Thursday, December 29, 2011

VA Ballot Update

Gingrich expands on why he was disqualified from the Virginia ballot:
A worker collecting signatures to get Republican GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on the Virginia primary ballot turned in fraudulent signatures, Gingrich told a woman at a campaign stop in Iowa on Wednesday.

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond confirmed the story, which was initially reported on CNN, and said: "We are evaluating our options."

Of the 11,100 signatures the campaign turned in, 1,500 of them turned in by the worker were false, Gingrich said. He said that the campaign needed 10,000 to be placed on the ballot.

Meanwhile, Rick Perry has filed a lawsuit to get on the ballot. Team Perry claims that requiring those who collect petitions to be in-state residents violates the First Amendment.

Pat Mullins, the chair of the Virginia GOP, responds, focusing on the procedural details of the verification process:

Despite this early notice and RPV’s exhortations to candidates, only one candidate availed himself of the 15,000 signature threshold – Governor Mitt Romney. RPV counted Governor Romney’s signatures, reviewed them for facial validity, and determined he submitted well over 15,000. Never in the party’s history has a candidate who submitted more than 15,000 signatures had 33 percent invalidated. The party is confident that Governor Romney met the statutory threshold.

Rep. Ron Paul submitted just under 15,000, and was submitted to signature-by-signature scrutiny on the same basis as the other candidates who submitted fewer than 15,000 signatures. After more than 7 hours of work, RPV determined that Rep. Paul had cleared the statutory 10,000/400 signature standard with ease.

Two other candidates did not come close to the 10,000 valid signature threshold. RPV regrets that Speaker Gingrich and Governor Perry did not meet the legal requirements established by the General Assembly. Indeed, our hope was to have a full Republican field on the ballot for Republican voters to consider on March 6.

The party will discuss the specific nature of their shortfalls if necessary. But the failure of these two candidates to meet the state requirements does not call into question the accuracy of the Party’s certification of the two candidates who are duly qualified to appear on the ballot.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

Ed Morrissey casts doubt on the hope of an anti-"establishment" TRUE CONSERVATIVE hero to leap in and change the direction of the GOP primary race:
Even if a candidate were to jump in at this late date, it would have to be one who could reliably raise money fast, organize effectively, have good name recognition, be well prepared on policy, and survive the kind of intense vetting that has derailed Cain, Rick Perry, Bachmann, and has deflated Gingrich’s bubble. That’s a recipe for an establishment candidate, not an outsider. We should stop fantasizing about white knights riding to the rescue and focus on the choices we have in front of us now.
Of course, by many contemporary "purist" standards, Ronald Reagan would be demeaned as part of the "establishment" in 1980.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunlight Necessities

The Republican Party of Virginia is on the verge of the appearance of a significant scandal. Allegations, fueled by a post by Richard Winger at Ballot Access News, are swirling, suggesting that the Virginia GOP changed the rules for the validation of signatures in October 2011:

But what has not been reported is that in the only other presidential primaries in which Virginia required 10,000 signatures (2000, 2004, and 2008) the signatures were not checked. Any candidate who submitted at least 10,000 raw signatures was put on the ballot. In 2000, five Republicans qualified: George Bush, John McCain, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, and Steve Forbes. In 2004 there was no Republican primary in Virginia. In 2008, seven Republicans qualified: John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Alan Keyes [Not actually on the 2008 ballot--FB].

The only reason the Virginia Republican Party checked the signatures for validity for the current primary is that in October 2011, an independent candidate for the legislature, Michael Osborne, sued the Virginia Republican Party because it did not check petitions for its own members, when they submitted primary petitions. Osborne had no trouble getting the needed 125 valid signatures for his own independent candidacy, but he charged that his Republican opponent’s primary petition had never been checked, and that if it had been, that opponent would not have qualified. The lawsuit, Osborne v Boyles, cl 11-520-00, was filed in Bristol County Circuit Court. It was filed too late to be heard before the election, but is still pending. The effect of the lawsuit was to persuade the Republican Party to start checking petitions. If the Republican Party had not changed that policy, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry would be on the 2012 ballot.

Obviously, sudden changes in standards for petitions to get on the ballot can raise a lot of questions.

However, in the 2008 presidential cycle, none other than Erick Erickson was actually complaining about the GOP checking the signatures on the petitions of presidential candidates:

Romney, Fred, Rudy, McCain, Huckabee, and Paul all filed over 15,000 signatures each - well above the recommended minimums.

