Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Next Forty Days

Forty days from now the formal part of selecting the next president
will begin. On January 3, Iowa caucus voters will signal which of about
eight major Republican contenders for the job it favors. Each four-year
cycle is distinctive, and the 2012 cycle has seen the emerging feature of
candidate debates become the new powerful force in the nomination
process. I have even described this series of pre-primary/caucus debates
as the "first primary" of 2012.

Unlike in previous cycles, this "debates primary" has reduced a large field
of contenders to a few, possibly only two, finalists even before voting has

It was always assumed that 2008 runner-up Mitt Romney would be one
of those finalists, and indeed he has run a cautiously near-flawless
campaign so far, demonstrating he has learned from his campaign
mistakes of 2008 while showing his competitive mastery in the debates.
He has garnered far more endorsements from local, state and national
GOP officials than any other candidate, and clearly has the funding to
contest all the primaries and caucuses. For all these advantages and
accomplishments, however, Mr. Romney has not "closed the deal" so far
with Republican voters. For those voters who give highest credence to
past records, and there are many of these, Mr. Romney's positions on
many issues, while currently in line with conservative public opinion,
are suspect because he has held contrary views to many of these in the

As the "debates primary" and other preludes to actual voting have taken
place, a notable number of Mr. Romney's rivals seemed poised, albeit
briefly, to be his major challenger in Tampa in September, 2012. Not
counting candidates who ultimately chose not to run for president this
cycle, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain took turns in
the spotlight with high poll numbers, Their "moment," however, each
turned out to be relatively brief. Now, just before actual voting is to
begin, Newt Gingrich has risen to the top of many polls, and appears to
be the other finalist for the nomination.

Barring the unforeseen, it will now be primarily be a contest between Mr.
Romney and Mr. Gingrich in the early voting that will occur in Iowa, New
Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Florida (in that order).

The question, of course, is whether Mr. Gingrich (unlike rivals Bachmann,
Perry and Cain) can stay in contention for more than a few weeks, and then
possibly prevail for the nomination. I would suggest that if he cannot, Mitt
Romney will quickly secure the nomination.

A lot of conventional wisdom about both Mr Romney and Mr. Gingrich,
spoken aloud at the outset of the 2012 campaign, has turned out, in my
opinion, to be false. It was said that Mr. Romney's "flip-flops" on issues,
his Mormon religion, and his lack of personal "warmth," would be major
obstacles for him. I would suggest that his forceful espousal of conservative
issues and an obvious effort to become more personable have minimalized
these drawbacks, and polling suggests as well that only a few GOP voters
will be unable to vote for him because of his religion.

It was said that Mr. Gingrich was too old, too much associated with the
past (when he was a backbencher congressman and later, speaker of the
House), that he had too much personal "baggage" associated with his
personal life, and that he was too professorial to be nominated in 2012.
In fact, through the debates, Mr. Gingrich's knowledge and experience has
been as asset, his innovative ideas has made him seem the more original
(and thus youthful) candidate, his speaking skill has seemed inspirational
rather than academic, and his candid and blunt approach to his past
mistakes has seemed to dilute some voter questions about his personal life.

Nontheless, my interpretations above remain to be translated into votes.
I continue to think that Mr. Romney's advantages make him the likely
winner. He is unlikely to make a big mistake, and he has a very large
organization wherever he wants to compete. That now apparently includes
Iowa where he had earlier not engaged, including taking a pass on the Iowa
Straw Poll (which he had won in 2008). Now sensing that he could wrap up
the 2012 nomination with a previously unexpected win in Iowa, followed by a
win in New Hampshire (where he is the heavy favorite), and taking the
double win into South Carolina and Florida. Many party activists and media
observers are already sensing the possibility of this sequence of events.

On the other hand, if Mr. Gingrich wins Iowa, comes close in New Hampshire,
and wins in South Carolina (where he is now leading), this timetable could be
turned upside down. A follow-up win in Florida might make Mr. Gingrich
unstoppable. Mr. Gingrich's past indicates he can become over-confident and
make verbal mistakes when he is ahead, but if the self-control he has shown
so far can be maintained, he might be very formidable in the days and weeks

It is always possible that one of the other candidates could either revive their
campaigns or finally make a breakthrough, but it is very late in the process for
this to happen. To their credit, most of the other candidates have improved
during the "debates primary." and some of them have made valuable
contributions to the discussion. In spite of the unfair and obvious bias of the
Old (liberal) Media, I think the public at large, and independent voters
specifically, have a generally positive impression of the Republican field, even
if they disagree with their views. (I do agree, however, that some of the best
GOP candidates chose not to run in 2012.) The recent inappropriate insult to
Mrs. Bachmann on national television only backfired on what seems to be
widespread media efforts to demean conservative candidates.

Forty days (and forty nights) from now, this 2012 race will begin to become
clearer and clearer. It does not seem that the GOP contest will be protracted.
Voters will soon know who it will be who will run against President Obama
in November. Then attention will shift back to the Democrats and their
many problems with the economy and foreign policy. The fact that some
Democratic activists, incumbents and media sympathizers are now openly
criticizing Mr. Obama tell us that all may not well on the liberal side.

The November campaign will begin earlier this cycle, just as the nominating
process is likely to be shorter than usual. There will be the usual fireworks
on the 4th of July, 2012, but they will likely seem pale to the political rockets
and flares on the campaign trails that will follow.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.

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