Monthly Archives: March 2012

Super Tuesday Preview: He’s Back! (I Think)

Jon Bernstein, who produces thoughtful political analysis at his PlainBlog website, and I are usually in agreement, but Jon takes issue with a number of recent posts I’ve made about the nomination campaign. Rather than waste your time defending my points – you’ve already read what I have to say – I suggest that you take a glance at Jon’s post. If he objects to something, it’s usually for good reason.   Perhaps confirming Jon’s criticisms, I should also note that Politico, the online politics website, in excerpting my piece yesterday on why the results in Georgia are more important than Ohio’s, describes me as a “Presidency Scholar” – in quotation marks (as in “alleged”)!

By now, most of you understand that I sometimes play the role of a provocateur, especially when I think conventional wisdom needs some pushback. Of course, it’s often with tongue firmly in cheek.  But don’t let a bit of humor distract you from my underlying point. It is in that role of provocateur that I write these words:

He’s back.

Newt Gingrich, I mean.  While pundits have been focusing on the Santorum-Romney faceoff, particularly in Ohio, Newt – if polling can be believed – has quietly pulled himself into contention in Tennessee and, possibly in Oklahoma as well.  He may even steal a delegate or two in Ohio, to go with a likely huge delegate haul in Georgia, the biggest ticket of them all tomorrow.  The bottom line?  It is possible that he will bring home more delegates than Santorum when all the Super Tuesday voting concludes.  This despite a media narrative that has, again, all but written the Newtster off.

Just so there’s no confusion here – Romney is poised to bring home a plurality – perhaps even a majority – of the 400-plus delegates at stake tomorrow. He will easily win Vermont (only he and Ron Paul are even advertising here) and Massachusetts. Only he and Paul are on the ballot in Virginia.  I suspect he’ll clean up in the Idaho caucuses, with their strong Mormon component.  I’ve got no clue what will happen in the North Dakota caucus, or in Alaska. (There was a Ron Paul sighting there I think). But in the four major contested states – Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and Oklahoma, Newt will give Mitt a run for his money.

I talked yesterday about Georgia.  The latest CNN poll there has Newt at 47% – within shouting distance of 50%.  That suggests he may reach 50% in at least some of the 14 congressional districts, meaning he takes all three delegates in each district in which he wins a majority, thus shutting the other two out.  At the same time, polls indicate Santorum has dipped below the 20% threshold required to qualify for any of 31 at-large delegates.  Remember, this is where Newt benefits from the 21 bonus delegates Georgia has earned – they are allocated statewide.

In Tennessee, meanwhile, two recent polls have Newt within 1-4% of the lead.  Just five days ago he was .polling at about 20% – now he’s pushing 30%, if the polls are to be believed. Remember, Tennessee has a very strong evangelical base comprising roughly 60% of likely Republican voters – a group Mitt has not done well with. So although Romney is polling about even with Santorum there, his support may be soft.  And if Santorum begins slipping, as he has done in Ohio and Georgia, Newt may be poised to sneak in a second victory tomorrow.  It’s still a longshot, particularly since Rick may have banked a lead based on early voting, but less of one than it appeared to be even five days ago.  But even if Newt finishes second, or a close third, he will pick up some of the 28 at-large state delegates and, possibly, a handful of the 27 congressional district delegates. In sort, I expect that he and Rick will probably run pretty even in the Tennessee delegate race with Santorum having perhaps a slight advantage.

Then there’s Oklahoma, with its 40 delegates (25 at large and 15 allocated by congressional districts).  The key here is to break the 15% threshold in order to qualify for either statewide or district-based delegates.  The last poll that I’ve seen was from four days ago, and had Santorum up with 37%, followed by Romney at 26% and Gingrich at 22%. I have no idea if the Newt surge that is happening in Tennessee and Georgia is also taking place here.  But even if these figures don’t change, Newt will pick up some delegates here too although probably not as many as Santorum or Romney.

That leaves Ohio, the second largest delegate haul of the day. Here we have plenty of polling and it consistently places Newt a distant third.  Although the media focus has been on the Romney-Santorum duel, there is some evidence that Gingrich may have gained a couple of percentage points here in the last four days. It’s still a longshot but if he reaches 20% he qualifies for some of the 15 at-large delegates here, although it seems unlikely he’s going to win any district- level delegates.  So Ohio will go a long way to offset Newt’s delegate advantage in Georgia. Keep in mind, however, that Santorum didn’t file a full slate of Ohio delegates, so he is going to fall below what his popular vote suggests he should get.

