What’s At Stake in Michigan

Here’s why tomorrow’s Michigan primary is so important: it’s about establishment confidence in Mitt Romney and the last outside chance of getting another entrant in the race.
There are, as I’ve noted previously, a number of different types of “establishment” vs “grassroots” divides in the GOP, but you don’t have to have any particular definition of ‘establishment’ to recognize that Romney’s candidacy leans heavily on the support he draws from traditional ‘establishment’ or ‘insider’ sources: money from big-dollar fundraisers, endorsements from big-name elected officials, and covering fire from right-leaning journalists at major mainstream publications and conservative journals. Romney has depended, time and again, on his ability to get out of trouble by having the resources to go more negative than whatever opponent he’s targeting: more money to dump on negative ads and a bigger chorus of voices amplifying those attacks.
Aside from Mormon support – which is somewhat sui generis to Romney – some of Romney’s structural support comes from people who know him personally or identify with him as a fellow wealthy businessman; some comes from people who fear running a bold-colors conservative; and some comes from those who, whether or not they’d support a conservative in theory, fear Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich as electoral liabilities, Santorum for his overly outspoken social conservatism, Newt for his long train of baggage. (It’s obviously Santorum who represents the more serious threat to Romney at present.) It’s the latter two groups whose loyalty Romney must retain.
But there have been significant signs that if Romney loses his home state, where he grew up and where his father was Governor, that support may at last start to crack. Elected officials not in the Santorum or Newt camps were increasingly vocal criticizing Romney after his tripleheader loss to Santorum earlier this month. There are reports that Romney’s fundraising may be ready to tap out, which would require him to increasingly self-finance. His polling among independents is poor, calling into question the whole “electability” rationale of his campaign. The clincher came ten days ago when ABC quoted an unnamed Republican Senator saying that if Romney loses Michigan, a new candidate is needed to avoid running Santorum:

“If Romney cannot win Michigan, we need a new candidate,” said the senator, who has not endorsed anyone and requested anonymity.
The senator believes Romney will ultimately win in Michigan but says he will publicly call for the party to find a new candidate if he does not.
“We’d get killed,” the senator said if Romney manages to win the nomination after he failed to win the state in which he grew up.
“He’d be too damaged,” he said. “If he can’t even win in Michigan, where his family is from, where he grew up.”

(There was similar talk when Romney seemed in danger of losing Florida to Newt Gingrich) Talk of this nature has quieted a bit as Romney’s polling improved in Michigan, but it could revive in a big way if he loses there, while continuing to trail badly in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Such a response is, in my view, the last remaining plausible path to nominating someone other than the 4 candidates presently in the race.

There’s been a ton of talk about a race that is contested all the way to the convention, perhaps resulting in some sort of brokered deal to get a new candidate. Sean Trende (see here, here and here) has your must-read summaries of what makes such a convention possible, why it’s still unlikely and what the risks would be.
Color me skeptical, for reasons that overlap to a good extent with Trende’s. First, any sort of brokering will be done by and through the party machinery – the very folks who are already behind Romney, and would be the last ones to abandon him to a deal with Santorum or Newt. Second, while Santorum and Newt may have plenty of experience counting noses in Congress, a scramble for uncommitted delegates is likely to come down to the kind of horse-trading where money is the decisive advantage – and again, that means Romney (alternatively, power would rest with current officeholders, few of whom have backed Santorum or Newt). Third, any establishment figure who is open to a draft and would be a semi-credible candidate is likely someone who is already publicly behind Romney (eg, Chris Christie) or at least privately more favorable to him than to Santorum or Newt. Fourth, a candidate chosen so late in the game is bound to be unprepared, undervetted, not blessed by any choice of the voters, and in need of a ton of fence-mending with people who spent the whole spring and summer behind another candidate. I can’t see it happen.
For similar reasons, I don’t expect anybody else to get into the race now. The people who bowed out did so for various of their own reasons, and are unlikely to want to reconsider if it still means jumping in against Romney’s well-oiled attack machine. It’s not possible for a late entrant to get on enough ballots to get past 50% of the delegates, so we go back to the list above of reasons why Romney would win at a contested convention. There’s no time to build a new organization and new fundraising base in time to get in the race, unless the new entrant inherited one already in existence. And the not-Romney voting bloc, large as it is, would need to be convinced that a late entrant isn’t yet another ruse to allow Mitt to win on a divide-and-conquer strategy.
But there remains one and only one way, however unlikely, that this whole dynamic could change: if Romney drops out. Which he’s naturally not inclined to do, after running almost continuously for six years. But would his view change if a significant bloc of his support came to him and said it was time to back a new entrant – if his supporters concluded either that Romney couldn’t stop Santorum or would be too damaged goods to mount a serious challenge to Obama? I think it might, just as the view of someone like Christie might change if he was released from his endorsement of Romney and begged to enter to stop Santorum (who Christie clearly views as a disaster for the party). Even without the ability to win 50% of the delegates, a credible new entrant who started reeling off wins in the remaining contested states would be able to build an argument that the grassroots and the establishment have finally found a candidate they can agree on, creating a much stronger position to squeeze Santorum and Newt to get on board.
(I’ve used Christie as the most obvious candidate, but he’s not the only possible one among figures who can more plausibly bridge the gap between the various factions of the party but who chose not to run)
Is this a likely outcome? Probably not, even if Romney loses Michigan (it might have been more likely if he’d been blown out there, but that won’t happen). But it’s at least still a plausible path, and in my view the last plausible path to any outcome other than Romney or Santorum (or, far less likely, Newt) winning this thing the traditional way.

