Friday, July 9, 2010

Palin '12 Punditry/Presidential Nomination Process 101

Andrew Sullivan has a good roundup of some of the recent punditry about Sarah Palin and the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination.  I've given my position before: anyone who thinks she has it locked up is nuts, and anyone who thinks that there's zero possibility of her winning is also nuts.  But that does raise the question: what can we know now?  What should we ignore?  And by the way, how does the nomination process work, anyhow?

First: we can't know what's in any candidate's head.  Anyone who tells you that they're certain that Palin is "really" just in it for the money, or is "really" power-crazed and only cares about getting elected, is actually just guessing.  My advice: anyone who tells you they're sure about stuff like this is someone to usually skip.

Second: we don't know what she really wants, but we can say that she's doing the things now that a presidential candidate in her position would do.  I'm comfortable with saying that she's currently running for president (along with Romney, Pawlenty, and others).  Or, in Josh Putnam would but it, she's running for 2012, whether or not she'll be running in 2012.  That description would have fit Hillary Clinton and John Edwards -- and Al Gore and John Kerry -- in 2005-2006. 

Third: presidential nominations are..I need a word not quite as strong as "controlled," but much stronger than "influenced" political party leaders.  See below, for an explanation.  What that means is that it's very unlikely that a candidate disliked by party leaders could actually get herself nominated.  If party leaders don't want Palin -- and I think they'd be nuts to want her, but that doesn't mean they won't -- then they'll have little trouble keeping the nomination from her.  The best recent example of this was the fate of Mike Huckabee in 2008, but another reasonable example is Dan Quayle's failed bid for the 2000 nomination, when various conservative opinion leaders who had been quick to defend Quayle up to that point did not take his candidacy seriously, and it quickly ended.  If Republican leaders don't want Palin, you'll start hearing negative stories about her on Fox News, and from leading conservative talk shows and blogs, and enthusiastic conservatives will turn elsewhere.

Fourth...a useful reminder.  Many conservatives are enthusiastic about Sarah Palin in the context of Palin vs. Obama.  But in 2011 and 2012, if she's actively campaigning, she won't be running against Obama; she'll be running against Romney, Pawlenty, and other conservatives.  Yes, some of those other candidates aren't exactly household names, or able to elicit the kind of enthusiasm among conservatives that Palin has now -- but give them some positive buzz from Rush and Hannity and the rest, and that can be created real fast.

(By the way -- that doesn' t just happen on the right, and Hillary Clinton found out the hard way).

Fifth and last: I recommend moving anyone who predicts that the Sage of Wasilla will repeat as VP nominee to the bottom of your reading list.  Really...she might be president, she might be the next Oprah, she might be the first woman on the moon -- but there's just no way that anyone is going to select her as their running mate after the way she treated the McCain campaign. 

Now, bonus content: Presidential Nomination Process 101.  I said that nomination are controlled by "party leaders."  That does not mean that a handful of people sit down in a room in Washington and dictate the nomination.  What it means is that quite a few people, including the leaders of party-aligned interest groups, local and state party leaders, big donors, opinion leaders, major politicians at the state and national levels, and ordinary activists, collectively try to come to a decision.  The role of the voters over the last couple of decades has been three things.  First, and most basically, voters ratify the decisions of party leaders.  Second, in cases in which party leaders split, voters may determine the outcome.  And, third, it appears that party leaders sometimes use voters in the early primaries and caucuses to test how a candidate they are considering supporting will play with the electorate.  So Howard Dean failed that test in Iowa in 2004, while Barack Obama passed it in 2008.  Those insiders narrow down the field during the "invisible primary" -- hey, wait, that's happening right now!  That's why, for example, by the time the voters started choosing in 2008 such reasonable-on-paper candidates as Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson were reduced to asterisks; they had already been winnowed out before anyone even voted. 

