Wednesday, October 05, 2011

After Christie.

Mitt Romney's "luck" held. His campaign can breathe again.

Chris Christie was a long-shot to win the GOP nomination. But he was an IED on Mitt Romney's path to power. Had Christie entered the race, he likely would have forced Romney out of Iowa altogether. Which, in turn, might have allowed Christie to win Iowa. Which, in turn, would have almost certainly propelled Christie into a very strong showing in New Hampshire. Which, in turn, might have ended Romney's New Hampshire "fortress strategy" right then and there. Christie was an existential threat to the Romney campaign.

Now we're back to basics. There are three Republican primary (and caucus-attending) electorates. They are traditional conservative Republicans, who comprise about 35% of the total electorate. They are libertarians, who comprise about 10% of the electorate. And they are socially conservative, evangelical Republicans who comprise about 55% of the electorate.

Romney is trying to leverage the 35% to a majority and win the nomination. His appeal to those not in his "natural constituency" is that he is: (a) electable, and (b) capable of turning around the American economy. He has no other credible messages with (roughly) two-thirds of his party's constituents. They think he's a Northeastern moderately-minded conservative Republican masquerading as a hard-line conservative. They're right about that.

Nevertheless, Romney's positioning is good enough so long as no one is competing in his "space." Christie would have competed (and then some) in that space. It's an open question whether Christie might have expanded his reach beyond the GOP's "traditional conservative base." We'll never know. It's clear that Romney cannot do so, unless it is part of a "transaction."

The transaction is fairly simple: you (Romney) agree to our platform, you appoint a socially conservative vice presidential running-mate, you appoint judges we approve of, you appoint certain people to the cabinet and we'll (grudgingly) support you in common cause to toss President Obama out of office. Romney will take that deal in a heartbeat.

In the meantime, voters within the majority evangelical base of the GOP are trying to wrap their minds around the concept of a "not-ready-for-prime-time" Rick Perry and a wild-card named Herman Cain. In those states where the evangelical, socially conservative vote is most densely packed (that would be the South), the idea of nominating Herman Cain has real appeal in a kind of "fuck-you, eastern liberal media assholes" sort of way.

But as we get closer to primary days, such whimsy usually gives way to more hard-headed calculations. The evangelical base's leadership wants Obama out. They wanted Perry "in," and the base was down with that. That is, until he let down the team with three consecutive awful debate performances. What made it especially disappointing was that he was awful in the first debate, more awful in the second debate and most awful in the third. The more he did it, the worse he got.

Since then, the troops have taken a shine to Herman Cain. That's fine, from the evangelical leadership's point of view, but it's risky. The Herminator is a one-man band. Presidential campaigns are massively networked, highly sophisticated enterprises. A one-man band, the evangelical leadership knows and understands, isn't going to get the job done.

So unless Perry can somehow put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, which Texas observers think unlikely ("What you saw was what we've seen for 10 years," said one Texas GOP statewide official at a recent gathering in Austin), then Romney is the last viable option for the evangelical leadership, if they want to win.

Which they do. They entered politics way back in the early 1970s, after Roe vs. Wade, and have expanded their influence throughout the party ever since. They're old pros now. They'll do what they have to do. And Romney will do what he has to do. So a deal is there to be made.

The only question is whether the troops will go along or stage an uprising.

The evangelical community is largely made up of "followers." They take seriously what their ministers say. They follow their leaders, as a rule, but only up to a point.

We're at that point in American politics. It really could go either way. If the troops decide to take matters into their own hands and nominate someone who speaks their language, then Herman Cain has a real shot, incredible as that may seem.

And he has an argument. Which is basically this: "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. The results are in. They could not be worse. We are broke. Our model is broken. We are mired in hugely expensive overseas engagements. Washington is completely dysfunctional. They can't change a light bulb and we don't even want them to.
Do something different! I'm different. I'm different in every imaginable way. A black Tea Party Republican talking 9-9-9! That's different! Send them a message. Send them a message they'll never forget."

There's never been a GOP presidential campaign quite like this one.