Republican 2012 Nominee: Who It Won’t Be
Nate Silver looks at the polls and figures that Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich are the frontrunners for the 2012 Republican nomination. He notes that Tim Pawlenty and John Thune get high marks from insiders but argues that they have next to no shot at winning. Aside from the difficulty of knocking off four well-known contenders ahead of them,
The other potential flaw in the analysis of candidates like Mr. Pawlenty and Mr. Thune is that some seem to think it an asset that they are bland and unobjectionable. In a primary election that isn’t an asset, but a liability. A primary election isn’t a reality show in which candidates are eliminated one at a time for failing some challenge. Instead, voters pick the one candidate whom they most like, rather than the one they most dislike; a candidate who has strong favorables and strong unfavorables is going to be more people’s first choice than one whom everyone feels indifferent about. Someone with a more distinct and provocative brand — like Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey or Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin — might stand a better chance in an underdog role, although neither is likely to run for president in 2012.
Looking at the anecdotal evidence, I can only think of two nominees in my lifetime who weren’t leading contenders well ahead of the race: Jimmy Carter and Michael Dukakis. Carter, of course, won the presidency in 1976 and Dukakis, rather spectacularly, didn’t in 1988. Both were Democrats.
The Republicans have nominated an early frontrunner every quadrennial in the primary era: McCain, Bush, Bush, Dole, Bush, Bush, Reagan, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, Nixon, Goldwater, Nixon, Eisenhower, Eisenhower. Unlike the Democrats, who parcel out votes proportionally (moreso since 1984 than previously) the GOP has a winner-take-all system. This makes it extremely hard for someone who isn’t an early favorite to gain steam over a long race. If you don’t win at least one primary in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina, you’re toast.