OK, that's what we do know.  What we -- that is, what political scientists -- don't really know is which party leaders are the most influential in any one party at any one time.  We're much better at figuring that sort of thing out after the fact.  So there's plenty of scope for good reporting, especially over the next year or so when things are beginning to matter.  Things such as the National Journal's insiders poll are helpful; campaign finance reports will start being helpful; endorsements are helpful.  But it's also helpful to poke around aggressively to find out which interest group leaders are thought of as serious players and which are resting on their reputations; which state and local party people carry resources with their endorsements; which Washingtonians are really plugged in to conservative networks, and which are just repeating stale conventional wisdom.  Good reporters can get to that kind of stuff as it's happening.  So my advice is to pay attention to reporters and pundits who seem to know what they're talking about when it comes to the Republican party network, and less attention to those who think they know what's in Sarah Palin's head.


  1. One quibble: it's not that party leaders "almost control" the nominations. Rather, they represent a rather heavy thumb on the scale. The party networks can stack up the endorsements. They can get the word out (a la Bush in 1998) that if you give to the "wrong" candidate, your phone calls won't be answered. They can give to the "right" candidate themselves. They can plant newspaper stories (or seeds of them).

    All of this gives the "favorites" momentum. But, it's not determinative. Voters still have a say, even if their opinions are distorted by this whole process. And their say is almost certain to carry the day.

    All that said, much of this is just my quibble with the party network literature, which, for my money, doesn't highlight the intervening variable of press coverage enough. The party networks favor a set of candidates, and the reflection of that favoritism (endorsements, money, and influence with press) is reflected in coverage. Voters then react to the environment they're presented with: Obama vs. Hillary, Bush vs nobodies, Mondale vs Hart, etc.

    I would argue that the collective weight of that thumb in 2008 was not clearly in McCain's favor, but once that weight is channeled through the press, it was. The party network in 2008 was more divided than it normally is, and that allowed McCain's natural advantages with the press and public to carry the day. I think the story for 2008 doesn't work without voters and press.

  2. Oh, and can't I know what's in Sarah Palin's head?

    "me, me, me, me, me, me"

    ("nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing" is also a strong contender)

  3. Running for 2012 sounds more likely. Also, good parsing of English :)


  5. Taking the point from the next post's mention of the GOP tradition of primogeniture, isn't it a fairly devastating comment on Palin's nomination prospects that she hasn't already been crowned by the party establishment as heiress apparent?

    She was VP nominee after all. She electrifies the Republican base, and she easily gets media attention, delivering some Reagan magic to a party that idolizes Reagan. In theory someone like Sarah Palin would be the ideal GOP nominee. The only reason for the GOP establishment not to close ranks around her is that they don't think she lives up to that theoretical potential.

    I have no idea what is in her mind, and unlike most liberals I don't hate on her. But she strikes me as someone who got into local politics for local and business reasons, and suddenly hit the big time, but was never previously interested in politics as such.

    The fact that people even argue over whether she's running for president shows that they sense this, because political junkies it 'taint natural not to run, if you are in position to. Just as it was weird to political junkies that she'd quit as guv of Alaska.

    Which might be why the GOP establishment doesn't trust her - not in any ideological sense, but not being sure whether she wants it, on a level that in the political world can usually be taken for granted.

  6. Do you have a shred of evidence for your sweeping pronouncement of what emotion the half-term governor evokes in "most" liberals? No? I didn't think so. Unless you are David Brooks or David Broder, who somehow can read the deepest inner emotions of "most" liberals, even though they are not liberals. Or perhaps you have taken a poll probing the deepest emotions of "most" liberals?

    Because otherwise, I don't know where you come up with that sweeping generalization. Hate? I don't think so. Where do you get that?

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. She's a sure traffic grabber for blogs, cable shows etc., on both sides, and on the left side it isn't to sing her praises. I think the colloquial 'hate on' aptly expresses the vigorous distaste she regularly evokes on DKos and Huffpo comment threads.

    But I'll cheerfully withdraw the remark as a toss-off aside, not bearing on my actual point. Which is that she seems not to have been much interested in politics, as such, until she found herself in the spotlight.

    I hasten to add that this is purely an impression, formed by her first national TV interviews, particularly one question about the Iraq war. Her noncommittal answer struck me not as hedging, but as the answer of someone who had not thought about the war politically, and wasn't accustomed to thinking in those terms.

    In short she seemed like she does not particularly like politics, something very unusual in the political world.

  9. "Most" conservatives are creepy, mouthbreathing illiterates with lawn jockeys in their yard terrified of Sharia Law and out to repeal the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. I know this because you see it in RedState and Politico comment threads all the time.

