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Don’t Count the Tea Party Out of 2012

I have to disagree with James on his contention that some of the more popular conservative favorites won’t be able to take the Republican nomination.

A small number of highly motivated people can have outsized influence in small turnout contests. That’s one reason why the Iowa Caucuses are such an idiotic first stage in the presidential cycle, since it’s often about organizing rather than real appeal. But, overall, a presidential nominating contest rewards those who start of with strong name recognition, have enormous message discipline, a strong organization, and the ability to raise lots of money.

There’s zero chance Trump, Palin, Gingrich, or Santorum is the nominee. They’re just too superficial, polarizing, or both to make much traction once people start focusing.

I agree that there’s zero chance of Palin or Gingrich becoming the nominee, and I highly doubt that Palin will even run. But I wouldn’t count Trump or Santorum out at all. And here’s why: the GOP primary rules have changed.

In 2008, the Republican primaries were “winner-take-all”: whoever got the most votes in the state (majority or no), got all the delegates. That’s why Romney bowed out. Despite his strong showings in several primaries, second place in the GOP primaries got you the same number of delegates as last place. Early on in the race, there was no way he could win.

So if 2012 were run by 2008 rules, I’d agree that Romney was a lock — with his name recognition and organization, I’ve no doubt that he’d win enough states to prevent any other candidates from becoming competitive.

But 2012 won’t be run by 2008 rules. The GOP has changed the March primaries to a proportional system — that is, candidates get the percentage of delegates of a state equal to their percentage of the vote among the voters. This is the system the Democrats use, and it’s what made the Democratic primary of 2008 so nail biting – the delegate counts were close for a long while.

But how did the outsider candidate Obama take out the establishment candidate Clinton? By winning small states by big margins, and either winning some big states outright, or coming in a close enough second place to keep the delegate count close.

Now, the Republicans do have a little twist that the Democrats don’t — GOP primaries that take place after March can operate under the winner-take-all system. Which means that there’s an incentive for states to push their primaries later in order to enhance their clout.

This combination of proportional representation and a longer campaign opens the door for a more conservative candidate to knock Romney out. This is especially true of conservative activists and Tea Partiers are able to coalesce around one candidate very early on. And while I don’t see Sarah Palin making a Presidential run, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her give an early endorsement — which would provide a big push to that candidate. (Right now, my money on that endorsement is Trump, but let’s see how the next few months shake out.)

A well-organized Tea Party consensus candidate would have a good chance of dominating smaller conservative states, adding enough to their delegate count to offset second place showings in larger states. The longer campaign driven by states pushing their primaries back also gives a chance for conservative activists, who are already not enamored by Romney, more opportunities to raise funds and awareness for their preferred candidate.

The bottom line is this: if Santorum or Trump or similar candidate that excites conservative activists takes the Iowa Caucuses and gets an early Palin endorsement, I wouldn’t count them out of the nomination.

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About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science.

Comments

  1. Stan25 says:

    Why do all of you guys in the pundit class count out Sarah Pailn? Granted her negatives are large right now, but that is due to people like Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer, Karl Rove, and most of the beltway conservative bloggers that write negative things about her. They are afraid that, if she is nominated and elected to the job, their power will go away. How is that a bad thing? You all want someone like Mitch Daniels, whom the state controlled media wants to be the nominee. Well, last November proved that the more conservative candidates (backed by the Tea Party) were the real winners, not the sniveling RINOs.

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  2. Al says:

    The problem is that Santorum, Trump or similar candidate are completely unelectable. You’d think hard core conservatives would have learned this from Miller, Whitman, Fiorina, Angle, O’Donnell and Buck. Of course, I’ve been waiting for conservatives to learn this lesson since Bill Simon so I might want to stop holding my breath.

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  3. Alex Knapp says:

    Stan,

    Why do all of you guys in the pundit class count out Sarah Pailn?

    I think that Palin has the name recognition and fundraising ability to make a strong bid for the nomination. But I don’t believe that she’s capable of recruiting or managing the staff and organization necessary to make a successful bid. Moreover, given her recent activities, I don’t think that she’s inclined to run.

    Al,

    The problem is that Santorum, Trump or similar candidate are completely unelectable.

    I agree, but unelectable isn’t the same as un-nominable!

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  4. Hey Norm says:

    Did you see the sign in the back that says “Keep the government out of my Medicare”

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Alex: Just too many If’s in there, methinks.

    One of the reasons Obama won the nomination in 2008 was that he was more disciplined and organized. Clinton had big names on board but her team clearly didn’t understand the rules in the way that his did. He contested races he knew he’d lose, understanding he’d get the delegates. She caught on late. That was a huge early advantage. But which of the non-electable Republicans will have the discipline or humility to do that?

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  6. ponce says:

    So expect a long and bitter Republican primary race?

    Excellent!

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  7. Alex Knapp says:

    James,

    I think that Santorum has the ability to get enough staff knowhow to figure it out, and Trump has the money to hire the right staffers.

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  8. James Joyner says:

    Alex: Santorum isn’t a joke candidate in the same sense as the others. But I don’t know who his base is.

