04 January 2012

Fallout, two.

It looks like the only thing that was settled by Iowa was the dropping out of two long since meaningless candidacies (Perry and Bachmann) (Update: Perry hasn't, yet, suspended his campaign. This will suffice to complicate Romney's delegate totals but will dig mostly into Gingrich or Santorum's possibilities. I'm not sure what possible service his continued candidacy serves really other than to continue to have someone fun to make fun of involved). While I imagine Santorum will get a bump of sorts from doing as well as he did in Iowa, I have no illusions that he can successfully organise a significant and sustainable resistance movement to the irresistible object that is now a Romney nomination. The man (Santorum) has a more vigorous foreign policy agenda with paranoid assertions about Muslims as his main non-social conservative selling point in an election about the economy and against an incumbent President whose main area of perceived success is foreign policy AND lacks the charismatic and practised and polished delivery of his message that a similar candidate in Mike Huckabee had 4 years ago (albeit with less paranoid foreign policy rhetoric and positions as a candidate. Pundit Huckabee has indulged freely in fact-free paranoia). Which means that his google-recognized status as a world-class asshole is in no danger of being violated. He's also, like Huckabee, no stranger to invoking anti-individualism and especially to use statist power in the economy to favor the politically connected, which while popular with many conservatives, is not especially popular with either Romney-ites and particularly the Paul controlled wings of the party (Romney types like this, but prefer to do it more subtly than the Santorum-laced pro-middle class rants)

I submit that media imagination surrounding Santorum is primarily there to do two things:

1) Ignore the difficult and thought-provoking debate questions posed by a possible Ron Paul candidacy and levels of support that he now enjoys. Media types hate debates and asking questions that invite actual answers.

2) Continue the illusion of a horse race scenario worthy of media attention. I suppose it is possible that Santorum or Gingrich wins South Carolina. Gingrich might even be able to make a play for Florida (Santorum cannot, social conservatives tend to do poorly there and New Hampshire. It's a weird southern state apparently). But that's sounding a lot like the Giuliani strategy, and it depends on his being able to not implode himself into becoming the butt of a series of knock knock jokes. But after that, the only plausible non-Romney scenario is a broken convention where he doesn't get enough delegates. He's going to do reasonably well out West now that there's no McCain out there to muck things up, in Michigan and some of the other rust belt states, probably better than Santorum in Pennsylvania even if it came to that, New England, and basically everywhere but the Deep South and a couple of prairie states. That might be a core enough to meddle in the number of delegates, if, and only if, the anti-Romney vote decides to merge behind a Santorum candidacy. And that would be insane. So I don't expect it to happen. Even the paranoid fantasy of a Gingrich fueled primary was bad enough a delusion. The media really needs to give it up and admit that this race is long since over.

I would note that in the person of Eric Erickson BOTH of these delusions were entertained. Which was uproariously funny.

Firstly, Erickson claimed that the GOP record turnout was false because "Ron Paul voters" were not Republicans. It is true that Paul claimed a substantial portion of the non-GOP/independent/Democratic voters who turned out. Something like 40%. But that portion of the vote was somewhere around 25%, which puts Paul's share of it around 10% of the total vote at best/worst. Which means Erickson must account for roughly 10-12% of the usual conservative/Republican electorate that turned out to support Paul (much as they did in 2008), assuming that all of the "independents" are normally either Libertarians or Democrats (which is a huge assumption). He has no desire to do so, because it would require him to grapple with the idea that national security and civil liberties issues relating to the war on terror, war on drugs, or foreign wars/occupations all desired by his preferred candidacies (Perry I believe was his guy), are not simple troupes where the Democrats are weaklings (Obama certainly hasn't been) and Republicans tough-minded and doing the necessary deeds. When it is clearly not that simple (and the Obama apology tour line or the ACLU running the CIA one have been WAY overplayed). Further complicating Erickson's bizarro world, Paul's voters self-identified as among the "most conservative" and as among the most trusted on "deficits" as a basis for their votes. Are these not core elements of GOP rhetorical support? I guess they are not as important in real terms to conservatives as abortion or tax cuts nor of expressing virulent hatred of Obama/Democrats/liberals or of Muslims/Iran/"anti-anything goes in Israel" types.