Of course, the situation is quite fluid, polling data is uncertain and anyone who says they know what the final delegate totals will be is lying.  But I think based on my back of the envelope calculation that Newt could actually beat Rick in the delegate haul tomorrow.  Assuming Newt does, what is the significance, if any?  At the risk of provoking my colleagues again, I think it means that Newt goes on.  At the very least, it means Newt receives a burst of positive media coverage, possibly an infusion of cash and added motivation to stay in the race, which moves onto terrain presumably more favorable to him a week later with primaries in Alabama and Mississippi with a combined 90 delegates at stake. That won’t change my belief that Mitt remains the odds-on favorite to win this.  But what I believe doesn’t matter – it’s what the candidates think that does. A week ago some thought Super Tuesday would end Newt’s candidacy.  Now it may actually prolong it.

More tomorrow.

Clearing Up Some Misconceptions About SuperTuesday

As we near SuperTuesday, it’s probably worth it to clear up several misconceptions that have crept into the media coverage and blogosphere in recent days.

The Ohio Primary is the most important contest on SuperTuesday.   No, Georgia is – thanks to the 21 bonus delegates it has been awarded, there are 76 delegates up for grab there on Tuesday, compared to 63 in Ohio (in addition to three unpledged delegates there).  What the journalists mean when they say Ohio is most important is that they don’t know who is going to win there.  That makes Ohio intrinsically a more interesting news story.   Some reporters, of course, fall back on the “Ohio will be a key swing state in the general election while Georgia will go Republican” defense.  That’s true – but President Obama is not on the ballot this Tuesday in Ohio.  Right now the focus is on winning delegates for the Republican nomination.  Based on this criterion, while Ohio is big, Georgia is substantively bigger.

And, even using the media criteria of uncertainty and newsworthiness, there’s a lot to be said about Georgia’s capacity to surprise.  To begin, 42 of the state’s delegates are awarded – three each – based on how candidates do in each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts.  If Gingrich can clear 50% in any of these districts, he gets all three delegates.   At the very least he’s likely to get 2 of the 3 delegates if he receives a plurality in each district, with the runner up getting the remaining delegate.   So it’s quite possible Rick Santorum, based on current polling, might get shut out of some of these districts.  Similarly, Santorum and Romney must clear 20% of the statewide popular vote to compete for the remaining 31 at large delegates.   So there a great deal at stake in Georgia – and not a little uncertainty when it comes to delegate counts.  (Note as well that Georgia’s three party delegates are pledged to the overall state winner, while Ohio’s are not.   Also note that formally speaking, Ohio delegates are morally bound to the presidential candidate who wins them – but only morally bound.)

SuperTuesday Will Reshape the Republican Race. In fact, it almost certainly will not.  The most likely outcome is that the current pecking order, as measured by delegate strength and popular votes among the four candidates, is not likely to change after the results in Tuesday’s ten contests are tabulated.  Nor are any of the four candidates likely to drop out.  By any objective standard, then,  SuperTuesday will likely not reshape the race; Romney will remain the frontrunner, and the odds on favorite to win the nomination.

The Republicans Establishment is Closing Ranks Behind Romney.  Stop me if you’ve heard this before. On the heels of today’s endorsements of Romney by Eric Cantor and Tom Coburn, the “closing ranks” theme has once again been resurrected by the talking heads.  Are today’s endorsements really news?  According to the ongoing tally listed at TheHill website, Romney has been running away with the endorsement race since before January.  We don’t need two more to convince us that the “Party Establishment” wants Romney to win.  Remember when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie endorsed Mitt way back in October?  It was, CNN reported, “another sign Romney, the GOP front-runner, is consolidating support among establishment Republicans who believe he is the party’s best chance to win back the White House.”  But wait. There’s more! We heard that they were closing ranks after New Hampshire – and Romney got crushed in South Carolina.  We heard they were closing ranks after Florida – and Santorum pulled off the trifecta.  Forgive me if I don’t get overly excited over two more endorsements.  I suppose at some point the “Party Decides” crowd can claim victory.  But it is going to ring pretty hollow, given events to date.