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  9. mantis says:

    Granted her negatives are large right now, but that is due to people like Bill Kristol, Fred Barnes, Charles Krauthammer, Karl Rove, and most of the beltway conservative bloggers that write negative things about her.

    Hilarious. People dislike Palin because of Bill Kristol? I don’t think so. People dislike Sarah Palin because of Sarah Palin.

    Santorum isn’t a joke candidate in the same sense as the others. But I don’t know who his base is.

    People who hate women, gays, immigrants, non-Christians and dogs.

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  10. An Interested Party says:

    The president can only hope that Alex is correct…the true believers may get one of their own to win the GOP nomination, but such a candidate (Palin, Santorum, Gingrich, etc.) will never win the presidency…

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  11. Kylopod says:

    Kristol was in fact one of the main people responsible for bringing Palin to the national stage in the first place.

    The Cult of Palin reminds me increasingly of a real cult. The more marginal it gets, the more fervently its adherents believe in its leader’s vast importance.

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  12. hey norm says:

    Tea Party leader William Temple is willing to “forgive” Boehner and House Republicans for raising the debt ceiling if they bring back DADT. So right there you see what the folks who wear hats with dangling tea bags are all about. They are fiscal frauds who are more concerned with discriminating against gays than with the full faith and credit of these United States.
    Could someone like Trump, or Santorum, or Palin, or Bachmann, rally these freakin’ idiots in early primaries? Oh yeah.
    It’s really sad what has become of the Conservative movement since Bush ’41. W. F. Buckley must be doing loop-to-loops in his grave.

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  13. anjin-san says:

    It’s totally Bill Kristols fault that Palin can’t carry her home.state..

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  14. I Corps Vet says:

    Alex:

    My wife and I will raise two million dollars for the Palin campaign, go door to door and call people to get them to the polls. There are tens of millions like us. I’m just a disabled veteran, just think what her able-bodied supporters will do.

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  15. An Interested Party says:

    My wife and I will raise two million dollars for the Palin campaign…

    Do you often throw your money away like that? I’m sure there’s a Nigerian businessman that would like to speak to you…

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  16. Wayne says:

    Re “You’d think hard core conservatives would have learned this from Miller, Whitman, Fiorina, Angle, O’Donnell and Buck”

    How about candidate that were supported by the Tea Party that won like Rand Paul, Scott Brown, Dean Murray, John Frullo, Mike lee, Marco Rubio and others?

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  17. Ernieyeball says:

    @ I Corp Vet: “There are tens of millions like us.”
    Tens of millions x $2,000,000=Twentys of millions of $’s for the quitter 1/2 term governor.
    That’s quite a claim to raise that kind of cash.
    Keep us all posted as the donations come in and don’t forget to report every cent to the appropriate agencies.

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  18. sam says:

    Yes, well, but it seems, Alex, the electorate is becoming convinced that the Tea Party is well on its way to becoming the Tea Party.

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  19. tom p says:

    One of the reasons Obama won the nomination in 2008 was that he was more disciplined and organized. Clinton had big names on board but her team clearly didn’t understand the rules in the way that his did. He contested races he knew he’d lose, understanding he’d get the delegates. She caught on late. That was a huge early advantage. But which of the non-electable Republicans will have the discipline or humility to do that?

    I am left with nothing to say. I am sure JJ can fill the void.

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  20. ponce says:

    Don’t count the TEA Party out?

    Maybe, but it’s looking more and more like that party Ross Perot set up.

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  21. Kylopod says:

    >it’s looking more and more like that party Ross Perot set up.

    Perot attacked Reaganomics and proposed tax increases to deal with the deficit. His ideas fit as well with the Tea Party as the ACA does.

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  22. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares who the Republican nominate? The idea that the Republican nominee can win in 2012 is laughable. Every state that was carried by Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 will be a certain win for the Democrats in 2012. The Democrats do not need to spend a dollar to win California, New York, Maryland, Mass, New Jersey, Illinois and other. The Democrats had focus all of their efforts into winning a couple of swing state.

    The only question for the 2012 election is how badly will the Republican nominee hurt the down ticket races. My guess is that the Democrats will keep control of the Senate but the Republican keep control of the House but with a much smaller margin.

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  23. wonkie says:

    I doubt that Sarah Pali will get the nomiation because I doubt she wants it. She wants name recogition to feed her publicity machine to provide income for herself. She has no real interest in holding office–she quit her job, after all! She’s too lazy to be an elected official. So the most she will do is throw her name into the race just to garner publicity for a while, then make a big show of chosing someone to endorse…..she’s a con artist, not a politician.

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  24. Neil Hudelson says:

    superdestroyer,

    That sounds about right. Whoever controls the House, it will be by such a close margin that I think it will be, effectively, a gridlock.

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  25. Barb Hartwell says:

    This is a great time to be a democrat with Bozo`s like these as opposition. To the guy who will throw good money on Sarah Thank you she brings out the best comedy skits ever. The primaries will be the best ever, when all the Fox nutjobs turn on eachother.

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  26. […] It is all about that duplicitous tea party. […]

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