Sunday, February 26, 2012

Wagons or Firing Squads: What Will The GOP Circle?

There are two competing narratives for the GOP's end-game. The first is that Romney (or, perhaps, some other candidate) limps across the finish-line so wounded and disparaged--with such a mass of baggage from the long brutal campaign--that they are beaten in the general. In this narrative the damage that each candidate is taking is cumulative and, in the end, they are so badly beat up that Obama has an easy time against them. Part of this may be that the rifts open amongst the base simply cannot be healed.

This the Circular Firing Squad narrative.

The second narrative is that after a decisive candidate (probably Romney) pulls ahead (probably in the more blue-state-ish Super Tuesday contests) the GOP base comes to a decision: he is better than Obama--of course he is--and they rally round him. In this scenario, with enough time to heal the damage before the convention, the base (save for a few die-hards) decide to back him--and then turn out hard.

This is the Circle the Wagons narrative.

Which will it be?

Which WILL It Be?
Of course we don't really know--but let's look at some evidence in favor of each. Before we do, though, it should be noted that this race is unprecedented in volatility. It is also true that it has fielded the most negative in recorded history (Florida). So there are no good antecedents that I can see directly.

The Wagons Narrative
The primary piece of evidence that I can point to is the Hillary / Obama race in '08. It is true that there are still some aftershocks--In March of 2008 Gallup showed that 28% of Hillary backers would vote McCain! Although statistics are hard to come by, Pew holds that 10% of voters who identified themselves as Democrats voted for McCain--but this is the same % that voted for Bush!

Note that there was even hand-wringing over how bad the split had gotten:
Primary wars can be quite brutal among democrats. We're not as disciplined as Republican in falling in line behind a nominee. Plus there is a lot of anger and frustration among democrats after what the current republicans (especially this administration) after these 7 years. Not to mention that we feel the election was stolen in 2000. Imagine, no Bush.. 
And this is a historic race. Having an African American and a women be the final contenders will always bring out some venom and open some wounds in this country. I'm a bit worried that this is going over hand though. There is a lot of bad blood between Obama and Hillary supporters. The Clintons campaign style hasn't exactly made things easier. Hopefully everything comes to an end March 4th. 
The GOP must love this :)
In the end it doesn't look like the rift--although not without consequence--was especially damaging (the link is to Hillary supporters in 2011 asking her to mount a primary challenge to Obama!).

The Firing Squad Narrative
In this narrative the party is splintering--dying. The volatility is indicative of the base rending itself apart. The wounds simply can't be healed. This New Yorker Article describes the Republicans as a "Lost Party":
For Democrats, the answer is easy, reflexive, and comforting: Barack Obama wins. And at this moment, they have reasons to think so—starting with the historical precedents suggesting that the Romney-Santorum death match and the intraparty tensions it represents will undermine the eventual nominee. “Goldwater hurt Nixon in 1960, Rockefeller hurt Goldwater in 1964, and Reagan hurt Ford in 1976,” says historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. “When splits become open in the party, it’s never a good thing.”
Will this be enough? The article doesn't think so--it points out that the president's team assume that any margin of victory will be razor-thin come November. However, it is almost certain that if the Republicans had a real winner this would be looking more like a route by now than it does.

Furthermore the narratives that Hillary started (the 3 AM Red-Phone call, for example) were picked up and used by McCain. He was, in fact, winning the Commander-In-Chief test especially when Russia invaded Georgia. If not for Obama's own 'black swan' in the form of the economic melt down Obama's readiness--a theme started by Hillary, might have determined the election.

Furthermore, indications of low-voter-turnout and editorials like "The Republicans Send in the Clowns" don't help with the vision that one someone--anyone--is decided on, it'll all be fine:
The first words Fidel Castro has ever uttered that I have agreed with are those recently published on his blog, in which he opined that the current U.S. Republican nomination race is one of the most inane and stupid events in modern world history.
Finally, Hillary did a lot to reconcile the party (and became a popular Secretary of State for it). It's hard to imagine Newt Gingrich pitching in to do the healing ... or Santorum. It seems that, perhaps, Ron Paul might demand his son on the ticket for his portion of the base.

If the convention is contested (a better word than the standard "brokered" because "brokered" suggests someone is in charge) it's possible the fallout could be even worse--and if a new candidate (Jeb Bush?) is selected? Well, that might work--but it might also spark a mutiny (or a 3rd party run!). No one can say.

What Do I Think?
I hold more with the latter narrative than the former one: it will be some of both. If, even relatively late in the game (say by May) a strong front-runner emerges and eventually takes it there will certainly be rallying. The question is what wounds--and how deep--will remain.  There is also the question of "with whom:" Will the wounds be with the base (in which case the need to beat Obama may dominate them) or with the general electorate (in which case they may be more damaging) or, of course, with both.

There is also the issue of whether the wounds will be self-inflicted and forced (the candidate takes the damage due to sticking to their positions), unforced (the candidate takes the damage unnecessarily due to a gaffe or other real mistake) or inflicted (the damage comes from one of the other candidates).   This article holds that Romney is simply navigating his party's dysfunctional base in order to win the primary--then he can get back to a winning centrist view:
Or consider Romney’s now-notorious declaration that he was “severely conservative.” What a nitwit, everyone cried. He made it sound like a disease! Well, he did, and he didn’t. That Romney thinks of conservatism as a disease would never occur to most conservatives. But that Romney thinks of the new radical right that has alienated so much of the country as some sort of illness might well occur to moderates and independents, which would be to Romney’s advantage.
Maybe. But maybe not--Romney's favorability ratings have plummeted and that can't be good for him in the coming months. I also think that while the base will reconcile if the margins really are razor thin then Romney (or whoever) is going to need all he can get. In other words: this scrapping might not cost him much--but if it costs him any that's going to leave a mark.


  1. Other "supporters" from left field (am I allowed to say that about the right?) may be damaging the Republican candidates. I L'dMFAO when I saw Steve Doocy on Jon Stewart offering evidence that Fox News acts as the communications arm of the Republican Party when he actually said " this is the pundit prep that Republicans are supposed to go with against Obama: talk about the national debt skyrocketing, unemployment , and talk about gas prices going up" and then actually using said talk on the air with the other reporters bashing in about, you guessed it, debt, unemployment, and gas prices. Does Fox cater to idiots? I'm going to bed...

  2. Fox caters to right-wing viewers. See, if you're a Republican you think that gas prices are Obama's fault, that the reported unemployment rate is way, way below the percentage count of the unemployed (this is unquestionably true), and that Obama's debt will cripple us--perhaps like Grecian debt did Greece (the parallels as not so strong there).

    So Fox news has messaging and the stick to it--reality of course isn't what MSNBC says it is either. These issues are complex (is Obama responsible for today's gas prices? I doubt it--but some stuff certainly has had -an- effect so his policies are not insignificant either).