Why Mitt Will Run In 2016…Oh, Never Mind!

Earlier today, Mitt Romney announced, in a phone conversation with potential supporters, that he will not run for president in 2016, thus confirming what pundits had been predicting for some months now.  Or not.  (Update: According to Mitt’s statement, while he was confident based on conversations with party leaders, donors and other activists that he would win the party’s nomination, he seemed more uncertain regarding whether he could win the general election.)

To me, Mitt’s announcement was not nearly as entertaining as the media reaction to it. Since at least Romney’s visit to Iowa last October on behalf of Senate candidate Joni Ernst there has been growing speculation that Mitt was considering entering the presidential race for a third time. However, now that Mitt made his announcement some of those same experts are scrambling to tell us why it was obvious Mitt was not going to run. The most common explanation seems to be that he took the pulse of the party activists, sensed lukewarm support, and decided to pull out. This could very well be correct. If so, it is consistent with the argument that some of my political science colleagues have made regarding how parties decide more generally who to back during the so-called invisible primary. But I would be far more confident in this story if pundits and colleagues had been telling me before Mitt’s decision why the signs indicated he was going to drop out due to lack of support.

Instead, I saw a lot of twitter comments like this:

“The Daily Beast ✔ @thedailybeast
Follow
EXCLUSIVE: ROMNEY RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT http://thebea.st/1ETNAwX
9:19 AM – 30 Jan 2015”

And this:

Mark HalperinVerified account ‏@MarkHalperin
“To be clear: I don’t know what @MittRomney will say this morning, but every talk I’ve had w/ Mitt World leads me to believe he will run”

And this was only the tip of the iceberg. Many print journalists were making similar arguments for why Mitt would run. My point is not to pick on those who incorrectly believed Mitt was poised to throw his hat in the ring.  To the contrary: If it was so obvious that Mitt was going to be culled from the field by party activists (and that he was being culled), why did so many smart people make the case for why he was running and, in some instances, why he should be running?  The reality is that it was pretty easy to believe Mitt would run, particularly if you wanted him in the race.  Early polls had him leading the Republican field and even beating Hillary in a one-to-one matchup.  (Never mind that polls are completely unreliable predictors at this stage of the race.) Recent events overseas, such as the rise of ISIS and Putin’s gamble in the Ukraine seemed to validate his foreign policy views.  Some argued that we would see the “authentic” Mitt this time around and that he was battle tested.  In explaining why Mitt would want to run, media pundits cited his purported dissatisfaction with the weak field of Republican candidates.

For all these reasons the group of “insiders” who some have fingered as putting the kabosh on a third try were previously, according to very recent media reports, actively working to persuade him to take the plunge. No wonder the estimable Gloria Borger could write in mid-January, “What a difference a few months makes. Now, multiple sources inside the Romney bubble tell me (and everyone else) that they ‘bet’ that he gets in the race.” In short, if the story of Mitt’s decision not to run is that he was culled by the party leaders, that culling didn’t seem very obvious to those who were reporting on the process. Instead, many very smart people seemed generally convinced until today that he was going to run. Indeed, many of them were making the case for why Mitt should run, arguing that he would be a formidable candidate in 2016.  Yes, to be fair, there were others who argued against a third run by Mitt.  However I have yet to see evidence of a groundswell of opposition among party activists against a third Romney run.  This is not to say it didn’t happen.  It is just that it is hard to detect in the media coverage leading up to today’s announcement, and it is why I don’t necessarily buy the post-hoc rationalization that Mitt dropped out due to a lack of party support.

Why didn’t Mitt run? At this point I don’t know. I suspect no one else except Mitt himself does either. But that’s not going to stop many pundits from saying, “I told you so.” Just remember that some of them are the same people who were previously convinced a third run by Mitt was in the cards.

UPDATE: 3 pm.   And so the media correction begins:  Romney didn’t decide – the party decided for him!  It would be a lot more convincing if they told us this before Romney’s decision.

Next up: why the media case for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady as the culprits in deflategate is so compelling – and why the same pundits will soon report how it was obvious it was all due to the weather.

In the meantime, let’s give the last word on Romney’s run to that well-known political pundit Emily Litella

Live Blogging the State of the Union

Hi all,

It’s been awhile, so I may be a bit rusty, but it’s time for another live blogging of the president’s State of the Union address.  As always, I’ll be watching this on CNN.   I hope you can join in using the comments sections.  Remember, part of the fun here is giving some history on the State of the Union, but it is also a chance to poke some holes in the media coverage as well.

