Serious Candidates for Serious People

David Brooks declares Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, and Jon Huntsman the only serious candidates for the Republican nomination.

Balloon Juice’s mistermix highlights this discussion on PBS NewsHour of the little-watched first Republican debate:

MARK SHIELDS: But one test, Jim, that is a great test is how candidates handle something like this. And what I did was go through and look at how each of the Republican candidates, which one of them praised President Obama, while praising the SEALs and praising the action and the result.

Tim Pawlenty did, as you heard in Kwame’s piece. Mitt Romney did. And Mitch Daniels did. And Newt Gingrich didn’t, and Mrs. Palin didn’t. Gov. Palin didn’t. And, obviously, Rick Santorum didn’t. And the others didn’t.

[…]

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. That’s actually a very good test, because of the people you mentioned who did, those are the serious candidates.

And I might throw in another. Jon Huntsman seems to be running. And I suspect he’s a serious candidate. I’m not sure what his odds are. But it’s going to be a — the good thing about this debate was, there were only five people up on the stage.

Mixy is not persuaded:

I realize that many an electron will be spent extolling the seriousness of this new fantastic four, but will the energy of tens of fingers hitting hundreds of keys really matter? Is there still a Republican electorate motivated to go to the polls and vote for a Mormon (bad), a Mormon Obama likes (worse), an Arab (shudder), or a wimp? How exactly is the admittedly immense potential energy of David Brooks’ imprimatur transmitted to the average Republican primary voter? I don’t quite understand the physics or chemistry of that reaction. Because what I see is a party controlled by its rump, a bunch of angry white tea partiers who don’t give a shit about what David Brooks thinks is “real” or “serious”.

While it’s doubtless true that a vanishingly small percentage of the Republican nominating electorate much cares what Brooks thinks,  I happen to think he’s right here.

Looking to the handful of truly bizarre candidates who ran on the Republican ticket in some statewide races in the 2010 cycle gives a mis-impression of the power of TEA Party voters on the nominating process. 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. And there’s little chance that someone other than those listed by Brooks and Shields can jump in at this point and grab the nomination. Ron Paul is a niche candidate. Gary Johnson is a more serious Ron Paul but he’s too unknown and has too many views that place him outside the tent. Herman Cain is appealing but has lost the only political race in which he’s ever run.

The race will be Romney’s to lose. The Mormon Question matters, especially in the Deep South. But Romney isn’t some mythical Mormon but an actual person. Prejudices are almost always generic rather than specific. RomneyCare will, naturally, be something he has to deal with. But he’s got a lot of time to put it behind him.

Pawlenty and Daniels are serious candidates, too. But they’ve got very little name recognition and organization. But they’re nonetheless the likeliest beneficiaries if Romney implodes.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mistermix says:

    I think you’re probably right that in the end they’ll settle for a “serious” candidate, but I’m having a hard time imagining the details of how the serious candidate prevails. Even in WNY, Tea Partiers seem to be able to thwart the will of established party leaders as well as turn out reliably.

    I’d bet a small amount of money against Romney. Romneycare plus Mormonism is a heavy burden.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I see Jon Huntsman as the Romney-replacement-bot if something goes wrong for Romney.

    Romney’s health care issue will not be easy to put behind him. Debate line for Obama: “You were for my health care plan before you started running for president, MItt. In fact: you got it passed in Massachusetts.”

    I think Romney’s great failing is that he’s a rational technocrat. If Romney makes it past the ranting hordes in the primaries he goes up against another rational technocrat. Romney either has to play crazy — which highlights his oiliness — or he has a sensible conversation with Obama in which there isn’t much contrast.

    Romney has zero traction with minorities or gays, so he’ll need a very big number with straight white people. He needs the Florida and Pennsylvania old farts which means he can’t start talking wildly about SS or Medicare. So where’s the contrast? He’ll look like a pale Obama.

  3. hey norm says:

    IMHO…T-paw can’t win Minnesota much less the rest of America, and Romney’ reputation as saying whatever his audience wants to hear at that moment will end up wounding him fatally. I like Daniels in spite of some dubious statements made while presiding over Bush’s spending spree, including claiming that Iraq would cost between $50–$60 billion. Ultimately though he is too short (sorry – its just a fact). Huntsman’s Obama connection will ding him with an extremeist base that thinks Obama is the anti-christ.
    I truly don’t think we have seen the Republican nominee yet. If we have, and this is the field…well I hate to take such a ridiculous stand but…start looking to 2016. Even high gas prices won’t get these guys elected over Obama. If for some strange reason the election goes to the Scalia Koch Bros Supreme court however…all bets are off.