So what did the Virginia GOP do? Well, they did absolutely nothing to help any of the candidates other than put out clipboards at their state fair booth.

Then they decided to attempt some kind of unprecedented "verification" process. Historically, forms have never been checked by either party, often they never even open the boxes. They gave no one notice of this new process. They sent all the campaigns an email notice the Friday afternoon after they'd all filed their signatures. You can see the memo below. As you can see its a ridiculous attempt to replicate Florida in 2000.

At the time, no one had any idea who the "verifiers" would be or who they supported. Likewise, everyone had questions on what did and did not constitute legitimate signatures. All the campaigns had to lawyer up against their own party. The Executive Director of the Virginia GOP had the nerve to pace the room, during the verification process, in a referee jersey. Likewise, the process for verification changed throughout the day, despite the party sending out its guidelines ahead of time in writing.

So there may have been some verification in the 2008 cycle after all.

Moreover, Richard Winger, in an email to me, admits that the signatures were put through some verification process in 2007. The 2007 checking was "to see how many signatures there were from each U.S. House district, and also how many there were statewide." Winger also believes that the signatures were checked to see if they were notarized (a key requirement for Virginia). He says that signatures were not cross-checked with voter registration forms to ensure that petition signers actually lived in their stated addresses. (I have reached out to VA GOP officials involved in the 2007 count but have not yet heard back from any.)

So there are a few outstanding facts here:
  • You need 10,000 verified signatures (with at least 400 signatures from each Congressional District) in order to get on the Virginia Republican primary ballot. These signatures must be notarized. This requirement has been in place for over a decade.
  • In 2007, most of the major GOP candidates submitted over 15,000 signatures and were on the ballot.
  • In 2011, Mitt Romney submitted more than 15,000 signatures and is on the ballot.
  • Ron Paul submitted around 15,000 signatures and is on the ballot.
  • Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry submitted under 12,000 signatures each (fewer than the major candidates of 2008), but were disqualified.
On the last point, the main question is why?

This is where the Republican Party of Virginia can come in and save its reputation.

If Gingrich or Perry were disqualified because they did not get 400 signatures from each Congressional District, it would seem as though the enforcement regime has not materially changed in the past few months (since the same standard was used in 2008).

If Gingrich or Perry were disqualified because enough signatures were not notarized, it would seem as though the enforcement regime has not materially changed in the past few months (since the same standard was used in 2008).

Under either circumstance, there would seem insufficient evidence to claim that any "dirty tricks" occurred.

However, there are plenty of permutations under which "dirty tricks" could have occurred. Only further information can help us sort this out.

Unless there is some legal limitation, it is imperative for the Virginia GOP to make clear exactly why Gingrich and Perry were disqualified. If it can be clearly established that Gingrich's and Perry's campaigns did not follow long-standing rules, then it seems hard (if not impossible) to claim a pro-Romney conspiracy. It seems clear the Gingrich campaign was not particularly familiar with the rules of the Virginia primary, as Gingrich's declaration that he would run as a write-in demonstrates; write-in candidacies are not allowed in the Virginia GOP primary. Moreover, I have seen a few reports suggesting that some of Perry's signatures were not properly notarized. So it's possible that they ran afoul of the rules due not to a sinister conspiracy but due to sloppiness. But I don't know, and neither do those alleging a conspiracy.

Instead of rumors, we need facts. Instead of spin, we need information.

(NB: None of this is an endorsement of the rules Virginia puts in place for getting on the primary ballot. Also, all this is very contingent on information as it comes in.)

(There is an electoral side to this as well. One might tip one's hat at the success of the Perrysphere and Gingrichsphere in shifting the conversation away from the fact that neither campaign could manage to get enough signatures in a significant Super Tuesday state to avoid this debacle---that Fred Thompson's campaign (an operation not noted for its efficiency) outmatched both Gingrich's and Perry's teams. Instead of a narrative of organizational incompetence, they have put forward one of conspiratorial victimization. Whether or not the Virginia GOP is engaged in "dirty tricks," it's quite clear that Barack Obama's team in 2012 will pull no procedural punches. A Republican candidate ill-equipped to fight back on the procedural level is not very likely to sit in the Oval Office.)

