Andrew endorsed Ron Paul today, just as he did four years ago (again over the moderate conservative trending in NH). Unlike last go round, though, the endorsement is not simply an impetuous harumph over the excesses of the Grand Old Party. Andrew seems to be under the misimpression that Ron Paul could be the Republican nominee. For instance, during the middle of his endorsement and in a typically understated fashion, he disagrees with those who discount Paul’s chances:
The constant refrain on Fox News that this man has “zero chance” of being the nominee is a propagandistic lie. Nationally, Paul is third in the polls at 9.7 percent. In Iowa, he may win. In New Hampshire, it is Paul, not Gingrich, who is rising this week as Romney drifts down. He’s at 19 percent, compared with Gingrich’s 24. He is the third option for the GOP. And I believe an Obama-Paul campaign would do us all a service. We would have a principled advocate for a radically reduced role for government, and a principled advocate for a more activist role. If Republicans want a real debate about government and its role, they have no better spokesman. He is the intellectual of the field, not Gingrich.
Elsewhere, Ross Douthat argues that even a double Ron Paul victory in Iowa and New Hampshire would not be enough to win him the nomination, and instead would deliver it gift-wrapped to Mitt Romney.* Andrew counters with this quote from Nate Silver:
[Paul] is the only Republican candidate apart from Mr. Romney (and Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who is not competing in Iowa) to overachieve his national numbers in polls of New Hampshire. A one-two punch of winning Iowa and New Hampshire is not impossible for Mr. Paul, and it is hard to know where Mr. Romney might wind up if the field were scrambled in this way.
Of course, the paragraph immediately previous to the above excerpt reads:
My view is that Mr. Paul’s policy positions are too perpendicular to that of most Republican voters to give him much of a shot at winning the party nomination. Some 50 percent of Republican voters, in the most recent CNN survey, said they’d be displeased or upset if Mr. Paul was their candidate.
Call me a Stalinist, but Fox News/Douthat are right. Ron Paul has no chance of winning the nomination, even less than soon-to-be-also-rans like Michelle Bachmann. On slightly more poli sci oriented blogs, there has been a lot of back-and-forth over whether polls or endorsements serve as better indicators of a candidate winning the nomination in 2012; whether party elites still wield outsized influence over the process or if, thanks to media changes and institutional degradation, the rank-and-file can make an end run around their leaders’ opposition. But no matter which model you choose, Ron Paul cannot win. As Silver notes in another post, almost two-thirds of the Republican voters find him unacceptable, worse than any other candidate, especially considering his rising position in the polls. Further, Paul is also anathema to much of the party elite, not just for heterodox views on drugs, foreign policy, and gay rights that makes him appealing to Andrew, but also for his flirtation with white supremacists, untempered opposition to the Federal Reserve, and utter inflexibility on fiscal policy and social spending.
Elitists and populists, moderates and movement sorts, Washington insiders and their clichéd opposite, will come together in a Bloombergian fantasy to oppose a Ron Paul nomination. There are few things less likely to occur. Thus, though it is quite strange to observe someone who rightly insists on a conservatism opposed to ideology endorse the most rigid ideologue in the field two elections running, it is even more strange to observe someone who routinely professes to be “a reality-based conservative” insist this candidate can win, against all contrary evidence.
In other 2012 observations, Noah Millman has a cheeky thought experiment on how the Republicans can avoid what is increasingly looking like it might be an electoral debacle. In my inaugural Skowronek post, I noted that preemptive presidents, like Barack Obama, as they are involved in a “mongrel politics” and have no strong commitments to an orthodoxy to make, tend to have greater chances of being re-elected (even when marginally unpopular, as Nixon and Wilson demonstrate) because they can out-manuever their more ideologically constrained opponents and better appeal to the median voter. Thus, despite subpar approval ratings, the president handily defeats all potential nominees in one-on-one polls.
Millman’s way around this is for the Republicans field many presidential candidates, each with specific geographic appeal. The only Republican on the ballot in any state will be the one most likely to win that specific state. They can negate the president’s ideological flexibility through sheer numbers and thus more effectively take advantage of his low approval and the seeming popularity of “Generic Republican.” All they would have to do is hold Obama below 270 electoral votes by snagging a few unexpected states and then sort out the real winner by conference through the Electoral College (faithless electors) or the Constitutional arbitration mechanism (the Republican-controlled House, though that probably means Joe Biden gets to stay on as veep).
Of course, that situation is both unrealistic and openly cynical. But a comparable situation, with just two Republican-affiliated candidates (each with some cross-party appeal) could arise quite organically. Of course, each would have to have geographically centered bases of support, or else you will simply see a repeat of 1992 (where the populist third-party candidate stole votes from both of his competitors but ended up with no electoral votes to show for it, yay FPTP). This, funny enough, is roughly how I would imagine an Obama-Paul contest actually playing out, as I cannot imagine the Constitution Party would let an opportunity like that pass by. Rather than the noble contest of ideas that Andrew envisions, it will be a giant clusterfuck. Of course, this is all academic, as Ron Paul will emphatically not be the Republican nominee.
Additionally, while rummaging through RCP just now, I noticed it appears we have hit peak-Newt. What that means, I have no idea. I am hesitant to make further predictions (beyond the ones I’ve made previously and/or in the title of this post) because we are rapidly approaching a situation where no one should win but someone must win. When that happens, all models get tossed aside and anything could be possible. Except that Ron Paul will not be the Republican nominee.
*Truth be told, I think Ross is exactly right. A Ron Paul win in Iowa, especially if Mitt comes in close second, is probably the best possible outcome for Romney, even better than a landslide win. He becomes instantly both the moderate of the field standing against extremism and the champion of the orthodoxy against a heretic. Nothing else would solidify all elements of the Republican party around him faster and the contest would almost certainly be over by mid-January.