February 22, 2012

What Ace Said: Santorum as the "Conservative Who Can Win"?

Ace hits a home run with this. He's exactly right.

As I've said before, Rush is great at talk radio. At political science? Not so much.

We didn't lose in 1996 and 2008 because we ran moderate candidates. That's historical fiction. We lost those two elections because of a) economic conditions (good in 1996 favoring the incumbent, and bad in 2008 favoring the out-party candidate); b) because of a third party candidate in 1996 (remember, Clinton never got a majority of the vote in either 1992 or 1996, Ross Perot eroded the Reagan independent vote); c) because of weak candidates (the weakness of their personal candidacy having nothing to do with their alleged moderation).

The other problem with the two examples Rush uses is something called selection bias. His chooses cases where moderates lose, and ignores when a moderate wins.

How about 1988? Did a moderate Republican win or not? Um, yes he did.

Remember, George H.W. Bush ran against Reagan as a moderate and famously called Reagan's economic plans "voodoo economics".

But his landslide victory in 1988 (yes, he carried 40 states and 426 electoral votes to Dukakis's 10 states and 111 electoral votes) had nothing to do with his moderation. It had to do with the fact that the economy was booming.

bush_dukakis.jpg

And when he lost 4 years later? We were just coming out of a recession.

It truly is the economy stupid.

Oh, and Ross Perot took 18.9% of the vote in what we call a "spoiler" election (see the election of Woodrow Wilson due to the third party candidacy of Teddy Roosevelt as another example of this).

Clinton only got 43% of the vote and could never translate his personal appeal into anything meaningful past surviving impeachment. He was never a popular president as counted by the thing that matters: votes.

Let's remember that this allegedly "popular" president won twice with less than a majority -- both times because of a third party "spoiler", was impeached, and lost both houses of Congress to the Republican party. Something no other Democrat -- or Republican -- had been able to do for the previous forty years combined.

Since the modern conservative movement doesn't begin as a widespread electoral phenomenon until the 1964 nomination of Barry Goldwater, we don't really have data to make comparisons before that.

But would any one accuse Dwight Eisenhower of being anything other than a moderate?

Nixon, a moderate by any reasonable standard, lost in 1960. Most likely this was due to voter fraud in Illinois and Texas. But, even if it was a fair and square election, it's one of the few times where the out party wins in a general climate favorite to the incumbent party.

But in the atmosphere of 1968 and 1972, the moderate Republican won. In 1968 Nixon won, most likely, because of a third party candidate that split the Democratic vote (George Wallace who took 13.5% of the traditionally Democratic vote, and who won 5 states that had voted Democratic for 100 years straight).

And in the booming economy of 1972, and with the North Vietnamese on the retreat and preparing to give up at the Paris peace talks (they signed a treaty in 1973 renouncing their claims to South Vietnam and calling off the war there), the moderate Nixon won in a landslide. And I mean, a major landslide.

Nixon_McGovern.jpg

The moderate Nixon garnered over 60% of the vote and won 49 states.

Yes, Nixon, the moderate, actually outperformed either of Reagan's landslide victories.

Reagan's 1980 "landslide"? 50.7% of the vote. It might have been a much bigger victory if Republican John Anderson hadn't taken away 6.6% of the vote.

It was a landslide (no quotes this time), in 1984 when he won 58.8% of the vote and also carried 49 states. But, the economy was booming and the conservative Reagan still got a smaller percentage of the vote than the moderate Nixon.

Are you seeing a pattern here? All things being equal, it is the state of the economy that matters most in a Presidential election, not the candidate themselves.

The second most important factor is whether or not a third party "spoiler" candidate enters the race, and from which side of the aisle are they most likely to draw from.

It's only when we get to the level of tertiary causal factors do things like the individual candidates ideological position or personality traits begin to matter.

Which means that whoever the Republicans nominate is probably going to win this November. Unless, of course, the economy continues to improve. In which case Obama is very likely to win.

But, let us assume, that the economy is improving enough that just enough moderates are willing to give Obama another shot to make a difference; but not fast enough that these moderates are completely comfortable reelecting him.

And there is no major third party candidate to serve as a spoiler.

Then, the ideology and personal characteristics and attributes of the candidate will matter. Call these factors the "tie breaker".

Who is the most electable candidate then?

As and idealistic libertarian leaning conservative I had hoped that it would be Gingrich. Having lost that hope, I'd settle on a Santorum Presidency. And, if the economy wasn't recovering, I'd place my bets on that particular pony.

But the economy is recovering. Not fast enough, in my estimation, that Obama is a sure thing. In fact, we have the nightmare scenario where once in a blue moon the actual candidate might be the most important factor in the election.

When was the last time this happened? Was it 2000, when the "compassionate conservative" George W. Bush lost the popular election but squeaked by in the electoral vote? Or 2004 where he won in the midst of a mediocre economy but a war which still had popular support fighting off an anti-war candidate?

If this is the case, then I just don't see a Santorum winning.

Let's face, a guy in a sweater vest just doesn't look Presidential. And he squints. Like he's used to wearing glasses but just recently switched to contacts. And he has a funny way of moving his arms. Like a guy who took hand gesture lessons, but still hasn't gotten the muscle memory down.

He's kinda weird looking and goofy. Like the guy you elected class President because he was the only one at school who really cared and thought he could make a difference about the lunch line problem.

And, yes, when elections aren't about the economy they are about petty little quirks. Who looks the most Presidential. Who seems like a leader. Who is strong on defending the nation. Who is for the middle class. You know, meaningless crap like that.

