What's a winning strategy for the 2012 Republican nomination? For the presidential race?
...presidential strategists find themselves in the same position as two characters in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which a computer deduces that the answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is—42. The problem is, the baffled characters don’t know what the question itself is. This is a situation GOP candidates might find themselves in. Each may have an answer—they’re experienced, conservative, etc.—but which question primary voters ask is still not obvious.
The 2008 primaries were a rare opportunity to really study and understand the nomination process and the intangibles that surround it. The smart money was bet on the wrong people in both instances. John McCain's campaign collapsed early on, but he improbably fought back to win the nomination in spite of dismal debate performances, old age, a conflicted position on immigration and a host of other now obvious failings. Barack Obama? Perhaps a little less mysterious. Clean, well-spoken black man was a pretty strong hand.
In both cases, the low-information voter was critical to the process. These are people who come out to vote in the primaries, but are operating under an ill-defined impression of the candidates, often a completely erroneous impression. Surveys after the primaries revealed that many Florida primary voters actually thought John McCain opposed illegal immigration, just as southern voters in 1976 thought that Jimmy Carter, a southern governor, couldn't possibly be in favor of busing (he was...).
Impressions are apparently the currency of the primary nomination process.
Taking this into account, we can predict somethings.
First of all, I would say that anyone who doesn't have a strong national reputation at this point, has no real chance to win. I think a lot of prospective candidates are actually running for the undercard, hoping to be a running mate to the eventual nominee, and thus get a leg up on some future race. That leaves Palin, Huckabee, Romney and possibly Newt Gingrich.
Let's think of this as casting, where each character represents a stereotype. Palin is Mama Grizzly, the combative, self-sufficient pioneer Mom. Huckabee is the bonhomme for Jesus, genial, pious with God on his side. Romney is the well-spoken, smart, somewhat stiff business guy and Gingrich is whte well-spoken, smart, somewhat prickly academic guy.
You may think I'm leaving a lot of things out, but recall that we are talking about general impressions for low-information voters. They are more likely to know that Romney is a Mormon than anything about so-called Romneycare (remember the ignorance over McCain's position on illegal immigration...).
Zeitgeist--German for "the spirit of the times" creates the defining dynamic in the choice of a nominee, and it's clear that things have changed over the past couple of years. The war is less of a concern and the economy has moved up in the rankings, but voters also want to trust their candidate, and that trust is an elusive and cryptic quality. Ronald Reagan had it in spades, in part because he was so perfectly consistent in his positions over a very long time.
This is Sarah Palin's wheelhouse. She practically defines authentic conservatism in every aspect of her life, speech and positions. On the other hand, she has very little to recommend her when it comes to the major issues of the day, i.e. competence.
The same is true for Huckabee, which is problematic for both of them because they are splitting the same voter base. If they are both in the running, I expect a lot of negotiations geared at getting the other to bow out.
Newt Gingrich is an interesting case, because while he is well-known, I suspect most low-information voters don't really know for what. Even though he has a national reputation, he is for all intensive purposes, in a position more similar to Mitch Daniel's or Tim Pawlenty's than Palin, Huckabee or Romney. He hasn't made an impression on the low information voter in the same way that he has with his fellow wonks.
Romney is golden in terms of the zeitgeist. The economy is his wheelhouse, and he will never have a better chance to be elected President. Yet in spite of the strides he's made in burnishing his conservative credentials over the past three years, it's an open question about whether this has penetrated the low information voter's consciousness. Romney has to erase the doubts to close the deal.
The French have a concept of their Presidents as l'homme providentiel, which often gets translated as 'great man', but is more accurately defined as a man for the times. American Presidential elections are based on largely the same concept--a man or woman running for President has to be right for the times. Very often, providence gets defined as 'not like that last guy'. As strength defined the past nomination process for Republicans, I think competence is going to be the theme this time around.
"On the other hand, she has very little to recommend her when it comes to the major issues of the day, i.e. competence."
I don't see it that way.
Preceding everything is "competence to do what?" I agree with Palin across the board so far and I agree that her politics are genuine. So that's a good start - she'll do stuff I want done.
I also like Romney plenty, but Palin's life experience tho very different is as rich. I put life experience ahead of corporate experience. They both have good business experience.
The big strike against Palin is her present polling among independents, as you say, but polls this far out have been lousy indicators. The primaries create massive unfiltered exposure to the candidates. That will likely change the polls. If there's ever been a candidate with 'Zeitgeist', it's Palin now. Romney-Palin is my forecast.
Two comments about Mark's perspective. The first is that Palin hasn't really had much filtering, or should I say, effective filtering. The irony is that Palin's strength being her authenticity, she has never sought to present a facade the way, say Hillary Clinton has. No one really knows who the real Hillary Clinton is, but after a reality show, frequent exposure as a Fox commentator, and a best selling book, we know who Sarah Palin is, and while many of us like and admire her for it, a significant part of the country thinks it's awful. It's doubtful that Palin's polls are going to change much simply because she is not going to present the 'unknown Sarah Palin' in a campaign.
Secondly, when I question her competence, its not the hard bigotry and chauvinism of the left motivating it, but rather a realistic appraisal of the biggest challenge a President faces--authoritative, compelling and contradictory advice. We've seen this problem with every President to one degree or another--out of their depth, they rely on the advice of 'the professionals' and more often than not, they are getting bamboozled.