(Crossposted at FrumForum)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ed Morrissey has a fairly even-handed summary of the ballot issues for the Virginia GOP primary. As it stands, only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul have qualified to be on the ballot. No other candidate submitted enough verified signatures.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Back to 1994

I appreciate Andrew Sullivan's readers' points in response to my post on the limits of the effectiveness of Wall Street attacks on Mitt Romney:
The democrats lost eight Senate seats that year. In Virginia, Oliver North would
have won a seat if an independent candidate hadn't taken 11% of the vote. The fact that Kennedy still beat Romney in 1994, and by that much, shows how weak Romney is -- as does the fact that if Romney had run for re-election as Governor, he would have lost.
However, there's a little more to that story. Let's hop in the time machine back to 1994 and look at the Republican win/loss record that year. For the seats Republicans gained, we have the following:
Arizona: Jon Kyl wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Maine: Olympia Snowe wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Michigan: Spencer Abraham wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring
Ohio: Mike DeWine wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Oklahoma: Jim Inhofe wins an open Senate seat (held by a retiring Democrat).
Pennsylvania: Rick Santorum wins over Harris Wofford, who was appointed
to the Senate seat in 1991 and won by less than ten points a special election to hold the seat in late 1991.
Tennessee (1): Bill Frist defeats a 3-term Democratic incumbent.
Tennessee (2): Fred Thompson wins an open Senate seat (Al Gore's seat, held
by a Democrat appointed to it but who chose not to run for it in 1994).
Six of these eight wins occurred in open Senate seats. Santorum's win was over a not-very-established incumbent. So Bill Frist's win was the only Republican Senate victory in 1994 over an entrenched incumbent, and Tennessee was growing a lot more friendly to Republicans than Massachusetts.

Every other Democratic incumbent was able to fend off his or her Republican challenger, even in more Republican-friendly states. These results suggest that incumbency can be a significant advantage in Senate races, even in wave years. They also suggest that Romney's defeat in 1994 is not exactly an outlier.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beyond Red Meat

Ronald Reagan's speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention provides a welcome jolt amidst the atmosphere of the current Republican nominating contest. Instead of hypocritical invective and mindless tribalism, Reagan offers a fundamentally optimistic and cooperative narrative of America.

Though this speech has moments of anger, it is not, at heart, an angry speech. Consider some of these lines near the opening:

I know we have had a quarrel or two, but only as to the method of attaining a goal. There was no argument about the goal. As president, I will establish a liaison with the 50 governors to encourage them to eliminate, where it exists, discrimination against women. I will monitor federal laws to insure their implementation and to add statutes if they are needed.

More than anything else, I want my candidacy to unify our country; to renew the American spirit and sense of purpose. I want to carry our message to every American, regardless of party affiliation, who is a member of this community of shared values.

Not a single word about destroying those rotten, freedom-hating "progressives" or "liberals." Not even an invocation of "union thugs"! Instead, we see a defense of anti-discrimination laws and an advocacy for the broader purpose of bringing the country together. Rather than inveighing against enemies, Reagan reaches out to potential allies.

Though Reagan criticizes Carter throughout this speech, his criticism seems to emphasize Carter's incompetence and unfitness for the task of government. He does not claim that Carter hates freedom or despises capitalism or has bad intentions for the country.

A politician today might be denounced by certain factions as a "statist" or "collectivist" for repeating these lines by Reagan:

Isn't it once again time to renew our compact of freedom; to pledge to each other all that is best in our lives; all that gives meaning to them--for the sake of this, our beloved and blessed land?

Together, let us make this a new beginning. Let us make a commitment to care for the needy; to teach our children the values and the virtues handed down to us by our families; to have the courage to defend those values and the willingness to sacrifice for them.

Let us pledge to restore, in our time, the American spirit of voluntary service, of cooperation, of private and community initiative; a spirit that flows like a deep and mighty river through the history of our nation.

Reagan here seems to suggest that the needy should not be blamed for their poverty but helped from it. Praising "private and community" initiatives is not necessarily elevating government actions, but it does dismiss the celebration of selfishness. From this Reaganite perspective, liberty is more than the celebration of private profit; it is also the opportunity to do public good, beyond the scope of the business ledger.

Reagan goes on to embrace RINO apostasy in his defense of the social safety net and Social Security:
It is essential that we maintain both the forward momentum of economic growth and the strength of the safety net beneath those in society who need help. We also believe it is essential that the integrity of all aspects of Social Security are preserved.
This isn't winner-take-all crony capitalism. This is instead a faith in the growth of markets complemented by a compassion for human need.