18 thoughts on “What’s At Stake in Michigan”

  1. Oh, come on. Drop out? Seriously? Nobody drops out when they are thiiiis (holding thumb and forefinger a centimeter apart) close to the nomination. That’s about the silliest thing you’ve ever written.
    I, for one, have changed from Romney to Santorum. If the GOP is going to lose – and I think we are – I’d rather lose with Santorum than with Romney. Because losing with Romney is only going to lead the party to abandon “electability” as a factor in nominations altogether, leading to years and years of nominations of the likes of Christine ODonnell, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle and the like.

  2. As I said, he’s not gonna drop out voluntarily – only if he’s pushed.
    And yes, the best argument I’ve heard for nominating Romney is to make sure he gets stuck holding the bag for the mess he has made, and put an end once and for all to the clueless-rich-guy brand of candidate. If Romney hadn’t run at all, we’d almost certainly have better choices today than we have.
    Funny how you didn’t mention Rubio, Toomey, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, or Rick Scott. Or Carly Fiorina.
    As I’ve noted before, Buck won independents by 16 points, and would likely have won his race if the gubernatorial race hadn’t been such a disaster and/or the national party had had any money/organization in CO, and Angle (who also beat Harry Reid among independents) would never have been nominated if Lowden wasn’t a terrible candidate who imploded in the primary.
    There are races like DE that we’ve lost by running the more conservative candidate, and one we’ve won by choosing more electable, more moderate candidates like Christie, but we’ve lost more races than that by running uninspiring moderates.

  3. I really have to wonder just what kind of pyhrric victory are they going for? I understand, Romney wants to show he can win in his home state; Santorum that he can beat the Mormon (and remember Santorum has now made this a religious fight); but in the end, they are fighting over the state that Obama committed hundreds of billions to keep two of the three largest employers in the state active. So this win at all costs mentality in a state they will likely lose is odd to me.
    Santorum has now declared war on John Kennedy. I mean, seriously, how many November votes does he really want to lose just to get headlines?

  4. Aside from making John Stewart’s life that much easier and The Daily Show that much funnier I cannot figure out what the purpose of the GOP primary fight actually is. A race to the bottom (snark)? I wish all 4 got right around 25% in each state to keep them all in it for as long as possible so the hilarity continues.

  5. “Santorum has now declared war on John Kennedy.”
    Yes, I for one look forward to the next 8 months being about Santorum’s views on JFK’s speeches about church/state separation, contraception, and Satan’s war on America. You know, the key national issues of the day. Yay!

  6. “only if he’s pushed”
    There is nobody alive who is powerful enough to push him. Heck, I doubt he would drop out even if many of his biggest supporters – Christie et al – got together to try to push him to drop out, and I don’t see any way that anyone could ever get a group together like that; it simply doesn’t happen.
    I don’t see, BTW, how the GOP would have had better candidates if Romney hadn’t run. I don’t think Ryan, Christie, etc. refused to run merely because Romney was running.

  7. The critique of JFK’s approach to religion is a fairly sophisticated one, albeit one that Santorum, rather typically, presents in ways that let people like Daryl misrepresent him. The point is simply that religious people shouldn’t be required to shut off the religious part of themselves when making the moral judgments that public officials make many times a day (spare me the part where you guys pretend that what liberals do constantly has nothing to do with moral judgment).
    I agree that it’s unlikely Romney could be pushed from the race. I disagree that it’s impossible, if he loses Michigan and trails in Ohio.
    I get that some of the people who sat out had their own reasons, a point I’ve made frequently. But the landscape looks very different without all that money and electoral space on the left end of the party locked up by Romney. I suspect that Ryan in particular could have been coaxed into the race if the field in July 2011 had been Pawlenty, Huntsman, Bachmann, Cain, Newt, Santorum, Paul and Johnson. (Daniels is a tougher call, since we don’t know the whole story with his wife). And even without a new candidate, we’d probably still have Pawlenty in the race; his whole calculation on how and where to spend his money and contest the Iowa Straw Poll against Bachmann would have been different. Without Romney, Perry’s money and experience probably keep him in the field longer as well. Romney’s presence warps the whole dynamic of the race.

