2016 Republicans, History, State of the Race, Strategy, Trump, Uncategorized

Mitt Romney Goes to War

March 4, 2016

The GOP presidential nomination campaign now has five distinct voices. Each represents a different idea of what the Republican Party should stand for, consist of, and represent in November 2016 and going forward.

Four of these are the remaining candidates, offering alternatives to what did not work in 1996, 2008, and 2012, and barely worked in 2000 and 2004. The other is Mitt Romney.There are any number of reasons why a majority of Republican primary voters might prefer #NotTrump to nominating The Donald, but it’s hard to imagine Romney could defeat Trump head-to-head in the remaining primaries if he was on the ballot.

It’s also unimaginable he could serve as a compromise for a deadlocked convention in July. Trump may not get to 1237, but he is very likely to have the most delegates. Anybody who tells you the party can block The Donald if he winds up with 1100 or 1150 is deluding themselves.

If Trump winds up at 1000 or so, and Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz is close behind, having won the majority of late contests and having worked out an arrangement with the other to take his delegates in return for going on the ticket as VP, sure. Otherwise, forget it.

A previous loser who didn’t participate in the primaries would have zero legitimacy as a compromise choice. If John Kasich magically survives March 15 and wins a whole bunch of large states, possibly saleable, particularly if he’s 10-15% up on Hillary in national polls, enough to absorb a mass-defection of Trumpists.

Mitt Romney is not an option. Paul Ryan is not an option. Romney certainly isn’t. In case you’re curious why Ryan wouldn’t work, any option who did not gain legitimacy through beating Trump in a whole bunch of contests will absolutely drive away plenty of Trump voters.

Kasich has more ability to win Democrat and Independent votes than Ryan. Cruz would lose fewer Trump voters than Ryan. If Rubio recovers from losing 14 of the first 15, he’s pretty much unstoppable. All available choices are already in the race.

This isn’t 1924, you can’t grab someone from the convention floor and make them the nominee after 103 ballots. Also that didn’t work very well at the time.

Romney probably (mostly) realizes this and isn’t attempting to set himself up as a backup nominee. If so, what was his purpose? Why not endorse a candidate? Well, as Trump pointed out the other day, the worst thing he could do for Rubio is to endorse him.

Republicans have won the popular vote in one of the past six elections. There are more red states than blue, more red districts too, so the GOP currently controls both houses of Congress and a pile of state legislatures.

That’s not enough to win the presidency on a regular basis. After the 2012 defeat, the RNC published a post-mortem/manifesto, arguing for more inclusion. That’s where the Rubio option comes in.

The goal of a Marco-style candidate is to open the GOP up to younger and non-white voters (plus many young voters aren’t white), and to begin clawing back some of the professional class, highly educated voters who began voting for Democratic presidential candidates with Bill Clinton in 1992.

I read somewhere the other day (apologies for lack of proper citation) that Republicans just don’t win in counties that have a Whole Foods Market. That’s a real problem going forward, and a good explanation of how the GOP drops presidential contests.

So far, whatever his limits as a candidate, Rubio is doing very well in Whole Foods counties. To much of the conservative intellectual class, this is a great option. He’s ideologically close enough to Heritage Foundation types, but plenty marketable.

However, as we’ve seen, many actual Republican voters prefer another option. Any coalition is a trade-off, and it’s hard to appeal to successful, educated suburban voters, along with the less-educated, working class voters the economy has left behind.

That’s where Trump comes in. For decades, Republican candidates have relied on middle and lower middle class culturally conservative voters turning out for them in November, without actually doing that much to help fill their wallets.

After years of disappointment, they stopped turning out to vote (or never started in the first place.) The gap between college educated white voter turnout and non-college educated white voters in 2012 was massive, on the order of 20 points difference.

If the GOP isn’t going to appeal to the voters Rubio is chasing, this is another approach. Romney-style Republicans have proven unable to turn them out. It’s not comfortable for the establishment, it’s not comfortable for conservative intellectuals. It does add up to a possible electoral majority.