  4. To me the more intriguing question is not necessarily who will be the nominee, but if the more “fringe” candidates will cause the GOP to implode and nominate someone otherwise electable, but wounded? I just see the coverage of the Bachman, Trump, Santorum types as antithetical to the GOP’s ultimate goal of defeating President Obama.

  5. tom p says:

    My early uneducated money is on Daniels. He seems least tarred with the TP crazies and while his Bush time puts the lie to his “fiscal conservative” credentials that really doesn’t matter in todays GOP. Just look at the Ryan budget.

    Even high gas prices won’t get these guys elected over Obama.

    Especially if the prediction of a 50 cent/gal drop by summer driving season comes true.

  6. jwest says:

    David Brooks is the guy we conservatives look to for guidance.

    And Chris Mathews… You don’t want to forget Chris Mathews.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    Michael, I think that Obama’s re-election almost entirely depends on factors that are beyond his control. If unemployment is over 10%, it doesn’t make much difference which of the sensible candidates the Republicans run: Obama will be a one-term president. Against one of the more loony candidates it’s anybody’s guess.

    Contrariwise, if the unemployment rate is 8% or below, gas prices aren’t rising as they did in the first quarter of 2011, and prices, generally, seem to be under control, Obama will win against any challenger however sensible.

  8. Franklin says:

    There are a LOT of people who could be convinced to vote for a Republican in 2012 if they decided to run a serious candidate. I *think* they will, but it’s so hard to tell anymore.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    Dave:

    I think that’s likely true but only up to a point. George W. Bush managed to get reelected despite a torpid economy and a foreign policy mess. People just didn’t like Kerry. I believe affinities and narratives play a role. Reality can be shaped by a good story because people are not reliable observers. They see what they want to see.

  10. Will says:

    Any room for a serious candidate that takes on the $120 billion a year war in Afghanistan in the Republican race? Ron Paul drew the only cheers of the night with his comments on ending the war and the death of Osama bin Laden seems to be opening up even more political space for candidates who want to bring America’s engagement in Afghanistan back into balance with its interests there. If Ron Paul and Gary Johnson don’t make the cut (both argue for a drawdown of troops) who is going to reap the political windfall of speaking for the conservative base that increasingly wants to get out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later? “Serious” Republican leaders like Rep. Boehner are still in lock-step with the Obama administration on staying the course. Why must the conservative base rely on Ann Coulter to speak for them in saying that this war is “bleeding us dry” instead of their elected representatives? Here’s Coulter speaking for the Tea Party on Afghanistan: http://www.afghanistanstudygroup.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Coulter-Clip-Excerpt1.wmv

  11. Ben Wolf says:

    Just out of curiosity, what evidence do we have the average voter on the right gives a damn what David Brooks thinks?

    I’m continually amazed the man is considered an “opinion maker” by . . . well, anyone. Brooks has spent years establishing himself as the voice of conventional wisdom, the status quo and pandering to the Washington elite.

    But let’s have another post or ten about who Brooks has decided to admit to the Serious People Club, because after all, Brooks would never exclude those who find themselves at odds with the dominant power structure. I’m sure candidates like Ron Paul will qualify for seats at the grown-up table once they’ve dutifully sold out any principles they may have had, at which point Brooks can begin praising them for holding the same pro-war, corporatist views our aristocracy requires of all our politicians.

  12. mantis says:

    Ron Paul drew the only cheers of the night with his comments on ending the war everything he said from his loud and devoted fanbase.

    Fixed that for you.

  13. Ben Wolf says:

    There are a fair number of things for a liberal to like about Ron Paul. There are also quite a few things to hate, but I admire the man for being an honest crackpot.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Ben:

    I agree. He’s the real deal and makes no effort to pander. He’s full of sh*t but at least he doesn’t demand we love him.

  15. Wayne says:

    Any bets that the Republican nominee will be one of the following Romney, Pawlenty, Daniels or Huntsman? I advise not betting your house on it.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    Any bets that the Republican nominee will be one of the following Romney, Pawlenty, Daniels or Huntsman? I advise not betting your house on it.

    So who will it be? Sarah Palin? Newt Gingrich? Rick Santorum? Herman Cain? These are people not worth betting anything on…

  17. Tano says:

    RomneyCare will, naturally, be something he has to deal with.

    How can it be dealt with in a manner that does not concede the fight over Obamacare? – a price the GOP base would not be willing to pay…

  18. Romney is still in good shape. With the crazy vote getting so diluted with candidates he might just pull it out.

  19. Jay Tea says:

    If there’s anything more amusing than people who would never vote Republican if you put a gun to their head telling everyone who is the “best qualified” and “most likely” to win the Republican nomination, I haven’t found it this morning.