 

Why Didn’t Mario Run? That Was Always The Question

To run, or not to run? That seems, even today, to be the question.

Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo’s death yesterday has sparked a wave of nostalgia, particularly among old-school liberals, regarding what might have been.  If only Cuomo had run for president in 1992! (Or 1988, for that matter.) Given his name recognition, outstanding rhetorical skills and stature as a big-state governor, he would have almost certainly secured the Democratic nomination and defeated the incumbent president George H. W. Bush. Instead, the “Hamlet-on-the-Hudson”, showing characteristic indecisiveness, dithered away the opportunity, thus allowing the much more moderate (and ethically challenged) Bill Clinton to win election in a three-way race with Bush and Ross Perot, thereby ushering in eight years of Republican-lite policies, eventually Republican congressional control and, not incidentally, an impeachment scandal.

It is easy to understand why Cuomo’s death evokes these feelings, and why old guard liberals in particular still grow wistful reminiscing about the prospect of a Cuomo presidency. As I was reminded today in listening to clips of Cuomo from his frequent appearances with Alan Chartock on the Albany-based public radio station WAMC, the Governor was an engaging, erudite (albeit often prickly) individual who never lost touch with his working class ethnic roots. Perhaps no speech brought out these qualities more effectively than did his much-praised “Tale of Two Cities” keynote address on behalf of Walter Mondale at the 1984 presidential convention, an excerpt of which you can see here.

So why didn’t Cuomo run? When, in December 1991, on the cusp of the filing deadline for the 1992 New Hampshire primary, Cuomo announced his decision not to seek the presidency, he cited his obligations as Governor of New York, noting in particular the need to negotiate a solution with statehouse Republicans to a burgeoning budget deficit. Disappointed supporters argued that this essentially allowed New York Republicans to hold Cuomo’s presidential ambitions hostage to their obstructionist budget tactics. Many felt there had to be a deeper reason to explain Cuomo’s decision – a skeleton in the closet perhaps, or an unwillingness to do the dirty work necessary to win election.

I’ve always felt there was a simpler, more prosaic explanation for Cuomo’s reluctance to run – one that usually proves decisive for most politicians contemplating a campaign for higher office: he didn’t think he could win. The plain fact is that despite his many strong qualities, Cuomo was a northeast, big government New Deal liberal governing – and contemplating a presidential run – in the age of Reagan. It was never very clear how well this brand of liberalism would play on the national stage at that time. For what it is worth, national polls did not find much public support for Democrats nominating a “liberal” as opposed to a more moderate presidential candidate. The two previous presidential elections saw a liberal Senator Walter Mondale and a liberal Governor (at least on social issues) Michael Dukakis beaten by Republicans Reagan and Bush, respectively. And in 1980, the “liberal lion” Ted Kennedy had failed to wrest the Democratic nomination from Jimmy Carter. To be sure, in late 1991 President Bush was far more vulnerable than he was three years earlier, to say nothing of Reagan in 1984. But at the time Cuomo made his decision not to run, polls still had Bush defeating him in a head-to-head matchup although Bush’s lead over his potential Democratic rivals was shrinking. Ultimately, however, it was Bill Clinton, a moderate member of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council who won the 1992 election while espousing a “third way” of politics predicated on rejecting the left-leaning policies embraced by Mondale and other Democratic liberals.  Cuomo, meanwhile, was defeated two years later in a bid for a 4th term by “no-name” Republican George Pataki.

Indeed, it was never certain that Cuomo, despite his superior name recognition, would even win the Democratic nomination. Although initial polls showed him winning about 30% of the vote compared to his Democratic rivals, that may have represented Cuomo’s ceiling, much as Howard Dean seemed unable to break the 25% level when he led the Democratic field in late 2003. Certainly Cuomo’s support was much less in the South where Clinton ran exceptionally well. Indeed, many pundits at that time suggested that the only Democrats who could win the presidency were moderate southern politicians. In his oral history, former Bush chief of staff John Sununu remembers meeting with Bush advisers early in 1991 to discuss the upcoming reelection campaign: “The last thing we did is everybody went around the table and said whom they thought was going to get the nomination on the Democratic side and everybody was saying Cuomo, and I said Clinton. And they said, Who is Clinton? And I said, If Cuomo runs in the primary against Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton will eat his lunch… That’s how out of touch they were with the real threat that was there.” Sandy Berger, who would later become Clinton’s national security adviser, recalled that Clinton, who never lacked for confidence, wanted Cuomo to run so that Clinton could position himself as the giant killer.

