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Diagnosing Mitt’s Win


So with Rick Santorum dropping out, and Newt Gingrich fading to irrelevance, perhaps it is time to think about the question: why did Mitt Romney prevail?

Several things pop to mind here in answer to this question. Notably, each has been a consistent part of Romney’s campaign—which is why people like me have been pretty consistent in stating we thought Romney would win the nomination even as the sturm and drang of the race unfolded.

1. Republicans have a tendency to choose “next.” What this means is that Republicans tend to choose whatever credible candidate finished second in the last primary, or a prominent Republican who gets into the race in the current election cycle. Thus Reagan followed Ford, Bush followed Reagan, McCain followed Bush II and Romney followed McCain. I don’t think this means Santorum will rise in 2016 if Romney fails in 2012—I imagine a Governor or somesuch will jump in. But in general, Republicans don’t choose protest candidates or newcomers.

2. Romney stood in the center of the ideological heart of the Republican Party. That Mitt Romney has twisted himself into a pretzel in order to stand at the conservative heart of the Republican Party is absolutely true. It is also true that he is standing there, unlike the even more conservative evangelical candidates. If you are a conservative Republican who is not evangelical, it’s Romney or … ? So Romney it is.

3. The evangelical candidates divided the Christian conservative vote. Much like 2008, the presence of several candidates all seeking to please the Christian conservative wing of the party divided that active and aggressively noisy group … leaving everyone else to vote for Romney. No Republican campaigning in a competitive primary since 1980 has won by being the most conservative candidate in the pool. Romney is much more conservative than most Americans, but not as conservative as most of the other Republican candidates. He got the votes of the non-evangelicals in the party.

4. Organization, organization, organization. People like me kept screaming about this one, and kept being ignored. But the fact is that presidential primaries are held in states—states that have lots of different laws about campaign organization, fund-raising, delegate selection, and much more. Candidates require vast organizations to overcome these disparate rules and to maximize their chances. Romney had such an organization. The others didn’t. And since I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: no candidate in the modern era of campaigns (1972-present) has ever won a primary with a made-up-as-you-go organization. Nor did one do so this year.

5. Money. Money is crucial to every part of a campaign. Romney got more of it. The others got quite a bit less. As is typical of Republican primaries, the money went to the “next” candidate. Citizens United let the sugar daddies, Sherman Adelson and Foster Friese, keep Gingrich and Santorum in the game much longer than otherwise would likely have been the case. But they weren’t willing to spend as much as Romney was able to raise, and they had weak candidates to support.

6. Candidate quality. Sometimes in life you benefit from weak opponents. Romney did. A pizza executive with no political experience. A flame-throwing member of Congress. A staggeringly uncharismatic governor. A telegenic ex-governor who had, god help him, worked for Obama. A disgraced, thrice-married and known serial adulterer ex-Speaker of the House. A charismatic ex-Senator who seemed to specialize in making outrageous comments. And a (mostly) libertarian who didn’t really attack Romney in a party that has no interest in libertarians. Reagan v Bush or Bush v McCain it wasn’t.  It was a good year for Romney to run. Rick Perry should have been formidable by institutional position. But he wasn’t in real life.

So now we shift to the general election. Let me introduce one theme I will come to again and again (I imagine): Presidents are elected in 51 state-by-state (with DC) elections, not by national vote. You will see lots of national polls. Ignore them. Look for the state-level information. That’s what matters in electing the President of the United States.

Game on!

For women, obviously birth control is not a religious topic: it’s a health topic, and 99 percent of women in America use it. And at Planned Parenthood, we provide birth control to millions of women every single year, so yeah — I think they’re kind of mystified by what the ‘controversy’ is all about.

…I think we’re seeing in this presidential primary this sort of, like, race to the bottom, where every presidential candidate on the Republican side is trying to say ‘I would be absolutely the worst for women.’
CECILE RICHARDS, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, on The Daily Show (via inothernews)

(via absurdlakefront)

Remember When Romney Was Inevitable?


As we have the Michigan and Arizona primaries today, I thought we should think back to those halcyon days of, oh, seven weeks ago or so (!) when everybody who was anybody saw a Romney runaway with the Republican presidential nomination.

I, too, argued that Romney was likely to win—a position I still take. He has more organization than anyone else, and historically it has been organization, matched with money, that sustains candidates in long, drawn out fights.

But I didn’t argue the “easy victory” point.  I didn’t argue it for a simple reason: NO ONE HAD VOTED YET.

Media and political commentators love to “declare” things well before they happen—such declarations make them seem important and wise. The thing is, military officers are taught a lesson that is entirely applicable to political campaigns. No battle plan, commanders are taught, survives first contact with the enemy because the enemy gets a say in how the battle unfolds.