But Rusty, you say, look at 2010. A landslide for Republicans, and conservatives at that! See what happens when conservatives come out to vote!

Okay, but you are comparing apples to oranges. There are huge differences between a midterm election and a Presidential election. Voter turnout in a Presidential election is generally 50% higher than in a midterm election. So, a midterm election is often about voter enthusiasm -- who gets the base out to vote. But a Presidential election is about who gets the moderate or swing vote to switch sides. The people least likely to care about a candidates ideology and most likely to vote based on the economy or personal attributes.

And let's face it, Romney looks like a President. If he has a drawback, it's that he's almost too good to be true. Like a caricature of what a President ought to be like.

I mean, the hair? Come on. With apologies to Jon Voight, Michael Bay couldn't cast a more perfect looking President.

I'm not saying Santorum can't win. I think I've made it clear that the candidates themselves are much less important than external factors.

I just think Santorum is less likely to win than Romney.

Which means that since all signs are pointing to an economy which may not push the moderate and independent electorate either way, Santorum would probably lose.

Rush is right about one thing: Romney is the establishment candidate.

The establishment always bets on the safe horse, because their self interest is in getting elected or to be cozy with those in power. Sometimes they get it wrong because they mispercieve economic conditions and therefore electoral probabilities. In other words, they back the safe horse when in fact any horse they bet on would win the race.

But in this case, isn't it possible that they are betting on Romney because they know something that the activists don't? That they have political power because, frankly, they know a little bit more about politics then the rank and file? That experts might in fact have some actual expertise? That they may, in fact, know a thing or two about politics?

I'm no establishment Republican. I have no power connections inside the beltway. Whatever power I may have had back in the heyday of bloggers are the new thing that will revolutionize the world is long gone. The new world of corporate and professional blogging has long since replaced us.

But let me make the case for Romney: He's more electable than Santorum. I think all of the above is evidence of that.

He's far more conservative than the base gives him credit for. Remember four years ago when he ran as the conservative alternative to the moderate McCain? Further, the meaning of what it is to be a conservative changes over time and in different context. By today's Tea Party standards, I get the feeling that Reagan wouldn't be conservative enough because his actions never lived up to the rhetoric.

Moreover, all politicians have to compromise. Reagan did it, they all do it. They have to do it. It's the nature of politics. Political compromise in Massachusetts doesn't look like compromise in Arizona. The choice in Massachusetts wasn't between market based reforms vs. Romney care. The choice was single payer vs. something less than single payer. The Democrats in that state were going to pass something, even over a Republican veto.

Romney vetoed well over 800 pieces of legislation, but those vetoes were overridden by the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature 700 times (I had to check that one since it seemed almost unbelievable, but it looks like it's true).

I'm not a big fan of Romneycare, but such is the 10th Amendment.

You do remember the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, don't you? I was under the impression that much of conservatism was about states' rights. Even the right to do something silly. Like Romney care.

The national government is not just a big state. States have certain powers that the federal government does not have. For instance, the right to force you to do stupid things for the welfare, safety, and yes morals of the citizenry. It's called police power. States have it, the federal government doesn't it.

A President is not just a governor of a bigger state. Which is why it's not hypocritical for Romney to (erroneously) pride himself on the political compromise that was Romney care, and yet call for the repeal of Obamacare which was patterned after it. Because Obama is not the Governor of America, and Congress isn't the State Legislature of America.

That's not hypocrisy, it's Constitutionalism and it's 10th Amendment states' rights conservatism.

It's also the answer for a late to the game pro-lifer like Romney on abortion.

Many of you are under the false impression that overturning Roe v. Wade would make abortion illegal. That is not the case. Overturning Roe means returning the decision to the states.

States like Massachusetts and California would remain pro-choice if Roe was overturned. Other states, like Alabama or Texas, would probably outlaw abortion in all cases. Other states would outlaw abortion in most cases, with generous exceptions.

In other words, the most important test of a President's commitment to life isn't even his commitment to life. Remember Bill Clinton, who was "personally pro-life" yet supported Roe?

The fundamental test should be the candidates commitment to overturning Roe. Which returns the question of abortion to the states, where the Constitution and the Founding Fathers clearly intended for such legal questions to be handled.

Moreover, Romney is the most conservative on issues such as immigration. Remember immigration? It's like you need a way back machine to refocus the base on issues that motivated them just a few years ago but which seem to be casually thrown by the wayside based on whatever issue it is the media is talking about today.

Lastly, and the most important case for Mitt Romney: He's not Barrack Obama.

And that, my friends, is the most important issue of all.

Did I mention he's not Barrack Obama? Or that he's not Barrack Obama? Which is another key factor.

It took stupid politicians over 200 years to accumulate a national debt of 8 trillion dollars. In less than 3.5 years President Obama has nearly doubled that, to 15 trillion dollars.

By the end of his first term, the national debt will be close to 16 trillion dollars.

Obama's reckless policies are equivalent to all of the other reckless policies of the last 200 years -- all of them -- combined.

If Obama's fiscal year 2012 budget were enacted, 10 years from now we'd be 21 trillion dollars in debt. Imagine Greece. Now imagine that is what is going to happen in the US. It's not just what the President is promising, it's what he is predicting.

So, go ahead and vote for Santorum on some sort of consistency principle. Maybe he'll win. It's possible. If the economy turns sour again, it's probable And if he's the candidate, I'm 100% on board the Santorum train.

But I just don't see that scenario playing out. He's not a good candidate. And if the election turns on who the candidate is, I doubt he'll win.

In which case I'm going to start stocking up on ammo. I mean, more so than I already have.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 06:20 PM | Comments |