It is, of course, impossible to know with certainty what the outcome of a Clinton-Cuomo nomination fight would have been, but if one replays the sequence of primaries, particularly the southern-focused “Super Tuesday” contests, it seems apparent that Cuomo faced a very difficult path to victory. This won’t stop Cuomo backers from lamenting what might have been. To run, or not to run? With Mario, it seems, that remains the enduring question. Alas, it will forever remain unanswered.

A Single Payer Health Care System: As Vermont Goes….?

As Vermont goes, so goes the nation?

Back in 2010, as many of you may know, Peter Shumlin narrowly won election as Vermont governor in part on a promise to implement a single payer health coverage system run by the state. Although the term “single payer” can encompass a range of plans, the essential idea is that the state would institute a system of public financing to pay for universal health care coverage. In May, 2011, the Vermont legislature committed itself to implementing such as system when it passed, and Shumlin signed into law, Act 48 which laid out the basic principles underlying a single payer plan.

Advocates saw Vermont as the ideal laboratory for hatching a single payer system that might even serve as a role model for other states. As they often pointed out, Vermont had a strong progressive record of “firsts” – the first state to mandate public financing for universal education in its constitution, the first to outlaw slavery in its constitution, the first to introduce civil unions for same-sex couples, and even the first to legislate in favor of gay marriages (as opposed to getting there through court order.) Could a single-payer health system be the next first? In a piece she wrote last April on Vermont’s single payer proposal, the Vox’s Sarah Kliff  quoted Shumlin saying, “If Vermont gets single-payer health care right, which I believe we will, other states will follow. If we screw it up, it will set back this effort for a long time. So I know we have a tremendous amount of responsibility, not only to Vermonters.”

But then came the hard part: figuring out how to raise the estimated $1.6-$2 billion needed to get the plan up and running by the 2017 target date. After Shumlin missed a 2013 deadline for revealing exactly how the state planned to finance the reform, criticism mounted that the costs were likely to be much higher than initial estimates suggested. In the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, long-shot political novice Scott Milne, Shumlin’s Republican rival, hammered away at the incumbent governor on this issue, repeatedly arguing that Shumlin knew that single payer “was dead”. In an interview on Nov. 1, Milne reportedly said, “During the campaign I said that single-payer is dead — I’m telling you that now, and Peter Shumlin’s going to wait until after the election.” And, in an outcome that surprised almost everyone, Milne came within a bit more than 2,000 votes in unseating the incumbent. Indeed, analysts suggested that without the presence of the Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano, who earned more than 8,000 votes, Milne would have become Vermont’s next governor. But the race is not over. Under Vermont law, because no gubernatorial candidate got more than 50 percent of the vote, the newly-elected legislature will decide the race by secret ballot in early January. In a move that has surprised even some of his strongest supporters, Milne has announced that he is not willing to concede the race to Shumlin.

It was against this backdrop that, last Wednesday, in a news conference in the Statehouse, Shumlin dropped a bombshell by admitting, in effect, that the state had “screwed up.” He announced that the state would forego, at least for now, any effort to implement a single-payer system.
The reason, Shumlin acknowledged, was precisely what critics had long maintained: the plan was fiscally untenable. According to the governor, the most recent studies indicate a single payer system would require an 11.5% payroll tax on businesses and a sliding income tax that would tax some wage earners up to 9.5% on top of the existing state income tax. Moreover, some small business owners who do not now provide health coverage would take a double whammy by getting hit with both income and payroll tax hikes. All told the price tag for a single-payer system was now estimated to be $2.6 billion in a state with revenues totaling about $2 billion a year.

Not surprisingly, advocates for a single health care plan felt betrayed by Shumlin’s reversal, and vowed to push forward with the plan through legislative action.  Opponents, meanwhile, voiced a loud “We told you so.” As with health care reform nationally, polls suggested the public was divided on the Vermont plan, with approval rates varying depending on how the poll question was worded. The immediate issue, of course, is what impact, if any, Shumlin’s announcement will have on the legislative vote on January 8 to determine the next governor. I have no doubt that Milne is right – Shumlin certainly knew for weeks, if not months, that the numbers would not add up but like any smart politician he withheld the bad news until after the election. By announcing the death of single payer now, however, he may have removed a political weight from the shoulders of many Democratic legislators who probably did not relish having to vote on a single-payer financing system in the coming legislative session. Some are even lauding Shumlin for his political “courage” in making the announcement now. This, in my view, is a dubious claim – real courage would have meant making the announcement before the November election. However, I doubt many legislators are going to vote against Shumlin for governor on the basis of this one announcement, and it might even shore up support among some who are relieved that the issue has been removed, at least for now. We’ll know soon enough.