Much the same is true in elections: no assumptions survive first contact with the voters because it is the voters, not the commentators, who determine who wins and loses elections.

So remember: no matter what commentary one hears tonight, the primaries won’t be over—even if the talking robots on CNN, MSNBC and FOX say they are. To quote the inimitable Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

On Populism


Populism is afoot in the land.

Populism, taken simply, is a political ideology grounded in the belief that some elite somewhere runs things for their own good, inevitably screwing the deserving groups of society. Populist movements occur when groups of people band together seeking to overthrow this elite in the name of the “people.”

But it turns out the story is more complicated than that. Populism comes in at least two varieties: left-wing populism and right-wing populism. They share important features in common, but differ in politically significant ways.

Left-wing populists believe that society is unjustly run by an elite of corporate and wealthy persons in cooperation with their enablers in government. This cabal of “bad guys” systematically screws over the mass of people—poor, working and middle class people just trying to make a living, build good lives through access to things like public schools and affordable higher education, and enjoy the fruits of labor over the whole course of their lives.

Sound familiar? It should: I’ve just summarized the populist part of the Occupy movement.

Right-wing populism shares a skepticism of government with left-wing populism, but holds a very different group of people accountable for society’s ills. In right-wing populism, the bad guys are society’s unproductive, undeserving groups (the poor, public employees, and others who live on the public dole) along with their enablers in government. This cabal of bad people works to take money from deserving, productive people (the employed and yes, even corporations and the wealthy) to give it to people who have demonstrated their failure as people in the fact of their needing or asking for help.

Welcome to tea party America.

So it turns out that leftists and rightists share a lot in common in American politics. They both sense the good people of society are being screwed over by the bad people of society. They just define each group differently.

Need final proof? Check out the picture at the bottom of this post: it is a mashup of signs from tea party rallies and anarchist rallies against the G-20 and globalization.They say politics makes strange bedlfellows … and this time, they’re right.


Separating Church and State


This year’s Republican primary has brought the return of the culture war: the  war between those who some allege to be godly against others presumed to be ungodly; the war between those who insist they are moral against those who are found to be immoral. Front and center in the culture war this year has been contraception, most notably things like the birth control pill, the morning after pill, and similar means by which women regulate and control their fertility. Recently it has seemed like the Republicans are more interested in the politics of women’s wombs than the politics of the United States.

This focus on morality in politics is deeply entangled with the question of religion in politics. For example, most of the Republicans advocating a culture war against contraception are Catholics, and have been using their Catholic values to frame their opposition to birth control, abortion and the like. Evangelical Protestants offer their own list of demands derived from their religious precepts (creationism, pro-life, etc.). Others make other claims.

The logic is clear: religion is our understanding of God’s dictates; linking state policy to God’s ensures that we will have a Godly nation.

But while the logic is clear, it is also profoundly, utterly and absolutely wrong.

First, as the Framers recognized, all claims that we should impose God’s law on the state rest on the assumption that it will be OUR version of God’s law that gets imposed on everyone else. We assume that we’ll get our laws passed into state policy—not that we will have to live by others’ values.

But there is no logical reason to make this assumption. One can win or lose any political struggle, and it may well be that your moral opinion is in the minority. At which point you might face state sanction if you practice your beliefs against state policy. Hence the Framers created a generally neutral Constitution: barring some extremes, the state is neutral as to whatever religion you practice. The notion is that the only way to really protect religious freedom is to ensure that no one gets to impose anything on anyone—again, barring some extremes (e.g., human sacrifice).

The Framers also recognized a second reason to oppose the linkage of state and religion—a reason that the advocates for tight relationships between church and state simply ignore. This is that while people fantasize that when church and state are closely linked the church will shape the morality of that state, in the real world what happens is that the state runs the church. Government has the guns and the thugs and the power; religious leaders mostly fall in line out of self-preservation or the desire for promotion.

Think I’m kidding? Then go read some stuff about the transition of Christianity from an obscure sect of radicals on the fringes of the world into the state religion of the Roman Empire. Re-examine the rise of Protestantism, particularly in Henry VIII’s creation of the Church of England.

Governments run churches when churches engage with states. Which is why any advocate of religious freedom ought to hold as their first principle: keep church and state separate, at least as much as possible. It’s the only way the church can survive with its morality intact.

So seriously, Republicans: if you love religion, stop trying to make the state comply with its laws. It’s the only way to save your faith.

Mitt didn’t have to do it …


So as Mitt Romney continues to fail to entice conservatives to his campaign cause, a thought:

He didn’t have to do it.