In this speech, Reagan is a defender of small-government thinking. And he does make a compelling case for it, but this case does not depend upon demonizing his opponents. Reagan knew that venom was the common friend of failure. Instead, a spirit of optimistic faith in the potential of liberty motivates this address.

Reagan speaks from a time when conservatism meant more than having the right enemies, when it offered a vision of bringing together Americans in the dream of a greater freedom. This dream does not merely entail getting rich but also emphasizes building, by oneself and in cooperation with others, a fairer, juster, and happier society.

2012 could be a great opportunity for conservative and Republican politics. If they are to make the most of it, Republicans should keep in mind that Reaganite spirit of hope over despair, unity over division, and empathy over scorn. It's easy in a time of trials to settle into a complacent alienation. But, for the sake of this American republic, it is even more necessary as a matter of civic spirit to work to renew the civic compact and face our problems with temperance, reason, and, yes, some measure of good cheer.

Redistricting California-Style

California voters (despite the wishes of the Democratic party) recently approved an initiative that requires that Congressional districts be drawn by a nonpartisan commission rather than the state legislature. The aim was to limit the influence of partisan politics in the drawing of districts.

ProPublica has looked into the recent redistricting process in California, and it looks like that aim was not entirely achieved:

The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting — no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”

In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates — members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines," according to another email.

The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.

When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento...

Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.

“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”

ProPublica also offers some very interesting insight into the organization of the commission responsible for drawing up districts:

Back in California, the commission was getting organized. Its first task was to pick commissioners. The ballot initiative excluded virtually anyone who had any previous political experience. Run for office? Worked as a staffer or consultant to a political campaign? Given more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year? “Cohabitated” for more than 30 days in the past year with anyone in the previous categories? You’re barred.

More than 36,000 people applied. The state auditor’s office winnowed the applicants to a group of 60 finalists. Each party was allowed to strike 12 applicants without explanation. Then, the state used Bingo-style bouncing balls in a cage to pick eight commissioners — three Republicans, three Democrats and two people whose registration read “decline to state” (California-speak for independent). The randomly selected commissioners then chose six from the remaining finalists to complete the panel.

The result was a commission that included, among others, a farmer, a homemaker, a sports doctor and an architect. Previous redistrictings had been executed by political pros with intimate knowledge of California’s sprawling political geography. The commissioners had little of that expertise — and one of their first acts was to deprive themselves of the data that might have helped them spot partisan manipulation.

The law creating the commission barred it from considering incumbents’ addresses, and instructed it not to draw districts for partisan reasons.

The commissioners decided to go further, agreeing not to even look at data that would tell them how prospective maps affected the fortunes of Democrats or Republicans. This left the commissioners effectively blind to the sort of influence the Democrats were planning.

One of the mapping consultants working for the commission warned that it would be difficult to competently draft district lines without party data. She was overruled.

This lack of political experience and choice to ignore standard political data (such as party affiliation) may have made the commissioners more susceptible to political manipulation.

A question that's not addressed by ProPublica, though, and one that ought to be asked, is what were California Republicans doing during this Democratic effort? Were they simply sitting on their hands?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Limits of Wall $treet

Some on the right are concerned that Obama would slam Romney as a denizen of Wall Street and that Romney's wealth would prove a hindrance in the general election. While some worries about Romney's business background are more the product of sympathy for other candidates than anything else, there is an element of real anxiety to them, and they are not completely baseless.

However, there are numerous reasons not to overestimate the potential effectiveness of White House attacks on Romney over Wall Street connections.

Perhaps foremost among them is the White House's own very deep connections to Wall Street. Cabinet figures like Tim Geithner and White House allies like Jon Corzine are the embodiment of Wall Street insiders---they make Mitt Romney look like a secretary at the Merrill Lynch branch office in Fargo, North Dakota. Many of Obama's top advisors come from the world of Wall Street. Any attacks on Romney's Street connections immediately open Obama up to the countercharge of hypocrisy: if Wall Street is so bad, why do you choose to people your administration with Streeters and have Wall Street tycoons as central fund-raisers for your presidential campaign?

Charges of hypocrisy here could be particularly damaging for Obama. Despite a lackluster (to put it mildly) administration, Obama still has a chance of winning reelection in part because of the personal affection that many Americans still have for him. The glow of Obama as a political figure who can rise above petty partisan squabbles has dimmed, but it has not entirely vanished. If Obama becomes painted as just another hypocritical political opportunist, his reelection prospects suffer a considerable blow.