    What you are doing is purposefully misstating and exaggerating a legitimate position which you yourself hold, in order to distance yourself from the label of "liberal" and to marginalize people labeled "liberals." It's a conceit that is common in the beltway among journalists and pontificators who have knuckled under to the "liberal bias" bugaboo. It doesn't make them look less "liberal" (to the right) but it does demonstrate their lack of critical thinking skills.

  10. Honestly, I was only making a rather flippant aside, because I think Palin gets more media attention than she deserves. (Yes, I'm also guilty of commenting about her!)

  11. Right. That's also the opinion of most liberals that I know and/or read. You could have made the point without the gratuitous potshot "unlike most liberals I don't hate on her." There's no need to distort and exaggerate the opinions of others into some kind of looney caricature in order to make yourself look smarter and more thoughtful. Why not just say you don't hate her but you think she gets more attention than she deserves? Why is the gratuitous slap necessary?

  12. Here is what we know about Palin-
    She never says anything smart. She doesn't have any experience. She quit on the only government jobs she ever had. She has turned almost the entire press against her. Most of the country hates her or doesn't think she is qualified. A large portion of the GOP establishment would campaign for Obama if she got the nomination.

    She has no chance at president. None. Which means she has almost no chance at the Republican nomination. So who cares if she runs, other than for entertainment value. It won't go anywhere.

  13. I am not convinced she is going to run. When she has an open presser I might start believing. She simply can't handle a public debate. She knows follow-on questions won't be waived next time.
    And I don't see any evidence she is working towards being able to debate as a goal.
    Her Q&A with Palin-friendly O'Reilly are obvious fails.
    So, you are correct, I cannot know what is in her head, but I don't see a candidate that cannot hold an open presser or debate a rival as being very viable.....
    Perhaps she is planning a putsch?

  14. Matoko -

    >>She simply can't handle a public debate.
    Well, she sort of held up against Joe

    >>She knows follow-on questions won't be waived next time.
    And if she just doesn't answer them?

    >>Her Q&A with Palin-friendly O'Reilly are obvious fails.
    True, but so what? Her base doesn't care.

    >>a candidate that cannot hold an open presser or debate a rival as being very viable.....
    Her base doesn't care, Matoko.

    How many tea partiers did all of this drive away in the last election? Answer: NONE.

    Remember, people, her FIRST goal is the primaries. And her base and a little luck can pull her through the primaries. I personaly believe she can win Iowa and South Carolina, who knows how New Hampshire will go? It wasn't so kind to Mitt the Flip last time around, was it?

    If the question is, "IS she going to run?", and that if that is largely predicated on "CAN she run credibly in the early primaries?" then the answers to both questions are "Yes"

    The girl is running.

  15. A scant 25 years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev came to understand what is certainly now obvious to just about every educated citizen of the world, namely, that market forces drive greater economic prosperity than the old Soviet gosplan model. He re-oriented the Soviet ship of state, consequently "market forces"/(the US) won the Cold War, and Reagan had "great President" thrust upon him.

    Its not only conservatives who speak of Reagan as a great President. Many historians do. Of course, former Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford once spoke of him as an "amiable dunce", and there sure was a lot to support such a view. The tv dinners watching Wheel of Fortune in the Oval Office. The vapid commentary. Nancy Reagan's astrology. Etc.

    IOW, if you think that Palin lacks the gravitas or Presidential timber to win in 2012, strip away the hype around Reagan and consider how much less presidential she will be in 2012 than he was in 1980. He had the benefit of familiarity by 1980; Palin will be in the 24/7 news cycle the next 2+ years such that she may be as familiar as him when she runs again.

    Seems to me that even the harshest Palin critic would have to acknowledge that she is only a little less Presidential than Reagan if her Presidency is a little less successful than his was, history will smile on her indeed.

  16. Jim.
    "Her base doesn't care."

    her base can't carry the country.
    non-hispanic caucs, even if she gets every single one except the natural liberals (1/3 of non-hispanic caucs) and except 2/3 of the youth cauc demographic (glued to Obama), she can't carry the country.
    its mathematically impossible for her to win just on her base.
    so if she runs, it seems she will have to surgically avoid the press. the point the opposition will make, is if she can't have a presser when shes a candidate, she won't be able to handle one when shes in office.