But that's hardly news.

It would be noteworthy to observe that large numbers of Paul's voters were in the under 30 range. He dominated that portion of the vote. Those voters may not show up at the general election for the GOP without some portions of the Paul agenda on the ballot, as happened last election Paul supporters vote for Paul-supported candidates or Paul himself but not the mainstream Republican. Which is a problem for the GOP in a close race, especially with more Paul supporters out there. But also, and perhaps more significant, writing them off as though they are "not Republicans" ignores the need for the party to generate a youth movement for future levels of support. Eventually all these seniors and retiring businessmen who are apparently terrified of gays and Muslims and Medicare cuts are going to die. And Republicans will have... what exactly as a core voter at the national level? Abortion as sole issue concerned voters (Isn't that almost what they already have)? While I don't particularly care if their party survives as such, I have few illusions that its demise would mean the arrival of a stronger libertarian movement enough to become a major player. Which would leave us with Democrats running things. Which is, clearly, little better on most issues of importance. Reform is needed, and while Paul isn't really my cup of chicken soup for the soul, maybe it is for some conservatives. Paul also did very well with lower incomes. Suggesting Santorum's economic populism message is rendered effectively irrelevant. Part of this is that Paul did very well with younger voters of course, who are naturally, in lower income brackets by effect of their newer working lives. But it would be well for Republicans to consider adding some poor people and some younger voters and Paul seems able to attract them in greater numbers and enthusiasm than other candidates.

In the related humorous front, Erickson, because presumably his horse is run out of the race and he, like many conservatives, now dislikes the entire field, continues to press the possibility of another late entrant into the primary field. There are serious logistical problems with this delusion (getting one's name on ballots has already shown itself to be difficult for everyone but Romney and Paul) and it presumes that there is a GOP candidate on the bench who could raise substantial funding and support in short order to compete. I don't see that there is one such person. Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, even Bobby Jindal or Marco Rubio have been floated as names. None of them will run because none of them have expressed interest in running (I can't speak to Jindal's position, but after his strange volcano speech a couple years ago, I doubt it). None of them has a fusionist perspective that resonates with the base of voters. Daniels has a record of it, but not a rhetoric. Christie upsets the libertarians and/or social conservatives. Ryan has legislative baggage in the form of medicare cuts and support for TARP, Bush is a Bush. Rubio is a useless token piece in an election on economics rather than immigration or foreign policy and is basically an empty shell for John McCain fans to be loaded onto as it is, and so on. .

So however amusing it is to speculate, speculations that do not readily conform to reality should be dismissed as ranting and raving by uninformed lunatics, and not proper opinion journalism of the sort Erickson and others are presumably employed to provide.

This is all very amusing to the outside observer. What seems pretty clear from here is that there are at least two factions which control enough of the GOP electorate to dominate a nomination: social conservatives and business conservatives (corporatists). Both of these groups should have long since coalesced around Huntsman, who has an actual record as governor backing both groups on most issues (not all, but most). Apparently a temperament of "reasonable dialogue" in politics is so off-putting that that didn't happen. Which is pretty sad. Huntsman was probably the single most dangerous opponent for an Obama candidacy (if not the most interesting debates, Paul wins that by a mile) and I would have preferred a more competitive election cycle. There's no particular reason I should favor a GOP candidate over Obama (I see both parties as greater evils than throwing my vote away on a third party in most years already), but I also don't see any particular reason that Obama should deserve re-election. Surely in such an environment, it would have been possible to find and fund better candidates than this if one is the GOP?

If they were really that committed to disliking both Obama and Romney, then I'd have to say they're not demonstrating it.
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