can find people who think they walk on water.] There will be a great deal of maneuvering, and it is not a foregone conclusion that the one with a slight edge in delegates wins, but the nominee will be one of those two finalists.

[4] When the last primary or caucus is over, the delegates are scattered all over the map, with no one having more than 500 or 600, and three or four candidates still in the running. This is a formula for something resembling an old-fashioned open convention, and it is very hard to say what the outcome will be.

Which of these scenarios will we see, and who will be the players? I think it is possible to make some pretty solid predictions, even this far in advance. The key is the nature of the primary process. In the opening stages [Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina], publicity and buzz and subjective impressions and even the opinions of the commentators will count for a good deal, but very quickly [Super Tuesday and beyond] the sprint turns into a marathon, and money, field operatives, and campaign discipline will count for a great deal. If there are two or more candidates who appeal to the same subset of Republican primary voters, one of them, by virtue of gaining an early edge, will squeeze out the others. Money will dry up, operatives will quit, and voters from that subset will migrate to the candidate who seems to be ahead.

All of this favors Romney and Bachman, and works against Pawlenty, Huntsman, Cain, Gingrich, Santorum, Christie, Perry, and "a player to be named at a later date." Ron Paul is sui generis. He will stick it out to the end, get a handful of delegates, flutter some libertarian hearts, and go nowhere. What is my reasoning?

Romney has tons of money and figures to do well in New Hampshire. He will survive until Super Tuesday, on which day his campaign will run a full-court game in every primary being held that day. He will very quickly start to accumulate delegates, and regardless of how much he is disliked by some wings of the party, he will go on winning delegates, because there is a subset of primary voters who want someone like Romney, and by the time they get to vote, it will be obvious that he is their guy. Huntsman will never get out of the starting blocks. The wise heads in the party may pine for him, but he will not be able to accumulate anything like enough delegates to win or come close to winning or be one of the top two ][scenarios [1] through [3] above.] His money will dry up, and he will be reduced to hoping for a vice-presidential nod from Bachman [he cannot be tapped by Romney -- two Mormons on the ticket!] Pawlenty has a version of the same problem. He is not going to emerge from Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina with more delegates than Romney, and he is not going to out-crazy Bachman. Once the cable news stations start showing daily counts of delegates won by one candidate or another, Christie, Perry, Daniels, Barbour, Gingrich, Trump et al. will be out of it, and will never be able to get back in.

On the loony wing of the party, Palin is pretty clearly toast. If she makes the mistake of running in Iowa, she will be beaten by Bachman, and will quit, finding a way to claim that she has been unfairly treated. Bachman will either win Iowa or come in second. She will do pretty well in South Carolina. She cannot match Romney's money, and she does not yet have a comparable organization, but she will very quickly come to be seen as the far right alternative to Romney, and all of those end-times young-earth inerrantist gay-hating, abortion doctor killing loyal Republicans have to go somewhere, so they will vote for her.

My prediction is that by the time Super Tuesday is over, the race will have settled into a slog between Romney and Bachman, with Romney likely to end up the winner [scenario [1] or [2]], but with a real possibility of scenario [3]. The natural result of scenario [3] will be a Romney Bachman ticket.

If that happens, I predict that Obama will move Biden over to Secretary of State and choose Clinton as his Vice-Presidential running mate.


Andrew Lionel Blais said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Lionel Blais said...

If Romney gets the delegates, then there is a surprising number of people who are willing to endorse a man who accepts a theology, that is, a fiction, that is less than 200 years old. That is just simply weird.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I take it you are not troubled by ficttional theologies two thousand years old? :) I myself have never managed to develop a differential taste in theologies. ]

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

How long before a theology or fiction takes root? Not on the first telling, I'd think. Two hundred years seems too quick, a test is whether Romney gets the delegates. It will be interesting to see how they sort out theological conflicts with the fundamentalists. It's like Macbeth meeting Felix the cat.

Michael said...

I stick by my prediction that Romney will get the nomination, albeit grudgingly. But, Professor Wolff, your post did get me thinking about who might be Romney's VP mate. I suppose Bachman is possible, but I'd be surprised if Mitt didn't go with a governor or senator. I'd be proud to vote against a Romney/Perry ticket.

Part of me, however, does hope that Bachman does get the nomination. If I may be vulgar for a moment, she's so fucking insane that I can't imagine her actually winning a presidential election.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I think the only way she gets the VP nod is if he needs her delegates to win the nomination, and that may well be possible.

By the way, an email correspondent informs me that her name is spelled with two n's. Far be it from me to deny her even orthographic support. She needs all the help she can get.

But I hope it is Romney and some colorless white guy in a suit. I think the Tea Party would sit on its hands, and we would get the Huspanic vote in droves.

Michael said...

Assuming Romney gets the nomination, I could see him picking Bachmann (with two N's) as his running mate. She could lock down the far right social folk that Romney can't get. But I can't imagine a Romney/Bachmann ticket having a chance against Obama.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I don't think Romnmey would pick Bacnmann unless he had to, but if he cannot lock up the nomination on his own, and if she has the delegates he needs, he may have to. Kennedy didn't like Johnson either, but Johnson did bring him Texas, which won the election for him [barely].

Stay tuned.