  17. "she is only a little less Presidential than Reagan was."

    The ginormous difference is Reagan could talk to the press and popularize himself. Palin can't. As long she is in press purdah she only has access to her base, and can't win converts.
    Again, it is mathematically impossible for her to win on her base alone.

  18. "so if she runs, it seems she will have to surgically avoid the press."

    let me clarify. it is obvious from her performance on O'Reilly that an adversary interview would shred her. She didn't take Tapper up on his offer to interview her and he is the friendliest potential interviewer outside of the FOX echo chamber.
    She has not devoted herself to study and research on actual issues....she obviously thinks slogans and demagoguery are an adquate platform.
    So any public Palin performances where she has to take live questions on policy or debate a rival will likely alienate more potential voters than they attract.
    that is why im not sure she will run. the potential for humiliation is great.

  19. And that is from her POV. I think she is too great a risk for the GOP as the presidential candidate....i could see them trying to use her again as the VP.
    Palin could have made a formidable candidate.....but she lacks the malleabilty that the GOP needed to shape her for public consumption. The leaderships intent was for her to go back to Alaska, govern well and educate herself on foreign policy and economics(Krauthammer said read some books). She wasn't having any. She wouldn't play galatea to the GOP's pygmalion....she wouldn't play galatea to Team McCains pygmalion either.
    She could have been an incredible candidate by 2016....instead she has become a blade that too easily might turn in ones hand, or chip and shatter.

  20. "Well, she sort of held up against Joe"

    and that is, quite simply, a lie. she barely survived because there were no follow-on questions. she was dreadful.

  21. "The girl is running."

    and shes not a girl, shes a grandmother.
    that is why a lot of the youth demographic are turned off (well, that and they think shes a "retard").
    Palin is a GILF, not a MILF.
    that is also a reason she has to run in 2012.....if she is ever going to run.
    in 2016 she will be post-menopausal.

  22. MK,

    I think you overstate the importance of things like press conferences when it comes to getting elected. It would certainly be a disadvantage for her that she's not well-versed in policy, but not necessarily a disqualifying one.

    Anon 11:09,

    Historians are mixed on Reagan...but really, he's nothing like Palin. Reagan in 1980 was a two-term governor of the nation's largest state, a third-time presidential candidate, and the leader of the conservative wing of the GOP for over a decade. While he often "knew" things that weren't actually true, he was certainly conversant in the major policy issues of the day.

    Moreover, the stuff that were perceived as weaknesses -- his inattention to detail, his odd relationship with facts -- were in fact problems for him as president. Republicans are ill-advised to assume that just because Ragan had a trait that therefore anyone who has that trait, or sort of seems to be similar in some way, would obviously be a president just (or almost) as good as Reagan.

  23. Berenstein.
    Would inability to participate in a presidential debate be a disqualifying event? i think she can't risk it. On one hand, if she holds a presser that will be a sign she is trying to get ready to debate.

    The main reason I think she might run, is the biology. Again, she will be post-menopausal in 2016, and her base (old white ppl) will be fewer while her anti-base(youth and minorities) will be increased.
    I think you are correct that it is now or never.

  24. Unlike the rest of the people commenting here, I really do know what is going on in Sarah Palin's mind. See, I am a telepath, and when I read her mind at a campaign stop last year in VA, what I heard was: "slogan, slogan, slogan, repeat slogan, which slogan fits that question? Oh God, don't ask me something that I don't have a slogan for...please, please, please... just ask me about drilling or hockey or grizzly bears, just not something about geography or geopolitics, or God forbid, economics, well that should be okay, my answer will be tax cuts for "small business", which of course will carry over to big, my daughter is off limits, I mean, abstinence should have worked, she is just a one in a million where she didn't get the message...just ask me about my relationship with God, please, ask about God, and gays, ask me about those filthy people too."

  25. If it hasn't already been suggested. I believe the word you are looking for between "influenced" and "controlled" is "vetted."

  26. Or "managed."

    Very nice piece, and nice comment section too. Good to see thoughtful discourse by random folks on the Innernets these days.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?