Moreover, attacks upon Romney's wealth would make Obama seem more like Walter Mondale than Bill Clinton. Invective-fueled class warfare might be helpful at the margins, but America is still, despite a decade of trials, an optimistic nation. It would seem out of touch indeed for Obama, not exactly a poor man himself, to be complaining about Romney's wealth when millions of Americans are out of work. The American public would much rather see solutions for the nation's problems instead of complaints about an individual's success.

This suggests another limitation for Obama's potential attacks upon Romney's corporate history. It's true that a number of people were laid off due to the actions of Bain Capital (though many others were also hired due to Bain). The media (and maybe some Republican candidates) will be sure to emphasize the lost jobs and displaced individuals. But millions more have lost their jobs in Obama's economy. The disappointments of the stimulus bill far exceed those of Bain. A comparison of Romney's employment record in the corporate world and as governor of Massachusetts with Obama's is not one that would seem to be in the president's favor at the moment. The president's only hope for reelection is to focus on the future; looking to the past will only emphasize the shortcomings of the administration. Obama may think that his administration's accomplishments may possibly exceed those of Lincoln, but most Americans are a little more pessimistic on that point.

Some rightie activists have suggested that Ted Kennedy's anti-Romney strategy in 1994 offers a devastating blueprint for Obama's 2012 strategy against Romney. This parallel should also not be overstated. Kennedy did hit Romney hard on his record at Bain, but Barack Obama is no Ted Kennedy, and the United States is not Massachusetts. Kennedy's 17-point victory over Romney was a decisive one, but 1994 was the only time Kennedy's reelection margin fell below 20 points. Even with all his Wall Street attacks, Kennedy's margin of victory was over 10 points less than it was in 1988 or 2000. Obama lacks Kennedy's electoral cushion; a 10-point swing would end his presidency.

Moreover, in 2002, Shannon O'Brien, the Democratic nominee for Massachusetts governor, tried replicate Kennedy's tactics, but she was not able to copy his success. A close race with a slim Democratic lead according to most polls ended in a 5-point victory for Romney. It would seem likely that such attacks will be even less effective now.

There are obviously topics in Romney's business background that should be investigated more. But Romney also has a number of years of government and public service upon which to run. Obama may hope that class warfare can distract from the nation's poor economic picture, but there is no reason why Republicans should allow that triumph of rhetoric over reality.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Barone on Last Night's Debate

Some interesting thoughts from Michael Barone:

The ABC commentators seemed pretty sure that Gingrich, the frontrunner in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida polls, and pressing for the lead in New Hampshire, came across ahead. Certainly Romney seemed somewhat more flustered and defensive than he has in most previous debates. Yet I think Gingrich may have sustained more damage than they suggest. Bachmann’s hard-hitting attacks may not have been ignored by Iowans who gave her the lead in polls in that state last summer. And Santorum may finally be making some headway. Any gains for either are likely, it seems, to come more out of Gingrich’s hide than Romney’s. And while Romney did not have a superb night, the spate of negative attacks from and to almost all directions insulates him from the risk which I argue in my Sunday Examiner column he has taken by launching negative attacks on Gingrich. If he were alone in going negative, we might see the dynamic of candidate A attacking candidate B which hurts both A and B and therefore helps candidate C (like John Kerry in Iowa in 2004 after Dick Gephardt attacked Howard Dean). When there’s lots of flak, incoming from all directions and headed in most directions too, the risks for the attacker are likely to be lesser. My conclusion: the plot thickens.

The DNC Really Wants to Run against Newt Gingrich

Viewers might be a little surprised by the time they come to the end of this ad portraying Newt Gingrich as the "original Tea Partier": it comes not from the Gingrich campaign but from the Democratic National Committee.

Though this ad is meant to be an attack ad with the eye toward the general election, a lot of it might be music to "Tea Party" ears. Beyond identifying Gingrich with the "Tea Party," it also cites his support for weakening Medicare and privatizing Social Security and his interest in ending the Department of Education. It highlights Gingrich's support for capital-gains tax-cuts for the wealthiest (a la Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan). For some on the "Tea Party" wing of GOP politics, those positions are not electoral problems but instead a banner to rally around.

