|The five guys in the first GOP debate...really.|
As of today the frontrunners for the Republican nomination for President are a guy who was a moderate governor who installed universal healthcare, a 75 year old U.S. Rep who wants to get rid of the Department of...well, everything, Newt and a pizza magnate.
Standing on the sidelines of the race, out of it for now, but possibly entering, is a Representative who said abolishing the minimum wage would help unemployment, a Bush, a less-than-half-term-Governor who’d run if he didn’t have more skeletons in his closet than Jame Gumb, and the most famous half-term Governor in U.S. history.
There’s been much gloating from Democratic-leaning commentators and blogs. Comedians from David Letterman to Andy Borowitz have made jokes along the lines of “the Republican race to determine who loses to Obama.”
And at first glance it seems that there’s much to be hopeful about. The Republican Party has moved so far right that Mitt Romney is likely to face an organized Tea Party Revolt, which would lead to their endorsement of someone patently unelectable like Paul, Bachmann, Santorum or Cain. Roger Ailes is reportedly lamenting helping turn the right into a bunch of conspiracy-minded Palin/Beck worshippers (click that link and read the NY Mag article, it's amazing). And the Republicans in the Senate are doing their best to not win a majority next year by nearly unanimously voting to end Medicare, and likely voting to not investigate terrorists who buy guns.
The long primary battle between Obama and Clinton made the Democratic Party stronger across the country. They took the fight, and Democratic messaging to places that hadn’t seen real campaigning and organizing in years. Obama lost Montana to McCain by 3,000 votes, and performed better than any recent Democrat in a number of other states.
Now we’re eighteen months away from the Presidential election, and the Republicans are flying so far under the radar they might as well be driving lawnmowers.
But why I am so nervous?
One problem the Democrats are likely to face is the very thing that so many are currently celebrating. Voters aren’t listening to the actual Republican candidates—they were listening to Trump for a couple days and they still listen to Palin, but they’re not listening to Cain, Santorum and Pawlenty.
One of these guys (I don’t think Palin will win, or run, because, like Huckabee, she learned it’s easier and more lucrative to be a TV personality, and she learned from Trump how long you can ride the media for free publicity) is going to win the nomination and they might win it late in the game and after a very brief (by modern standards) primary season.
This means less time to bring the crazy into the homes of the American voters, and fewer states that get to see the crazy, which means that the Republican nominee will be able to charge hard to the right for a couple months, and then pivot hard to the center once they have the nomination locked up.
It could look something like this:
June-July: The media become even more obsessed with the “these guys are jokers, who’s the real candidate” story line and hyperventilate every time Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Sarah Palin or Scott Brown leave their house.
August-September: The polls show that Romney and Pawlenty have become the frontrunners, with Santorum and Huntsman lingering near their ankles, but just not getting the traction people thought. (Gingrich has dropped out due to health/family concerns (or both at the same time) by now) But Romney and T-Paw are so boring that the media doesn’t give them the huge scrutiny and air-time that Clinton and Obama got in 2008 or Bush and McCain got in 2004.
November-December: The Republican electorate becomes so fed up with their choices that candidates like Paul, Cain and Bachmann (who, if she learned anything from Sarah Palin, would be crazy not to run) become dark horse potential winners of Iowa and New Hampshire. Remember, the Iowa and NH GOP primary voters are really conservative, and after those two states come South Carolina, which makes Iowa’s evangelicals look moderate.
The Tea Party leaders don’t endorse a specific candidate (as they recently threatened to do), but they do tell their members to vote for whoever they want, which causes Cain, Bachmann, Paul and Santorum’s numbers to all rise. But if no single one of these candidates can unite the Tea Party vote, then they’re all acting as vote splitters, which keeps none of them from winning the nomination.
This new found traction for Tea Party-backed candidates (who would consider voting for Jimmy Carter ahead of Romney) causes Romney and T-Paw to charge even harder to the right than they’ve already been.
But this rightward charge comes so late in the game that most of the country misses it because a. they don’t care about the Republican race because it’s been so boring for so long; b. it’s the holidays; c. the media hate these Republicans and don’t give them the play they’ve given other primary battles.
January-Februrary: The Tea Party candidates make waves, and maybe earn delegates, but ultimately can’t win any of the early states, ending their campaigns.
February-March: Romney and T-Paw battle for what’s left, but with the threatening Tea Party candidates out of the race or marginalized, both can begin to dart into the political center.
By mid-March one of these guys sews up the GOP nomination, and the wider electorate start paying attention right when the Republicans nominate someone who sounds like a moderate all of a sudden. The Republican nominee can also string the Tea Party along just enough to get a sizable chunk of those voters to support him, but not enough to be painted as a full-fledged Teabagger.
But none of this is a problem for Democrats if Palin and Trump and other prominent Republicans are in there stirring things up and drawing attention to how crazy things have gotten in their party.
I’m worried that the lack of crazy or celebrity candidates—no Trump, no Palin, no Jeb—will keep general election voters from paying attention and truly understanding how far to the right the actual Presidential candidates have become.
This lets a Romney/Barbour or Pawlenty/Perry ticket look reasonable to independent and right of center voters. The Democratic apparatus (not the Obama campaign) then have to go negative/truthful on these guys in a coordinated, effective manner (not our specialty).
Either way, I think President Obama gets re-elected, but every time a prominent Republican or prominently insane person drops out or says they’re not running, that leaves the door open for a relatively unknown candidate to step forward and harness the anti-Obama/scared of the economy vote.