  8. Crank, have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, people can be sophisticated while disagreeing with you? Santorum is doing what even Bill O’Reilly called a mistake. Fighting the culture wars is, and has always been a loser. And in trying to twist the words that Kennedy meant, shows how desperate he is. And in fighting the so called fight on virtue, he has put himself at odds with Lincoln as well (and his famous quote, “It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues”). Or are you smarter than Lincoln now too?

  9. If you think Santorum’s advocacy of virtue puts him at odds with that quote by Lincoln, you should not be telling me your analysis of this issue is sophisticated.
    If you want to go ahead and tell me Lincoln wanted elected officials to (1) remove all religious influence from their moral judgments (2) never make religious arguments in public and (3) get out of the business of advocating right over wrong, well, that’s a hilariously ahistorical view of Lincoln.

  10. “The point is simply that religious people shouldn’t be required to shut off the religious part of themselves when making the moral judgments that public officials make many times a day . . . .”
    I think they should, frankly, particularly when it comes to voicing them in public. It makes people understandably nervous of how far a candidate will go to promote his/her religious beliefs.
    I’m not saying that candidates avoid issues that are religiously sensitive, just talk about the positions in ways that do not involve religion. It’s not hard to make the case against abortion without bringing up religious beliefs. You can talk about the public policy problems of having contraceptives widely available to young children, or like you stated earlier, that it’s not the federal government’s role.
    There are usually good reasons why religions view actions as sinful, so why not focus on the bad consequences of those actions rather than focusing on the morality of them? For example, what is a more effective way to encourage children not to use condoms? Is it to say the Catholic church considers it sinful or to say the condom might break, leak or fall off?
    It’s so easy to do that I have to think that politicians are purposely presenting them as religious issues because certain voters want them presented way. But when you preach to choir in that way, you wind up alienating the very segment of the population you want to convince, and you scare off other people who wonder where a candidate will draw the line on their religious beliefs.

  11. Oh, I agree as a matter of political prudence that you want to present arguments that appeal to people of many different religious or non-religious backgrounds, which naturally means not overrelying on explicitly religious arguments. What bothers me is the idea that if your arguments have any religious influence at all, that’s supposed to be some sort of disqualifying factor. That’s just ridiculous nonsense, and it’s what Santorum’s pushing back against.

  12. “What bothers me is the idea that if your arguments have any religious influence at all, that’s supposed to be some sort of disqualifying factor.”
    Yes, I agree, that goes too far. I notice it wasn’t a disqualifying factor for liberals regarding Obama and Rev. Wright. I guess it’s ok to be religious so long as all of your public policy positions are completely and utterly incompatible with your religion. And if liberals contend it’s ok to jump all over someone’s religious convictions, then there is no complaining that conservatives jumped on the more controversial statements of Rev. Wright. It’s a double-edged sword.

  13. I’m not a social conservative, but Santorum’s argument regarding what JFK said is an area that I agree with Santorum. Politicians ought to be able to discuss religious and moral values. And I don’t think that these are necessarily political negatives, if done the right way. Same as you, I don’t think that Santorum is particularly good at making the arguments in the best way, nor is he good at the key issues that will win the election (hint: it’s the economy, stupid). I am hopeful that he will improve at that.
    As to whether a Romney non-entry in the race would have drawn Ryan in or kept Pawlenty in to the end, who knows. I suspect not. I don’t think it would have had any effect on Perry – he was drawing from a whole other set of funders and supporters, and his failure (alas) was completely of his own doing.

  14. I actually have no problem with Muslim politicians arguing for particular good policies that are supported by their understanding of Sharia. Problems with Sharia, as practiced and interpreted in most or all of the countries where it has some role in law or operates as a law unto itself, are that (1) it promotes things that are actively wicked and evil, like honor killings and suicide bombings, (2) it imposes worldly punishments on purely theological matters (ie, blasphemy, converting or trying to convert others from Islam), (3) it admits of no possibility of religious pluralism. The growth and vibrance of the Christian states as compared to the societal decay of the Islamic world over the past 700-800+ years is significant evidence of the earthly blight created by Sharia law.
    Failing to understand actual factual distinctions in practice is .. well, par for the course.

  15. Watching the herd here agree with Santorum’s inaccurate depiction of Kennedy’s speech is also fun. Big deep thinker, historian and generally seen here as the smartest guy in the GOP field has Santorum as wrong on this (which he is) and while Newt certainly has a dog in the fight I doubt his underlying motivation is to zing Santorum. He likes being right (even when he’s wrong or lying) and just going against the puddle-level depth of Santorum’s thinking here is easy enough.

  16. Andrew Breitbart is in a better place.
    A place where he doesn’t have to answer his grand-kid’s question, “Papa, who’s side did you fight on in the war against the middle class?”

  17. Just think of the possibilities. If Ayatollah Santorum actually won, we could have Nancy Grace as Attorney General, Orly Taitz as head of INS, Judge Judy on the Supreme Court, and Chuck Norris as Secretary of Defense

Comments are closed.