He didn’t have to try to appeal to the Republican Party’s conservative base to win the nomination. Indeed, “Massachusetts Mitt” might have been better situated to win the nomination.

Think about it. 

In 2008, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, among others, both claimed to be the “real” conservative in the party. John McCain, a comparative moderate, won.

In 2000, George W. Bush presented himself as a “Compassionate Conservative” and a “Reformer With Results,” the popular governor of a large, diverse state. He overwhelmed his avowedly conservative challengers.

In 1996, Bob Dole, the Washington insider of Washington insiders, won the party’s nomination against other, allegedly more conservative foes.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush won … and he was pro-choice until he had to be pro-life to become Ronald Reagan’s VP. He also was the first to use the term “voodoo economics” to describe Reagan’s (and now Republican dogma) economic policies.

1980, obviously, is the exception that proves the rule.

Even going back to 1968, Nixon was a moderate, an Eisenhower-linked Republican with strong anti-Communist credentials.

Basically, in the last 50 years, the Republican Party has nominated the most-conservative (or pretty durn conservative) candidate in the field in two competitive primaries: Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Ronald Reagan in 1980. In the two elections they participated in as first-time presidential candidates, they were a collective 1-1: Reagan won easily, while Goldwater was crushed.

As an aside, let me say that my guess is that whoever wins this year will be so conservative that he, too, will be crushed, making arch conservatives 1-2 in first-time elections in the last 50 years.

So Mitt Romney may well have been better served by being more moderate. He would have distinguished himself from the conservatives running for the Republican nomination, and would have undermined some of Ron Paul’s appeal in the campaign. Because whatever the mythology is of how to win the Republican nomination, as a practical matter the Republican Party tends to nominate comparative moderates as its presidential candidate … and those moderates tend to do pretty well in presidential elections.

Barry Goldwater famously claimed that moderation in the defense of justice is no virtue, and that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. That may be true—well, no it mightn’t—but it is certainly not true in presidential politics. Moderation, not extremism, is the key to victory. 

As both Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are probably about to find out.

Mitt’s Romney’s RINO Problem


As the Republican presidential primary season hits a bit of a lull, I’ve been thinking about why it is that Mitt Romney can’t seem to connect with Republican voters. And while I am sure that I don’t have all the answers (don’t tell Mrs. Prof!), I think I have at least part of one:

Mitt Romney has a RINO problem.

The RINOs, of course, are the “Republicans in Name Only,” the name the tea party faction of the Republican Party gave to those Republicans it decided were not sufficiently ideologically pure to call themselves “Republicans.” In general, the RINOs were established political leaders of long-standing whose years of experience in politics taught them that no one person or group can get everything they want in politics, so compromise and incremental change were the most effective strategies for getting things done. Half of something, such leaders thought, was better than a whole bunch of nothing at all.

The tea partiers weren’t having it, of course. Their roars insisted on ideological purity or else. And the or else had an effect: party elders like (very) conservative Robert Bennett and (relatively) moderate Arlen Specter were chased out of the party, and tea party-inspired politicians swept the party to control of the House of Representatives in 2010. From there they have pursued pretty much only one strategy: stop Obama. No matter what. Even if he does something we (the tea party) likes, oppose him. It’s the only way to save America.

This attitude has turned out to bite Mitt Romney on the butt in at least two ways. First, he is the arch-typical RINO. He once registered (briefly) in the Democratic Party; he once espoused pro-choice positions on abortion rights; and, of course, he passed the apparent horror of basically universal healthcare in Massachusetts. Such policies have made Romney anathema to much of the Republican Party’s conservative base, as the endless cycle of “not Mitt” candidates rising and falling and rising again in the Republican primary demonstrates.

But this is only part of Mitt’s RINO problem. The other part is that, as a whole, America is far more politically akin to the RINOs than it is to the tea party. Americans like Social Security and Medicare and a big military—three programs that just in and of themselves occupy close to 60% of all of the federal budget. They also like parks and schools and want their water, their food and their (legal) drugs to be inspected and safe. They just delusionally want all of this for low taxes and no borrowed money. It’d be a neat trick if it was possible, of course, but it’s not … as our ever-growing budget deficits suggest. Still and all, it’s what the American people want, and people who win elections almost always promise that somehow they will square the unsquareable circle of low taxes and extensive programs.

The thing is, every seemingly insincere step Romney takes in his futile quest to endear himself to the tea party just alienates him from the mainstream of the American electorate. That is, in unmaking his RINO persona Mitt Romney has built an alternative image for himself that is essentially unelectable in the broader world of general election politics. And he looks insincere in both modes.