As for the broader lessons from this ill-fated effort,  supporters and skeptics alike are left wondering if a single-payer system lacked political support in a liberal-leaning deep-blue state like Vermont, what chance does it have in any U.S. state? However, I think this misses the real lesson of the Vermont experience. One of the reasons why the Vermont plan proved fiscally unworkable is that the latest estimates showed that in part because of Obamacare, the state would get $150 million less in federal health care aid than anticipated earlier, as well as $150 million less in Medicaid assistance. Other difficulties included how to pay for coverage for non-residents who were employed in Vermont. These problems point to the difficulty of enacting a state-based single-payer plan in a health care system that is inextricably bound up with a national economy and which is struggling to implement a national health care reform plan. As it turns out, many of the factors cited for why a single payer system might work in Vermont – its small population and progressive leanings – mattered a lot less than supporters understood.  Indeed, Vermont’s small economy might make it more susceptible to national economic forces. The plain fact is that it is going to be difficult for any state, no matter what its ideological leanings and fiscal health, to move ahead by itself with comprehensive health care reform. In the end, health care is primarily a national issue and if single-payer is the way to go, it is likely going to have to happen at the national level. That, I think, is the lesson to take from the Vermont experience.

Was Obamacare Worth It? Some Democrats Think Not.

I’m up today at US News with a new post that serves as a sequel of sorts to an earlier post I wrote discussing the impact of Obama’s policy agenda on Democrats’ loss of control of Congress. In recent days Democrats such as New York Senator Chuck Schumer have openly questioned whether Obamacare was worth the political price paid for its passage.  Drawing on data compiled by Middlebury College student Tina Berger, I showed that during Obama’s six years as president Democrats had lost more than 25% of the seats they had started with when Obama first took office. That was the second greatest proportion of seats lost, exceeded only by Eisenhower, during a president’s time in office during the post-Hoover modern presidential era. A primary cause of the loss of partisan support, I suggested, was Obama’s decision to pursue health care reform despite its controversial nature and uneven political support.

In response, the New York Times Brendan Nyhan wondered whether the erosion of Democratic support might vary across the two congressional chambers, with losses greater in either the House or the Senate. The short answer is no – he’s lost about equal support across his presidency in the Senate and the House, at least in terms of modern rankings, as the following graphs constructed by Berger indicate.  Here’s the percentage of House seats lost:

HouseAnd here’s the Senate seats lost:

 

SenateClearly Obama has been an equal opportunity president.

Mo Fiorina, meanwhile, pointed out that rather than speculate regarding why Democrats lost so many seats, I could have cited some research that points directly to Obama’s decision to pursue health care reform as a primary cause of Democrats losing control of the House and, I would add, contributing to the loss of the Senate too.  In my U.S. News post, I make amends by delving a bit more deeply into that research.  The gist of it suggests that health care and climate change legislation might have cost Democrats some 20-40 House seats in 2010.

Sill, this is not necessarily meant to suggest that pursuing health care reform was a mistake. As I discuss in the U.S. News post, the key issue is whether Obama, in deciding whether to embark on health care reform, fully anticipated the political cost his party would pay for doing so. This is the crucial point the late, great presidency scholar Richard Neustadt makes in his classic work Presidential Power: presidents ought not to be judged solely on their ability to achieve a treasured legislative objective. They must also be assessed on whether they understood the likely consequences of achieving that objective on their future bargaining prospects. Did Obama understand that in pursuing health care reform he would likely cost his party its House majority and, perhaps, control of the Senate as well? These are not easy questions to answer, of course; when making these decisions presidents are operating under conditions of great uncertainty. Surely Obama could not have anticipated the botched rollout of Obamacare, for instance. Still, Neustadt’s analysis suggests that these are questions any president must ask before embarking down the legislative road of significant policy change. In the case of health care reform, it’s not clear to me whether Obama tried hard enough to find an answer.