    Looking to Interested, Michael Reynolds, or Hey Norm for thoughtful analysis of Republican candidates is like hiring a eunuch to direct a porno movie.

    J.

  20. mantis says:

    If there’s anything more amusing than people who would never vote Republican if you put a gun to their head telling everyone who is the “best qualified” and “most likely” to win the Republican nomination, I haven’t found it this morning.

    Gotta remember that next time you write about Democrats. Wait, you do it all the time! Guess we can safely ignore everything you say.

  21. Jay Tea says:

    Oh, I don’t deny I’ve done the “helpful advice” thing myself, mantis. The difference is, I’ve actually voted for Democrats on occasion. In 2004, I voted Republican for President and Representative, Democrat for Governor and Senator. Won two, lost two.

    And I’m only singling out the “helpful advice/constructive criticism” gambit. If I painted with as broad a brush as you do (apparently you don’t do nuance), I’d ignore the pathological Palin-hate you and your ilk revel in.

    Come to think of it, that’s pretty damned entertaining, too.

    J.

  22. mantis says:

    The difference is, I’ve actually voted for Democrats on occasion.

    And I’ve voted for Republicans. And?

    If I painted with as broad a brush as you do (apparently you don’t do nuance), I’d ignore the pathological Palin-hate you and your ilk revel in.

    Kindly identify evidence of my “Palin-hate.” I’ll wait.

  23. An Interested Party says:

    Looking to Interested, Michael Reynolds, or Hey Norm for thoughtful analysis of Republican candidates is like hiring a eunuch to direct a porno movie.

    Silly teabagger, you’re confused…what you see as “thoughtful analysis” is actually rooting for the GOP sideshow as any of these jokes (including Sister Sarah) would certainly lose in an election against the president…

  24. Jay Tea says:

    Call it “Palin-bashing” or “Palin-exposing” if you like, mantis. It all ends up the same.

    And no, I don’t feel like offering “proof.” You are the fixated one, with extensive indexes of my comments and articles — even if they’re in your head. I don’t have the time or interest in citing chapter and verse of your remarks — I have about 47 pages of things I put a higher priority on, and “picking lint out of my navel” and “cleaning my fingernails” come well above that.

    Pretty much the only comment of yours I recall was when you utterly wigged out and stormed off Wizbang over what was, I thought, a rather pointed criticism of Obama and you took as some kind of psycho death threat to liberals in general. Since that… nothing really stands out, apart from your general tone of vindictiveness towards me.

    J.

  25. mantis says:

    And no, I don’t feel like offering “proof.”

    Ah, your theme song. I know that one.

    You are the fixated one, with extensive indexes of my comments and articles — even if they’re in your head.

    You mean a memory? Yes, I have one of those. It’s convenient when you’re not a hack.

    I don’t have the time or interest in citing chapter and verse of your remarks

    Then maybe you should refrain from telling me what I think, if you can’t back it up with examples of what I say. But really, the actual reason is you know your assertions are bullshit. You can’t admit that, so you play you’re “I don’t have to explain myself to the likes of you” crap. You’re not fooling anyone.

    As for the rest, sorry I don’t cotton to people who tacitly endorse political violence against their fellow citizens. Actually, I’m not sorry about that. And I’m not vindictive. I seek no revenge upon you. I simply stopped commenting at your blog, happy to ignore you forever. But you follow me around.

  26. Jay Tea says:

    As for the rest, sorry I don’t cotton to people who tacitly endorse political violence against their fellow citizens.

    Oddly enough, neither do I. And that was the intended point of the article that you completely misconstrued and wigged out over.

    Guess you were just looking for an excuse…

    J.

  27. Jay Tea says:

    Crap, I did it again. My apologies, James. I got involved in a thread hijacking.

    As to the topic at hand… I stand by my earlier remark. There’s just no point in listening to certain people for “constructive criticism” on Republican candidates; they simply don’t have trustworthy motives. Their goal is to re-elect Obama, and that colors any credibility they might have. The thought of helping pick the nominee that Obama can most easily defeat is never far from their minds.

    J.

  28. mantis says:

    Oddly enough, neither do I. And that was the intended point of the article that you completely misconstrued and wigged out over.

    I would believe that, but in order to do so, I would have to believe you don’t know what a metaphor is, and I would have to ignore all the other times you have tacitly endorsed political violence.

    Sorry, no sale.