It’s quite a trick old Mitt has pulled. He’s managed to be detested by his party by becoming a politician who claims to represent everything they love, and has managed to alienate the people who actually might have liked him had he stayed the person he was. Perhaps his political epitaph should read: Mitt Romney: Eaten By A RINO.

The Sound of Silence


Shhhh. Hear that? That’s right: you don’t really hear anything. It’s as if the presidential campaign is on hold.

It isn’t, of course. There are elections in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado today. Missouri is having a so-called “beauty contest” that will register voters’ support for a candidate but which will not lead to the selection of any actual delegates to the convention; both Minnesota and Colorado are have what amounts to straw polls before selecting delegates in March.

Notably, Rick Santorum is likely to “win” both Missouri and Minnesota today. Meaning that, regardless of delegate counts, he is likely to end today having won about as many states as Romney has.

And no one cares.

We find ourselves in this absurd situation because of the intersection of two remarkable trends, both of which deserve more comment than they are receiving.

Trend 1 is the Republican Party’s desperate effort to beat back the tide of front-loading that has shaped most recent election contests. More and more states have pushed the dates of their primaries forward, trying to have their citizens have a chance to influence the selection of the party’s nominee. Think about it: lots of people want the race to be over ALREADY, when all of 5 states have voted. To have a voice, states have to schedule their primaries early in the campaign season. So states have been changing their dates earlier and earlier in the campaign cycle.

The Republican Party, by contrast, wants to pace the elections out a bit. So it has decided to sanction those states that schedule primaries before March by not seating delegates elected from early voting states (other than those from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, 1/2 of Florida’s delegates, and Nevada). Sound absurd? It is. But it’s true.

Trend 2 is the media’s insistence that it is the story. CNN, FOX and the other media covering the election seem to believe that they “call” the election—that it’s up to them to decide who wins and who loses the nomination. And right now they have a narrative, an explanation for what is going to happen and why. It’s the “Romney is inevitable” narrative.

So what is the media to do when two of three states holding elections in a given day don’t comply with the “Romney is inevitable” narrative? Well that’s easy:

You (don’t) hear it everywhere.

On Natural and Unnatural Politicians


Imagine two groups of politicians. Group A contains Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama. Group B contains George H.W. Bush, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Mitt Romney.

I want to suggest that these seemingly incongruous groupings make sense, at least on one variable.

Group A contains what we can term “natural” politicians. They are comfortable, easy, seemingly authentic. They amaze with their ability to interact with people they don’t know; they seem endlessly capable of asking strangers for votes and for money, all while seeming “real.” They like being on camera and can connect to both TV and local audiences in a wink.

Group B, in contrast, holds the “unnatural” politicians. They are smart, talented, capable and dedicated to public service. They are also stiff and awkward among groups of strangers. The rhythms of campaigning for office are forced on them. Television cameras are enemies. They are, somehow, inauthentic.

This thought comes to mind in light of Mitt Romney’s “I don’t care about the poor who have a safety net” comment, although it was forming during the critique of his “I like to fire people” statement a few weeks ago.

Don’t get me wrong: Romney’s statement was clearly stupid. Anyone who thinks the US safety net is very strong has a far too rosy understanding of the ability of the safety “net” to help people. We don’t have a “net” so much as a wet paper towel that purports to be able to stop a dropped bowling ball from hitting the ground. 

However, I don’t think Romney’s latest comment, any more than his comment about firing people, was cruel. He, like most Americans, lives with the honest sense that the American safety net is real and meaningful. Similarly, he, like most Americans (including, I should add, Politicalprof) likes to have choices in vendors to provide various goods and services. (There are stores I refuse to patronize, for example, because I thought I was treated badly there—and because I have a choice of other stores to go to.) While he’s wrong on the safety net (as are most Americans) and he’s foolish for believing that you’ll get any more choice in insurance companies than you get in cable companies, the sentiments he expressed are common and popular in the United States. 

But god did he express his point badly. In both cases—or, for that matter, with his $10,000 bet offer with Rick Perry during a debate—he came across as forced, insensitive, thoughtless … in a word, unnatural. 

The bad news for Mitt Romney is that there is no magic pill one can take, no amount of consulting one can endure that can remake an unnatural politician into a natural one. (To the degree Politicalprof does politics on his own campus he is definitely in the “unnatural” camp, so he knows of what he speaks.) The good news is that the US does hire unnatural politicians as President. The key is to be seen to have answers that the so-called “natural” politicians don’t.

So stop trying to be casual and fun, Mitt. Be your inner nerd. Really: it’s only natural.