Trump would lose some portions of the current GOP coalition, but by turning out voters who stay home, something he’s already succeeded in during the primary season, and pulling moderate Democrats who are opposed to the leftward tilt of the party over, it just might work.

Ted Cruz takes a little bit from the Rubio plan and a little from Trump’s. He’s not as inclusive or aspirational sounding as Marco. He relies less on Democrats and Independents than The Donald. His theory is the country is right-of-center, and conservatives have failed to turn out.

He would turn the GOP into a conservative party as opposed to a rightward-leaning coalition of interests. This is more like what you would see in a European and/or parliamentary system country. The math is actually a bit more questionable than Trump’s.

While there is a clear turnout gap among less educated white voters, self-described conservatives turned out at about the same rate as any other ideological group in 2012. As The Donald is showing, some voters believed to be conservative are less consistent than imagined.

Cruz would need to rely on turning out a larger than normal amount of conservatives (possible with the most conservative nominee in at least 52 years), or having moderate voters decide conservatism is better than the Hillary alternative.

Unlike the approach of the past couple decades, we aren’t sure this won’t work, it’s just a bit of a squeeze.

There’s a fourth option. Kasich is offering a non-partisan plan to get back to the large presidential coalition Republicans had when winning 5 of 6 elections between 1968 and 1988, grabbing 49 of 50 states twice.

It’s hard to move the needle on things like deficit control, entitlements, health care, or anything else that’s always an issue without a solid 58-60% majority of public support. FDR had it. LBJ had it. Ronald Reagan had it. You can’t filibuster a widely popular president with a big electoral mandate for too long.

He’s having a hard time gaining traction because he’s pitching himself to moderate Republicans, Democrats, and others who are outside the current GOP core. Still Kasich has a generally conservative record and would move on many of Speaker Ryan’s priorities quickly.

Whether Republican primary voters outside of New England or Ohio are willing to consider a far less partisan tone in exchange for a possible electoral mandate is very open to question.

Previous successful candidates have combined more moderate actual records with more stridently conservative campaign tones. It got them nominated, but didn’t inspire the grass roots, nor convince Independents and moderate Democrats in the fall.

Michigan includes a wide range of voters. Some prefer the Rubio pitch, some the Cruz approach, some the Trump plan, others the Kasich system. They aren’t necessarily evenly distributed, but all candidates are represented.

Republicans won Michigan regularly from 1968 to 1988. The GOP hasn’t since. Romney grew up in Michigan. His father governed it for most of the 1960s. That didn’t help Mitt any in November 2012.

By weighing in today, he didn’t do any of the anti-Trump candidates any favors. In addition, he reminded everyone of the 2012 defeat and the GOP that many Republican voters wanted badly to reform for 2016.

It was a strong speech. Stronger than any he gave in 2012. Many Republicans are wondering where this guy was then. It’s not a good look for the establishment to look like they worry more about Trump than they did about President Obama.

By suggesting strategic voting to block Trump and push the nomination to the convention, Romney is getting in the way of the necessary debate on the future of the GOP. The Donald is filling a vacuum. The only alternative is an alternative, not an absence of debate.

It sends the signal that establishment figures have no confidence in the ability of primary voters to choose in their own best interests over the next few weeks. They assume absent this guidance, the voters will make a mistake.

Any message Rubio, Cruz, or Kasich was hoping to develop, just got stepped on. If they have a better plan for the GOP, the voters will agree. Time is short. If Trump wins at least 4 of the 5 big March 15 states, the nomination is settled.

In failing to firmly get behind one of the alternative paths several months ago, and instead stepping on them now, Romney and friends may have helped to ensure the one outcome they most wanted to prevent.

I can’t imagine Marco Rubio thinks this is going to help. If he does, he’s no different than what he’s trying to replace.

 

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