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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Old Rules Might Not Apply

Michael Barone cautions that three "old rules" may not apply to the 2012 GOP nomination contest.

The first is the notion that Republican nomination always goes to the candidate next in line in seniority.

Yes, Republican primary voters and caucus goers are probably more inclined than Democrats to defer to seniority. But when you look back at the Republican nominating contests in the post-1968 era, and there are not many of them, you find that most of the nominations were close-run things.

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The next-in-line candidates did win in 2000 and 2008. But George W. Bush only narrowly survived a rout in New Hampshire, and John McCain's strategy eight years later--wait for all the other candidates' strategies to fail--is one that usually guarantees defeat rather than victory.

As for 2012, the next-in-line candidate is said to be Mitt Romney, on the basis of a successful business career and a single term as governor of Massachusetts.

The next rule that needs to be debunked is that Republican candidates must pass a litmus test on cultural issues, especially abortion. This was true in 1988, 1996 and 2000, when religious conservatives were a newly energized political force and one stirred to action by Bill Clinton's misconduct.

But Sept. 11 changed a lot of things, including this old rule. A pro-choice stand on abortion didn't prevent Rudy Giuliani from leading Republican polls until November 2007, when his appointee as police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, was indicted. And going to all 99 counties swearing he was a right-to-lifer didn't save Mitt Romney in the majority-religious conservative Iowa caucuses in January 2008.

The financial crisis and protracted recession have once again changed the focus of Republican voters. Polls have showed that Tea Party activists, who number in the hundreds of thousands, tend to be cultural conservatives, but they moved into politics to oppose the stimulus package and Obamacare, not abortion and same-sex marriage.

The third rule that may not be applicable this time is that you have to start early to win. Tell that to Bill Clinton, who announced his candidacy in October 1991, just four months before the Iowa caucuses. Many potential and putative Republican candidates this time seem to be biding their time. You may be able to ramp up a campaign pretty quickly in the Facebook era.