In Fact, No One Listens to What People Say


So as I engage in my morning ritual of reading lots of newspapers, both in real paper form and online, I have been fascinated by all the buzz Stephen Colbert has generated about his supposed run for President. I watched Colbert and Stewart riff on Colbert’s SuperPAC last night, and thought they satirized the win-wink nudge-nudge reality of non-coordinating coordination between SuperPACs and candidates quite brilliantly. Then, of course, Colbert announced the formation of his exploratory committee … and the crowd went wild.

Except, of course, Stephen Colbert DID NOT announce the formation of an exploratory committee to run for President of the United States. He announced the formation of an exploratory committee to investigate running for the President of the United States OF SOUTH CAROLINA.

Pop quiz: DOES SOUTH CAROLINA HAVE A PRESIDENT? If you don’t know the answer, please stop reading this blog post now. You’re too dim to understand my point.

For the rest of you: the moral of the story is PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT PEOPLE SAY, NOT WHAT YOU THINK THEY SAY. Colbert is a brilliant satirist, and a brilliant attention-getter. He will run a beautiful mock campaign for President of the United States … of South Carolina. It will slice the rituals and absurdities of the real campaign to pieces and we will laugh along with him.

But he’s not running for President. And he told you so. Pay attention.

Republican Presidential Dictatorship


So it turns out that most of the Republican presidential candidates this year utterly loathe the notion of Constitutional democracy. They—and apparently their supporters—prefer presidential dictatorship.

Think about it. The heart of the theory of the Constitution is the system of checks and balances. Congress interferes with the President; Presidents interfere with the Congress; courts interfere with everybody … the theory is that, as frustrating as this infighting can be for getting things done, it’s the best way to ensure American liberty: so long as government is fighting with itself, it’s not robbing you of your rights and liberties.

However, most of the Republican candidates running for President this cycle have taken positions not simply critical of this Constitutional order, but downright hostile to it. Rick Perry, for example, wants Congress to meet part time, and only every other year—as the state legislature does in Texas. This line draws cheers at Republican debates—screwing Congress is a popular idea. Except, of course, that power will still be wielded in Washington while Congress is at home … and without a pesky Congress in the way! Which makes the president the power center of American government.

Especially when taken in combination with another set of Republican ideas out there aimed at undermining the Court’s power and authority in the system of checks and balances. Rick Perry, for example, wants term limits on Supreme Court Justices (18 years). Newt Gingrich wants to wipe out the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (based in San Francisco, it is far too liberal for most Republicans’ preferences), and has recently further suggested that it’s okay to have the Capitol Police or Justice Department arrest judges who make rulings out of touch with public opinion. Michele Bachmann has argued that Congress should (in its brief sessions) wildly constrict both the court’s jurisdiction and its discretion. Collectively, such moves would gut the court’s power, and remove it as a component of the system of checks and balances.

Meanwhile, presidential power would grow unchecked: no legislature, no courts … presidents would be free to act as they wished.

And note that Gingrich is not some kook candidate from the fringes of society. He is the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives (the only Constitutionally-listed office in Congress), a PhD in History (about which he apparently knows very, very little), and the leading contender for the Republican nomination for President—an office from which he would have the opportunity to act on his anti-Constitutional principles. Similarly, Michele Bachmann is an attorney who presumably went to the occasional con law class and learned that judges are supposed to be significantly free of public pressure when they make their rulings.

To be fair, Ron Paul has opposed these ideas … but his pledge, in a recent commercial, to eliminate vast numbers of federal agencies and their associated budgets IN HIS FIRST YEAR has the remarkable taint of authoritarianism to it: does Congress get no say in these matters?

It’s perfectly fine to believe the current Constitutional order is broken and needs reform—indeed, I think I can make a stronger case that the system is broken these days than I can a case that all is hunky-dory. But that’s an entirely different matter than asserting presidential authority to act however the president wants …  so long as “it’s the right thing to do.”

That’s dictatorship, and it is most decidedly not “the American way.” It is, however, what many of the Republican candidates are promising in their campaigns … and it is the rhetoric that draws some of the biggest applause during the debates. Which ought to scare the bejeezus out of anyone who actually claims to love the Constitution—including Republicans.

How Weird is the Republican Race for President?


Well…. as my wife pointed out … 

The tea party is looking for an outsider  … so they are supporting former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

The Republicans are looking for a moralistic leader who would never bring dishonor to the Presidency … so they are supporting twice-divorced, twice (that we know of) cheating on his wives Newt Gingrich.

The Republicans are looking for a change agent who will go to Washington and fix everything … so they are supporting flamed-out-as-Speaker, lobbyist, and DC-reviled Newt Gingrich.

As I’ve said before, it all makes sense if you don’t think about it.

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