Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Invisible Primary (that still selects the nominee)

Jay Cost, of the Weekly Standard, wrote an incredibly insightful article yesterday on how nominees are really selected. He contrasted the So far this old method (pre-1970) where nominees were selected by the party establishment with the more open primary system that is in place now. Surprise, surprise, nothing has changed. In the new system of primaries and caucuses, since the new system was dialed in in 1980, the candidate that the party establishment settles on has invariably won, with perhaps only the exception of Barack Obama.

This outcome should not be surprising, since it is always and exclusively the party establishment that sets the rules by which nominees are chosen.

What Cost says is determinative is the ability to develop broad-based party support and the ability to raise money. To know who is winning this invisible primary, watch for who is gaining the most endorsements and who is raising the most money. Interestingly, the Mainstream Media does not seem to be directly determinative, except as it lends free publicity that builds name recognition.

The party support lifts the candidate in two ways. First, it puts its stamp of approval on the candidate in countless interviews and Sunday morning talk shows in a way that indicates the candidate has been vetted and is considered serious and trustworthy. Second, it mobilizes the party workers in the numerous states that activates and energizes the normal political operations to build local support and gets out the vote.

The ability to raise money, which comes incrementally, as the elite send signals that support is coalescing around this candidate or that. That money is then used to build name identification and finally the swell in the polls with the masses. Without it, the campaign dries up.

Tim Pawlenty is only the latest casualty of this process. Cain, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, Johnson, and Roemer seem already to have been rejected by the establishment, though they trudge on in their respective quixotic quests. We will know soon enough about Huntsman, whether he has raised enough money to begin to signal establishment acceptance. I would bet against it, if only on the basis that party regulars are hardly likely to reward his participation in the Obama administration. There is nothing so compelling about him, or so unacceptable about others, that compels them to overlook that fact. He is not so much fishy as he is Viche.

Bachmann is unlikely to win their support, seeing as they have already rejected her for leadership, influence, and voice in the House of Representatives. It remains to be seen, and that of course is the whole point of the Tea Party raison d'etre, if a parallel power base can be developed that will/can compete and supply the money, political army, and adult validation required to win the nomination.

As of the middle of August, we come down to Romney and Perry. I think what we are seeing in press today, and likely for the next couple months, is the argument the establishment is having about him, which we roughly label "vetting." The result of that argument will be that he reaches a tipping point of support or that he is rejected, as Pawlenty was.

With that in mind, the current contributions and comments from party establishment spokesmen can be interpretted. Rove and Weiner are definitively signaling that he is not preferred by what was the Bush team. Watch for how the establishment respond to his gaffes. If they cut his legs out, you will know that they are making the case that he should be rejected. If they defend him, that he is to be chosen and supported.

Another indicator is the swell of rumors and buzz over the potential announcements of Ryan or Christie. I believe those are deliberate coded messages to indicate Perry isn't acceptable and to keep their powder dry. If it works, Perry will not assimilate the endorsements of the establishment, both visible and invisible. He will receive gentle criticism and rebuke in the commentary. ("That comment wasn't presidential.") His fundraising will sputter after having gathered the low-hanging fruit.

Romney may be the reluctant nominee. Not that he himself is in any way reluctant, but that the establishment is reluctant yet to validate him completely. If you will, Romney is the nominee in waiting, in the way McCain was. He is acceptable to the establishment. He has no sin so mortal as to disqualify him. His strongest argument? He continues to best Obama in head-to-head polls and so appears electable.

Remember back to the discussion about Romneycare. How many people have come back to defend him, or at least stay judgement? Many, meaning that the establishment is unwilling to disqualify him, yet.

So, unless Jeb is able to coax Paul Ryan off the sidelines, Romney will begin to garner the establishment support by Fall, in both positive signals on Sunday morning and in an acceleration of fundraising from establishment bundlers.

(The last half of this post is my reaction on Cost's comments. I recommend reading the whole article here.)

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craigs said...

Great article. You can see the hand of the invisible " Eminence Grise" working its way through the primary system. a LOT of people, even in the MSM, don't see yet the Romney power loaded into the revised primary system.
All the " non establishment" primaries before April 1, particularly in the south, are PROPORTIONAL
All the " establishment " primaries in the north and west, after April 1, are Winner Take All.
A 2 or 3 delegate lead out of Iowa and South Carolina will be buried in the avalanche of Massachusetts and new York delegates


Machtyn said...

I would argue that Romney now has the invisible establishment blessing. My basis for that argument is in his massive fundraising. He has been able to garner support from all over the country from very many people.

The only thing he doesn't have is the MSM (FoxNews included) and talking heads (Limbaugh, Beck, et al). He does have a number of Tea Party backers.

Closer To Home said...

Thanks, CraigS. (Unless you were referring to Cost's article, in which case, thanks nonetheless.)

I'm very interested in the whys and hows of things. How did Huckabee ascend so quickly and organize IA so effectively? Why did twice as many Evangelicals turn out in '08 as did in '00? How did Bachmann harness such a turnout at Ames?

But the big one may be how does a bankrupt, squishy McCain win the nomination? Cost's article gives me some answers. And I think those are applicable to the Romney/Perry duel as currently engaged. And I think it is encouraging for Romney.

I absolutely agree with Trende's article about the primary calendar and the new proportionately-allocated early contests. Even so, he understates the favorability to Romney because we can't firmly set the dates for AZ/MI/FL yet, though all of these potentially Romney-friendly states are flirting with moving up on the calendar to beat Super Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Thanks for the insight.


Doug NYC GOP said...

Nice find and I agree with your summations as well. I think Romney's playing very much like McCain did in 2008 - being the steady, focused on the issue (the Surge) not worrying about polls, etc.

Romney's calm, cool, collected approach is the way to go. It will be especially beneficial in the debats when the Texan tries to use some flowery language and trips himself up in his verbal lasso.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. I have to remind Doug that Romney is no where near bankrupt as the McCain campaign was in 2008. Romney has already proven his ability to out fundraise McCain, which is a very good thing, and which suggests a stronger candidacy.


Gayle said...

Nice job. Very informative on the establishment machine at work. Gives great insight on how things will play out in the months ahead.