If Newt Gingrich gets identified as a Washington insider who has made himself wealthy through trading on his political connections and a Protean political operator who can change positions at a moment's notice, he will have a hard time getting the Republican nomination. If he's identified as a "Tea Party" purist, that path to the nomination (though perhaps not the presidency) becomes a lot less daunting.

The DNC is doing what it can to cast Gingrich as that kind of purist and thereby help him win the nomination. Over the past year or so, Democrats have been very effective in shaping the Republican nominating process. After all, the leftist talking point that Romney's Massachusetts health-care reform is the same thing as Obamacare has now become "conservative" purist gospel. Perhaps Democrats will be equally effective in casting Gingrich as a "Tea Partier." According to polls, "Tea Partiers" have been coming into the Gingrich fold in many early Republican primary states, so ads like this could help solidify that tendency.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Electability: Not Yet Settled

Some on the left and some on the right have been touting today's Quinnipiac poll report on Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, claiming it demolishes the claim that Romney is more electable than Gingrich. As the report shows,
  • Florida: Romney with 45 percent to Obama's 42 percent; Obama at 46 percent to Gingrich's 44 percent.
  • Ohio: Romney at 43 percent to Obama's 42 percent; Gingrich with 43 percent to Obama's 42 percent.
  • Pennsylvania: Obama edging Romney 46 - 43 percent; Obama tops Gingrich 48 - 40 percent.
Romney still outperforms Gingrich in these polls, but not by colossal levels. Ohio and Florida seem like must-win states for any GOP candidate; Calvin Coolidge was the last Republican to win without Florida, and no Republican has won without carrying Ohio.

Yet even if the head-to-head polling doesn't show the biggest difference between Romney and Gingrich, looking at the favorability numbers tells a much different story. For FL/OH/PA, Romney has +11/+4/+4 net favorability ratings (favorability minus unfavorability), respectively. For Gingrich, the numbers are -4/-6/-14. That's a huge swing between the two candidates. In every state except Ohio (where their favorability numbers are tied), Romney has a higher favorability rating than Gingrich, and he has a much lower unfavorability rating in every state. By comparison, Obama has -1/-10/-1 net favorability ratings in these states.

Voters in these crucial swing states seem to have more built-in resistance to Gingrich than they do to Romney. These numbers suggest that Gingrich has a much more uphill battle in these states in winning over the (crucial) undecided voters.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Not Yet Inevitable

Though Newt Gingrich seems to be styling himself as the inevitable nominee, a look back at the polling in during the Republican primary race in late 2007 suggests that Gingrich's camp should not get too confident yet.

In December 2007, no polls seemed to show McCain as the frontrunner. Instead, Giuliani and a fast-rising Mike Huckabee tended to dominate in polling.

A CNN poll released December 10 showed McCain at 13%, while Giuliani and Huckabee were at 24% and 22%, respectively.

A CBS poll released that same day had even worse news for McCain: 7% of the nationwide Republican primary vote. Meanwhile, Giuliani and Huckabee were cruising at 22% and 21%, respectively.

The Florida primary was a huge step for McCain toward the Republican nomination, but, in early December 2007, he was an also-ran. Polls showed him between twenty and thirty points behind frontrunner Giuliani. As December went on, Huckabee climbed, but McCain remained mired in the low teens.

The dynamic of this cycle has differed from the 2007-2008 primary race in a lot of ways, so this isn't exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. But the fact remains that neither Mike Huckabee nor Rudy Giuliani made it on to the 2008 GOP ticket. The history of presidential politics is filled with candidates who presumed to inevitability after a surge in the polls only to find themselves not quite so inevitable after all (just ask Rick Perry, who seemed on the verge of having a lock on the nomination in the early fall). The GOP primary race is still very much alive.

Conservative Moderation

Nice points here by Peter Wehner:

My colleague Yuval Levin, in his dissertation comparing Edmund Burke and Thomase Paine(“The Great Law of Change”), points out that Burke believed in the complexity of human nature and the limits of human reason. He warned of the dangers of relying simply on speculative theories and mistaking politics for metaphysics. And he insisted on the importance of learning from circumstances, from the concrete and particular in human life. Burke wrote that government is “a practical thing, made for the happiness of mankind” – not “to gratify the schemes of visionary politicians.” The danger facing statesmen, he warned, is when they view self-government “as if it were an abstract question concerning metaphysical liberty and necessity and not a matter of moral prudence and natural feeling.” This created in Burke an “essential moderation,” according to Levin, a modesty in our capacity to understand the patterns of human nature and the actions of human beings. There is no unified field theory that explains everything.