This race is just like 2008.   Keep in mind that the Republican race was essentially finished after the first week in February in 2008, when Romney dropped out after a disappointing SuperTuesday. (Rudy Giuliani‘s candidacy essentially ended the week before in Florida). By the time SuperTuesday was over in 2008 more than half the Republican delegates had been awarded.  Although Mike Huckabee stuck around, the delegate math was impossible for him to overcome and he formally quit by the first week in March.  Nothing like that outcome is likely to happen after this SuperTuesday.  For starters, when the day is done next Tuesday only 36% of the delegates will have been allocated (and that is a generous count because it includes caucus results where no delegates have actually been selected).   The odds may favor Romney, but his situation is simply not analogous to McCain’s in 2008.  The dynamics of the race are so different as to render comparisons less than helpful.

There you are. Hope that clears up matters.  I’ll be on tomorrow with a polling overview.


Romney Wins, The Media Spins – And We Wait For SuperTuesday

The Washington state Republican caucuses are underway as I write.  Although the event is being heavily hyped by CNN, I’m not going to bother with live blogging for the simple reason that no delegates will be chosen today; the precinct-level selection of delegates is only the first step in a process that will culminate at the end of May when the state’s 43 convention delegates (40 pledged, three unpledged) will actually be chosen.  By then, of course, the changing dynamics of the race may alter some of the delegates’ decisions regarding whom to support.  So while today’s precinct votes are not meaningless, it is unwise to try to allocate delegate counts based on the results.  Not that this will stop media outlets from doing so!

Polls suggest that the fight for precinct level delegates will be a battle between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, with Paul hoping a victory today will give him some media-generated momentum heading in to SuperTuesday.  Accordingly, while Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich spent today in Ohio, the state with second biggest delegate haul available on Tuesday,  Paul remained in Washington state, hoping for good news there tonight.  Keep in mind, however, my earlier warning regarding the difficulties in polling a caucus state.  Initial indications are the turnout is up in Washington from 2008.   (As I write, about 40% of precincts have reported and Romney has a commanding lead.  Paul is in a battle for second with Santorum.)

Interestingly, although the media has focused most of their attention on the battle between Romney and Santorum, particularly in Ohio, heading into Tuesday’s 10 contests, if PPP polls are correct Gingrich may be gaining ground. He has unleashed a series of advertising, including robocalls in several southern states, and will be banking on free publicity on major talk shows tomorrow. At the very least he should retain enough strength to complicate the delegate issue in several states. In Oklahoma, an ARG poll has Gingrich pulling 22%, putting him within striking distance of Romney (at 26%) for second place, behind Santorum (37%).   Because of the way Oklahoma allocates its 40 pledged delegates, the second-place finisher can pick up significant delegates both statewide and within the 15 congressional districts, assuming he gets at least 15% of the vote. In Ohio, Gingrich has an outside shot of getting to the 20% threshold which would give him a portion of that state’s statewide delegates, although he will not likely win any of the congressional districts.  In Tennessee, Gingrich does not at this point appear poised to get many delegates, but he retains a large lead in Georgia, which has the most delegates at stake on Tuesday.  If Gingrich draws enough support in Georgia, he may prevent Rick Santorum from reaching the 20% threshold required to get a portion of the statewide delegates there.  If he finishes behind Romney, Santorum could also get shut out of the delegate allocation process within each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts.

In short,  when the dust settles after Tuesday, it’s not clear to me that this will be a two-man race.      Keep in mind that a strict delegate count still puts Gingrich ahead of Paul and Santorum for second place at this point.  It’s possible he may still be in second, using a hard count, after SuperTuesday. Of course, in the long run the goal for both Newt and Rick (and I think Paul, although there is some question regarding his true objective!) is to prevent Romney from accumulating enough delegates to win an outright majority before the convention.  SuperTuesday, with over 400 delegates at stake, gives them the best opportunity to do so to date.

Meanwhile – CNN has just projected Romney to win Washington state. Once again Paul is the bridesmaid. Let the spin begin!

