February 6, 2008
POLITICS: Did The Primary Process Fail Conservatives?
I led a roundtable discussion on this and related questions over at Redstate. Here's my opening observations:
1. I don't think it was inevitable that the primary voters in this cycle would choose a non-conservative nominee. I do think the primary electorate wanted someone visibly different from George W. Bush, and that was likely to mean less conservative on at least some issues, but there was room to run to Bush's right on others, like immigration and spending. McCain's rise has had more to do with the peculiarities of the people in this field than any shift in mood away from a robust conservatism. As I have said ad nauseum, ideas don't run for president, people do.
2. The people who did run were less a feature of the times than an accident of history: McCain, Romney, Rudy and Huck ran because of the points they were at in their careers (although in Rudy's case that was clearly influenced by the timing of 9/11). Only Fred was really pulled into the race by popular demand for his ideas, and Fred ran the most conservative campaign.
3. That said, the people did not run fell into three groups: those who were too personally tied to Bush to run (e.g., Jeb), those who were clearly not ready for the national stage (e.g,., Bobby Jindal), and those whose careers were derailed by 2006 (e.g., George Allen). Only the third group is really a feature of the ideological climate as opposed to personal circumstance.
4. You can't really blame the process for dictating the nature of the race, as McCain's really crucial victories came in two fairly conservative Southern states (South Carolina and Florida) that were hardly his natural turf. That said, I see three impacts from the calendar. First, Romney's hometown ties to New Hampshire and Michigan robbed Rudy of a natural starting point in the early states, and probably discouraged him from running harder there. I wouldn't suggest that that was the biggest factor in Rudy's demise, but it exacerbated his problems. Second, the short space between Florida and Super Tuesday made it impossible for the anti-McCain forces to rally effectively behind a single candidate, although I'm still skeptical that that was possible (I don't buy that Huck's voters would have preferred Romney to McCain by the substantial margins needed to unseat the leader). And third, the Northeastern states, by going to winner-take-all and ganging up on Super Tuesday while most other states divided their delegates, ended up having an outsize role in Tuesday's delegate count. It's probably wiser in the future for states to go to winner-take-all if they want their voters' preferences to have equal weight in the process.
5. Can we please get rid of caucuses? Romney kept winning small-state caucuses, but it never helped him. Huckabee won West Virginia when the McCain forces fell in behind him, leading to much gnashing of teeth about backroom deals from the Romney camp. If every state had a primary we would not have endless arguments about weighing the legitimacy of different states' choices.
Conservatives should be thanking their lucky stars that George Allen self-destructed. That guy makes GWB look like Richard Feynman.
For all of the anti-McCain vitriol, no-one seems to have noticed the obvious truth about Romney--he ain't gonna be able to beat either Hillary or especially Obama. Rush et al need to have a little more faith in the process--thus far, it seems to have selected one of the two candidates who could actually pull votes from conservative dens and independents (the other being Giuliani).
Oh, I agree with that completely - while I deeply regret losing him from the Senate, I was always worried about Allen as a general election candidate, and I believe I wrote at the time that the silver lining was that we got to see him self-destruct in a statewide rather than a national race.
I think the timing of the primaries was a killer. Regular people paid no attention to the race until after Jan 1. Before then, they had Christmas and real lives to lead. What normal person worries about a November 2008 election in 2007?!
After Jan 1, they had a couple of days to make a decision. Terrible schedule.
I'm not a big fan of the schedule - I think name recognition plays a big factor in how people vote. (Yes not the people posting on this blog, but a lady I work with in VA, educated, votes Republican, didn't really know anything about Romney or Huckabee, as of WEDNESDAY!)
Guiliani ran a poor campaign, he spent 50 million on a campaign for 1 delegate. His campaign has to be considered one of the worst showings ever in presidential politics. Romney had some of the same problems - but as you point out in the state where Romney campaign could get out to the voters or where he was well known - he did better. If NY, NJ, CT had been proportional Romney could have stayed in. Winner take out favors a knockout, I'm not sure that a TKO or WBD doesn't yield a better candidate.
I'm glad Romney is out. I'm pretty sure McCain can't win - and now Romney won't be blamed. Don't blame Rush et al - McCain took the positions he took - with the risks they entailed. He could have sat the amnesty debate out - which would have been a better position then supporting that bill - and he wouldn't have 99% of this problem with conservative base. I know that some consider this part of his integrity and character - to me its a bug not a feature.
No saying "McCain didn't win so and so wouldn't have won either." Everyone whose made an argument about electability will look the fool if McCain gets crushed (as I think he will). And as you pointed out "what are we losing for?" if McCain's candidacy ticks off conservatives and candidates down ticket lose, well its a double wammy. I'll be voting for him in the general let's hope he pulls off the long shot.
The primary process did not fail conservatives; rather the "wisdom of crowds" among Rep primary voters is that they need a more centrist candidate to have a shot at winning, thanks to Bush's abysmal approval record. The country for the time being has shifted a bit leftward, largely in response to Bush's neo-con foreign policies. Republican voters know this phenomenon and are part of it; hence McCain's success and Romney's failure.
I think every state should get to vote on the same day. It's exceedingly frustrating to live in a state with a late primary. The candidate is always picked before we even have a chance to vote.
Living in Washington, I am also for eliminating the Caucus. We got a statewide presidential primary through the initiative process, but on the Democrat side, it's all academic - it doesn't choose a single delegate. On the republican side, the primary chooses half of the delegates, but it seems like an extraordinary waste of money to hold a statewide election to select 1/2 of one party's delegates.
Also, the caucus system allowed Ron Paul to garner an astonishing 21% of the vote out here. And Huckabee lost to McCain by a razor thin margin in a very blue state. That's not the Washington I know. Huckabee will get blown out in the primary.