This doesn’t mean Burke didn’t believe enduring principles should guide our politics; it simply means Burke believed the practical application of those principles in human affairs is difficult and often imprecise, that we have to rely on the accumulated wisdom of those who came before us, that even the wisest among us has an imperfect and incomplete understanding of things, and that radicals can become “blind disciples of their own particular presumption.”

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Don't Despair, George Will

In an interview with Laura Ingraham, George Will despairs of the choice between Gingrich and Romney as GOP frontrunners:
Ask yourself this: Suppose Gingrich or Romney become president and gets re-elected – suppose you had eight years of this...What would the conservative movement be? How would it understand itself after eight years? I think what would have gone away, perhaps forever, is the sense of limited government, the Tenth Amendment, Madisonian government of limited, delegated and enumerated powers — the sense conservatism is indeed tied to limitations on federal authority and the police power wielded by Congress — that would all be gone. It’s hard to know what would be left.
In a column, Will doubles down on this line of criticism. Will is no fan of Romney, but he is an even bigger opponent of Gingrich, whom he calls the least conservative candidate. Instead, Will suggests Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman (whom more and more pundits have been giving a second look) as "conservative" alternatives.

I'm not sure that Will's despair here is entirely justified, however. After all, look at some of the salient points of George W. Bush's domestic record:
  • Tax-cuts that were not offset by spending decreases and thereby added to the deficit (It's amusing to read a Heritage report from 2001 that predicted that the Bush tax-cuts would lead to the near-elimination of the federal debt by 2011.)
  • Exploding government spending
  • Anemic economic growth (well below the averages of past decades)
  • Enormous deficit spending
  • No Child Left Behind, which sets the stage for the federalization of public education and was probably the greatest expansion of federal power over education that the nation has ever seen
  • Sundry other expansions of federal power, including the ban on the traditional tungsten incandescent bulb, which currently has conservatives up in arms
  • A housing bubble (which the administration's policies encouraged)
  • A near-economic meltdown
This list is partial, and doesn't consider the cases of the almosts that the Bush administration fought hard for but failed to achieve (such as Justice Harriet Miers). Bush's whole "compassionate conservatism" was premised on expanding federal power in order to achieve certain "compassionate" ends.

Somehow, small-government conservatism survived President Bush, and I see no reason why it could not survive some of the GOP presidential contenders, some of whom have a far more conservative campaign theme than Bush ever did. For example, though Will derides Romney as a "manager" or something, Romney's proposed policies would seem to have no small potential for promoting the aims of small-government conservatism.

To return to Will's column attacking Gingrinch for a moment, there's another point I'd like to look at:
Romney’s main objection to contemporary Washington seems to be that he is not administering it. God has 10 commandments, Woodrow Wilson had 14 points, Heinz had 57 varieties, but Romney’s economic platform has 59 planks — 56 more than necessary if you have low taxes, free trade and fewer regulatory burdens.
I think this formulation is a little glib. Consider "fewer regulatory burdens." The fact is that we currently live amidst a complex of regulations. Every regulation depends upon every other regulation (as traditional conservatism would recognize). So it's not enough to get rid of regulatory burdens but to revise these burdens in the right way. Under Bush, certain regulations were gotten rid of, but the intersection of this "deregulation" and other regulations that were kept in place brought American to the brink of a financial collapse. Will may sneer at technocratic tendencies, but skill in finessing current regulatory regimes would be no small aid to small-government policies.

(Crossposted at FrumForm)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rasmussen or PPP?

Two polls, two different results.

Rasmussen released an interesting poll the other day that showed Newt Gingrich outpolling Barack Obama 45-43 in a hypothetical general election matchup. That would seem to be relatively good news for Gingrich.

However, PPP, which released a poll showing Gingrich with a huge lead in the Florida GOP primary, also has polling on the general in Florida. Those numbers tell a very different story. Based on PPP, Gingrich falls six points behind Obama, 44-50. (Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is within the margin of error against Obama, 44-45.)

It would seem that a GOP candidate that far behind Obama in Florida on election day would have a hard time winning a national majority. The last Republican to win the White House and lose Florida was Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

So which is right---PPP or Rasmussen? Time, and more polling, will tell.