James Q. Wilson Has Died

Jim Wilson died yesterday.  He was 80 years old and had suffered from leukemia.  For those of you not familiar with his work, Wilson was one of the intellectual giants in political science, one whose research and writings influenced not just others in the discipline, but which had a major impact in the broader world of politics, policy and government more generally.   Although most of his obituaries (see here  and here) cited his “broken windows” thesis which he developed with George Kelling regarding crime prevention, Wilson was probably better known within academia for his study of government organizations – a line of research that began with his analyses of city politics and culminated in his classic work  Bureaucracy.  As the subtitle to that book indicates, Wilson sought to explain what government agencies do, and why they do it.  In so doing, he drew not only on his own work, but also on his experiences as a government consultant (he served on several presidential tasks forces on crime and drug prevention), as well as on the research of several generations of graduate students.   The book has all the characteristics of Wilson’s other writings: graceful prose, uncommon intellectual rigor and, perhaps most important of all given the state of the political science discipline today – it had relevance.  Indeed, if there was one hallmark of Wilson’s career – whether it was charting the rise of political issue activists in New York (The Amateur Democrat), examining the FBI and DEA (The Investigators) or developing a theory regarding why individuals join groups (Political Organizations) – it is that he spoke to important issues in a language that policymakers as well as students could understand.  It is, of course, impossible to do justice to the body of Wilson’s academic work here, but for those interested in a short-hand glimpse into how his mind worked, a sampling of his Wall St. op Ed pieces can be found here.

I did not know Wilson well, but I was fortunate to have taken courses with him and to have served as one of his many teaching assistants.  He was a skilled lecturer, but one who captivated you more by the lucidity of his thoughts than with the power of his oratory.   Although Wilson was born and raised in California, his emotional reserve – bordering on shyness – always struck me as more characteristic of a New Englander.  This extended even to his classroom demeanor; when he lectured he seemed to be focused on a point just above his audience’s heads, as if speaking to someone sitting in the top row of the bleacher seats.

Wilson knew a lot about the bleachers at Fenway Park – he was an unabashed Red Sox fan who moved back to the Boston area late in life to be closer to his children and grandchildren (he died in a Boston area hospital); as he told an interviewer  his descendants “feel a legal obligation to live within 30 minutes of Fenway Park.”  Indeed the most animated I ever saw him was during the 1986 World Series; I distinctly remember him at this time in a meeting with his teaching assistants, clearly agitated as he openly wondered why Red Sox manager John McNamara had not put Dave Stapleton in as a defensive replacement for Bill Buckner.  (This was more than a rooting passion for Wilson; for many years he  played in weekend government department softball games.)

He also had a sly sense of humor.  I recall another incident as his teaching assistant in a course he taught jointly with Professor Mo Fiorina.  In lecture one day, to illustrate a point about how individuals with shared interests form groups,  Fiorina put up a slide showing him proudly holding a good-sized fish – a brook trout, say, of 18 inches? – (forgive me, Mo, if I don’t remember the exact size or species) that Fiorina had caught.  When it next came time for Wilson to lecture, as he was speaking he flashed a slide of a man in scuba gear – presumably Wilson himself – swimming alongside a 20-foot shark – a picture that seemed totally unrelated to his lecture topic.   Noticing his students’ puzzled response, Wilson glanced at the slide, nodded in Fiorina’s direction and said, “I just wanted to show Professor Fiorina what a big fish really looks like.”   (Among his hobbies, Wilson was an avid scuba diver and he co-authored a book with his wife on fish life in the coral reefs.)

After more than two decades at Harvard, Wilson left and returned to California where he continued to write and lecture.  His departure came just as I was working up the nerve to see whether he might sit on my dissertation committee.  When I later returned to Harvard as a professor, I was responsible for teaching Government 1500 “Bureaucracy” – the very class I had taken with Wilson years before.  Fortunately, rather than delude myself into thinking I might somehow improve the course, I simply dusted off my lecture notes from Wilson’s class, updated the examples, and essentially taught Wilson’s ideas to a new generation of students.  I continue to do so today.  It is a testament to his knowledge of the topic that the conceptual framework he developed for understanding government bureaucracies is still relevant; I’ve used it in my own analyses of the Homeland Security department and reforms to the nation’s intelligence agencies.

Late in life Wilson focused his research on issues of morality, character and politics.  That culminated in the writing of what he often said was his most important book The Moral Sense, which he described as “an intuitively or directly felt belief about how one ought to act when one is free to act voluntarily.”  The book explores how individuals develop a moral sense, and focuses particularly on the role of family in instilling that sense.  For Wilson, developing that moral sense was crucial for a well-functioning social order.

