GOP 2012 Race A Replay Of 2008 Democratic Race?

Will 2012 be the Republican version of the 2008 race between President Obama and Hillary Clinton?

MSNBC’s First Read notes that, as of right now, the calendar for the Republican primaries has still not been officially set, setting into motion the prospect of a chaotic primary not unlike the never-ending Democratic nomination fight of 2008:

According to Republicans monitoring this subject, there are two different timeline scenarios. The first is the RNC-sanctioned February start date: Iowa goes Feb. 6, New Hampshire Feb. 14, Nevada, Feb. 18, South Carolina Feb. 28, and Super Tuesday is March 6. The second is the more chaotic January (or even December) start date: States like Arizona and Florida — risking losing half their delegates and other penalties — set their primaries early, pushing Iowa, New Hampshire, and other states into January or earlier. Which scenario is more likely? Although this remains a fluid situation, one plugged-in Republican eyeing the calendar process for one of the campaigns says there’s a “99%” chance it begins in early January instead of February.

As I noted back in July, the idea that these primaries would start in January again like they did during the ridiculously early 2008 primary season is simply silly. However, since primary scheduling is controlled by the individual states — a power reserved to them by the Constitution — it’s unlikely that the most logical solution to the problem, a rotating system of regional primaries, would ever be adopted. So, we’ll just have to live with whatever the system gives us and, this year, it’s looking to give us another round of early primaries. As Fred Bauer notes, however, the impact of early primaries on the GOP race next year have the potential to give the party its own version of the inevitably historic Obama-Clinton primary battle of 2008:

The odds are greater this cycle than in many cycles in the past that Republicans could witness a drawn-out primary process. RNC primary rules changeshave placed a new priority on proportional representation for states early in the primary cycle, making the Republican primary process a little more like that of Democrats. These changes could make it less likely for competitive candidates to be knocked out of the race by losing a single state’s primary. Especially if Palin gets in, we could easily see a number of closely split primaries leading to a more extended primary battle.

The extension of the primary calendar could very easily be a good thing for the eventual Republican nominee. The minute a presumptive nominee is crowned, the White House and its allies will have a single target on which to focus their vitriol. But, as long as the primary process is in play, the optics of partisan attack get more complicated, if not harder.

Bauer’s has a point here. Barack Obama no doubt benefited from the several months from April through June of 2008 when the nation’s political press was focused almost entirely on his primary battles with Hillary Clinton. John McCain had effectively clinched his party’s nomination in February when Mitt Romney dropped out of the race at CPAC 2008, much to the discontent of many of the same conservatives who are now bashing him ironically. Other than a tour of places of note in his life, which received some minimal coverage from the media, McCain effectively disappeared from the scene until a widely panned speech on the night Barack Obama officially clinched the nomination. All of this worked to Obama’s benefit, and while the effect wouldn’t be quite the same for the Republicans since Obama is the President, the eventual nominee would benefit from the coverage that a drawn out nomination fight would generate.

At least one RNC member is thinking that the combination of the new primary rules and the Tea Party will lead to that great dream of political reporters, pundits, and bloggers everywhere, a brokered convention:

Curly Haugland, an RNC committeeman from North Dakota who sits on the rules committee, takes that one step further. “I’ve been spending a lot of time on this,” says Haugland, “and it seems like there’s no possibility for anything but a contested convention.” That’s fine with him. “The media and pollsters want this to be decided in primaries? Well, who gives a rip who wins New Hampshire? There’s a bunch of left-leaning lunatics up there.”

Thus the scenario—floated every four years—in which the race drags on, no one locks up the nomination, and the convention doesn’t pick a candidate on the first ballot. This is the first GOP presidential primary of the Tea Party era, with state parties that have been taken over by the sort of people who decapitated Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah, Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, and (less successfully) Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. It’s the first post-Citizens United primary, which makes it theoretically possible for candidates to be bailed out by Super PACs funded by the sort of people who really started sweating when President Obama went after private jets.

The odds of such a thing happening are lower in the GOP than they might be in the Democratic party, even with the new proportional representation rules, but the possible scenario’s under which it could happen are fairly easy to see:

The simplest one starts with a Bachmann win in Iowa, followed (possibly, if the state sticks with a current plan) by a win in her own state’s caucuses the next day. It continues with an indecisive Missouri primary, with the state punished for moving the date up. It goes on to a Mitt Romney win in New Hampshire and a too-close-for-comfort Romney-Bachmann-Perry-Paul split in the Nevada caucuses the following Saturday. Perry wins South Carolina. Romney wins Michigan. There are no surprises as we head into March. (There’s no use guessing what happens in Florida yet, but if the other primaries are split, it may not be decisive.)

On March 6, Super Tuesday, Romney wins the his home state and neighboring Vermont, while Perry wins his home state and neighboring Oklahoma. At this point, Perry has more delegates than Romney, but Bachmann’s not out of the race yet, and neither is Paul. Paul does well in the Hawaii caucuses, Perry wins the Mississippi primary, and March ends with a slugfest in Illinois and another winnable Perry primary in Louisiana.

After that, we’re mostly done with the South, and we’re done with non-winner-take-all primaries. The race moves back to the Midwest, West, and East Coast. If Perry’s rivals are still in the hunt, and Super PACs are still playing, then there’s no obvious Republican front-runner. And that would give Republican activists more than enough motive to start showing up at state conventions and steering them to the candidates they like.

The odds of something like this happening would most likely increase if Sarah Palin entered the race, thus further splitting the Tea Party/social conservative/evangelical vote in states like Iowa and throughout the South. It’s all largely a fantasy, of course, but at that point the idea of a white knight (Jeb Bush? Chris Christie?) coming in wouldn’t entirely be out of the question. And, hey, it would make things a lot more interesting for those of us who write about this stuff every day.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PJ says:

    As I commented earlier on the subject, since the new GOP primary rules only allow WTA primaries after April 1st, it’s my opinion that while the primaries will take longer time than in 2008 for the GOP (in 2008 they were in reality over when Romney withdrew in February) and will not end before April 1st, they will most likely end before May. It will not end in June as the Democrats primary did in 2008.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    The 2008 Democratic primary was not a long process in 2008. Everyone knew by SuperTuesday that Obama would be the nominee. However, Hillary Clinton hung on during the primary season taking loss after loss just hoping that Obama would be caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy. Since that did not happen everyone knew that Obama would be president some time in March 2008.

    On the other hand, everyone with any sense knows that Obama will be re-elected in 2012 with a higher percentage of the vote than what he had in 2008. Everyone should admit that the Republican nominee will also be choosen by SuperTuesday and that that candidate has zero chance of winning (think how badly Bob Dole did in 1996 and that is what the Republicans will do in 2012. The Republican nominee will be laid to waste by the MSM and most people will believe that they are not competent enough to be a dog catcher. The Republicans could even do worse in 2012 than Bob Dole did in 1996 since there are fewer whites of voting age but more non-whites who automatically vote for Democrats.

    My guess is that when the results of the election are announced in November 2012 that even the densest pundit will be able to see that the Republicans are irrelevant and that the president in 2016 will be elected during the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

  3. Charles says:

    As a Ron Paul supporter i support the RNC’s decision on proportional representation. I feel this will only help Dr. Paul’s bid for the White House. I can’t wait for a brokered convention!