Friday, April 13, 2012

Election 2012: Primary Post-Mortem

And, that's a wrap. (Warning: Strong Language, last lines from Burn After Reading)

So, what did we learn, if anything, from Primary 2012? For one, we learned that the Old Guard of the Republican Party, even though it's not near as strong as it used to be, is still alive and kicking. The Tea Party candidates surged and floundered in their turns, but Romney somehow churned through it all and came out on top anyway. The cachet of being "Not Mitt Romney" never gleamed brightly enough to attract enough voters. Even in the midst of their burgeoning ideological rigidity, electability still matters. And for another, we learned that "It's His Turn" is a very powerful thing within the Republican Party. That may come as part of the first point, but it still bears some mention. Since Nixon, the majority of Republican candidates seem to have been the strongest challenger from the previous primary. In 1980, Reagan was the nominee, who ran a strong second in 1976. In 1988, Bush was the nominee, who ran a strong second in 1980. In 1996, Dole was the nominee, who had been a perennial contender since the last Ice Age. Bush the Younger in 2000 was an anomaly. But McCain in 2008 was not, and neither is Romney in 2012.

This, of course, sets the stage for Santorum in 2016. But, as much as I might like to savor the bowel-freezing horror that portends, we have another important event to consider. The General Election is now on like Donkey Kong. (As always, the numbers are courtesy of Intrade, current as of Friday evening.)

Barack Obama, 60.8%: His probability took a big hit last summer during the debt crisis, but has since recovered to the 60% level he's enjoyed for most of the last year and a half or so. This is looking like a modestly incumbent-friendly year so far. We're in a recovery -- not a booming recovery, but still, a recovery. Unemployment is down. GDP is up. Stocks are up. We've wound down Iraq, and we're winding down Afghanistan. If these trends continue, and there's no major shock event, the public's general tendency has been to re-elect the incumbent. Incumbent Presidents standing for re-election have generally won, unless the economy had been trending downward. Carter was turfed for a sour economy, and the Iranian situation. Bush the Elder was turfed for a sour economy. Reagan, Clinton, and Bush the Younger all had rising economies to buoy their re-election bids. Currently, it's looking to hold true for Obama as well.

Mitt Romney, 38.0%: This is a fact that Romney understands about as well as anyone else. So, he has to paint a picture that highlights a sour, lackluster economy. On top of that, he still has to contend with the fact that the base isn't all that fired up about his candidacy. The biggest thing to watch for in the Romney campaign will be his Vice-Presidential pick. Right now, the four top contenders are Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Bob McDonnell, and Paul Ryan. But we may well see someone not on that list. The safe pick for Romney would be someone well-loved by the Republican base, someone who would solidify his right-wing street cred. But it's far from clear to me who that might be. The second biggest thing to watch for is whether or not Romney continues to tack to the right, both leading up to and after the Republican National Convention. Obama has enjoyed the incumbent's luxury of not having a serious primary challenger. The main advantage of that is that he's been able to command the center, at least so far. If Romney begins to tack to the center, he might be able to carve out some of Obama's softer centrist support ... but if he has to keep running to the right to tack down a slightly disgruntled base, he concedes the center to Obama, and with it the election.

And The Winner Is... I'd still take 3-2 odds in favor of President Obama's re-election. That probably won't change until convention time.

Speaking of which: the Republican National Convention begins on August 27, and the Democratic National Convention begins on September 3. The fun begins for real the weekend before August 27, which is when Governor Romney will probably spring his VP pick on us. Until then, vote early, and vote often!

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