It was for reasons of family, of course, that Wilson moved back to the Boston area, to be closer to his children and grandchildren.  And it is Wilson’s family that is in our thoughts and prayers today.

Rest in peace, James Q. Wilson.  You will be missed.

Facing the Facts: The Case For Operation Brokered Convention

If Operation Brokered Convention, the plan I hatched earlier this week to insure no Republican wins the nomination outright before the Republican convention, is to succeed, two things must happen.  First, party leaders must recognize that Mitt Romney, the current frontrunner, will never consolidate the party behind his candidacy.  Second, they must believe that a brokered convention offers the only hope of replacing Romney with a candidate who could unite the party.

Although it has been only a few days since I cast the seeds of my bold plan(!) into the internet winds, already there are signs it is taking root.*  To begin, in the aftermath of Romney’s narrow Michigan victory, influential conservative blogger and CNN contributing analysis Erick Erickson bluntly acknowledged what I’ve been saying for some time: “When you have a candidate few people really like, whose support is a mile wide and an inch deep, whose raison d’etre (a 4am fancy word) is fixing an economy that is fixing itself without him, and who only wins his actual, factual home state by three percentage points against a guy no one took seriously only two months ago, there really is little reason for independent voters in the general election to choose him if the economy keeps improving…If Republicans in Washington are not panicked and trying desperately to pull Bobby Jindal in the race tomorrow, or someone like him, the party leaders must have a death wish.”

Charles Bronson, indeed. Having vested so much in Romney to this point, of course, it is not going to be easy for Republican Party leaders to change directions without a clear strategy for finding a Romney alternative.  That’s where the brokered convention comes in.  Rather than sitting passively while the Republican train wreck unfolds, Republicans need to intervene in the remaining contests to insure none of the current candidates can achieve a majority of delegates before the convention. Fortunately for Republicans, they may get some support from Democrats who for their own (misguided?) reasons may also seek to extend this race.

To their credit, some veteran Republican strategists are coming around to the idea. In an interview with Lou Cannon, longtime Republican consultant Stu Spencer makes the case for a brokered convention, saying that if neither Mitt Romney nor Rick Santorum goes to the Republican convention in Tampa with sufficient delegates to be nominated, their supporters might unite on an outsider nominee because they share the common goal of “beating Obama.”  Cannon writes, “To those who say that a contested convention would split the GOP, Spencer responds that the party is already badly divided and that the current candidates, even the relatively moderate Romney, have alienated independent voters.”

In fact, as liberal blogger Ezra Klein notes, there is polling data supporting Spencer’s assertion that Romney is losing independents, although Klein points out that we can’t be sure that those independents won’t come back to Romney if he wins the nomination. If Romney is losing support among independents, however, that undercuts perhaps his strongest claim to be the nominee: that he is the most electable Republican currently running. (I should point out that some left-leaning bloggers continue to tout Romney’s strengths – which should also give Republicans pause!)

This still leaves the not inconsiderable issue that several of you raised when I first broached this plan: who will replace Romney?  In thinking about this issue, too many of you have allowed your search for the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  Republicans don’t need to identify the next Ronald Reagan. All they must do is identify a candidate who promises to draw broader support among Republicans than does the current crop.  How hard is that?  For example, Adam Winkler at the Daily Beast makes the case for Clarence Thomas as the Republican nominee (hat tip to Nick.)

Ok, maybe not.  But you get the idea. Republicans have to be creative here, rather than passively watching Mitt grind his way to an uninspiring, scorched earth-based nomination victory.  They can begin on SuperTuesday, by throwing their vote to Santorum in Ohio, and to Newt Gingrich in Georgia and, ideally, to Gingrich in Tennessee as well.  (Republicans have to be sure Santorum is not crowned the big winner on Tuesday – something that will undoubtedly happen if the Rickster wins Ohio and a couple of the southern states.)  Admittedly, with less than four days to go before Super Tuesday, this is a huge coordination problem, so there’s not time to lose.  Republican leaders need to step up to the plate and begin to take charge of the party’s future.

Reportedly Mark Twain once lamented, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”  For Republicans, it’s time to stop talking about Romney’s bad atmospherics, and instead do something about it. Cue Operation Brokered Convention.

*Of course it’s not my plan.