Primary Numbers

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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13 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw says:

    I suspect that your theory is largely right. A good chunk of the GOP can admit from time to time that their base is aging and they are not replacing these people in good numbers. There is also debate about how much they are at a disadvantage for the White House and what is the best path to the White House. Yet they have a lock in Congress and an advantage in mid-terms. There are other collective action problems in the GOP where it might make sense for the party has a whole to support something but doesn’t make sense for the individual reps and senators to do so.

    There is tension in the Democratic Party but it isn’t as strong or contradictory as the tension in the GOP. Matt Y reported that liberal is no longer a dirty word. The party seems to be willing to focus on stuff its base wants like gun-control and has abandoned squaring the circle and hemming and hawing when it comes to social issues because Millennials and late Gen Xers are largely socially liberal.Report

    • I think there is some truth to your comment, but that it is overly specific. I think there are some structural issues at play. What does the modern GOP have in common with the 70’s/80’s Democrats? Two things: First, being mostly at an electoral disadvantage. But second, and perhaps most importantly, a leadership vacuum.

      The two being related, of course. In both cases, the last party president destroyed the coalition: LBJ on account of the Civil Rights Act and the Vietnam War, GWB on account of Iraq, the economy, and spending. And the vacuum, coupled with the perception of an opposing party that itself seems vulnerable, leads to a very large number of people believing that they are especially equipped to fill that vacuum.

      Matt Y reported that liberal is no longer a dirty word.

      This corresponds with my view that the self-identified moderates on the left are mostly just as moderate as they have to be. If/when they decide they don’t have to care what the rubes think anymore, then things will get really interesting!Report

  2. Alan Scott says:

    Sounds right to me. I’m wondering how third party and independent candidates change things, too. The prominence of Nader in 2000 was really down to a lack of a similar candidate in the democratic primary, but as I understand it, the Prominence of Ross Perot was down to the appearance-but-early-loss of similar candidates in the 1992 Republican Primary.Report

  3. Francis says:

    “Perhaps the biggest mystery to me is why – with all of the senators and governors and celebrities looking for their chance to shine – we don’t have a dozen or more candidates every election.”

    Because it’s physically and emotionally exhausting and expensive. Starting about 2 years out, you need to start to assemble the dark money that will allow you to have any kind of campaign presence. 18 months out you need to be on the road. A year out (now), you need to be building a presence in every state, and from there to every county, and from there to every key precinct. Every moment is spent working the phones fund-raising. Every moment not doing that is developing and refining a message, hiring and supervising staff, getting on TV, being seen, raising public awareness.

    Obama and W. Clinton were seen as tremendous ‘natural’ campaigners. Hogwash. They had a vision of what they wanted to do on the campaign trail years in advance, then hired incredible talent, then worked tirelessly. Bill is better off the cuff; Barack was deeply involved in crafting his best speeches. But both of them put in the hours necessary to hone their craft.

    Senators and governors know better, having at least some campaign experience. Celebrities fade fast. (Trump seems to be serious. I’ve read that he is actually investing in the ground game that is needed to win. Carson is a surprise. I wonder how much is him and how much is his team.)Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Francis says:

      That’s why I wouldn’t do it but I sort of assume a non-trivial number of high level politicians are masochistic egomaniacs.Report

    • Kim in reply to Francis says:

      Obama makes his debate prep folks sweat bullets. He’s really, really not good at extemporaneous answers. He’s a natural introvert.

      Bill Clinton, on the other hand, was a natural at debate.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Kim says:

        (yellow flag thrown)

        5 yard penalty. Conflating the ability to speak extermporaneously with introversion. 1st down.Report

        • Seconded. I am an introvert. I also am a decent (but not great) public speaker and comfortable handling the Q&A portion. Two days ago I gave a talk to a Civil War history group on baseball and the Civil War. The Q&A ranged widely. Fortunately it was mostly within my area of competence, so I was comfortable with it. This all was after the dinner-and-socializing portion of the evening. In all I spent about three and a half hours in a room full of strangers. Being an introvert, the drive home was a relief. But I was fine with the public speaking, including the extemporaneous part.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    Well, off the top of my head, I’d say that it has most to do with the whole three-legged-stool for the Republicans and the various combinations and permutations of the legs… I mean, you can have up to seven with just the three issues of social, fiscal, and hawkish conservativism, once you get into the fiscal and social, social and hawkish, hawkish and fiscal (though, granted, maybe this one doesn’t exist in the wild) and the Reaganesque All Three.

    So in any given election, you’ve already got room for seven candidates right out of the gate. Throw in a handful of toggles (immigration, trade) and you can already have distinctions between all kinds of conservatives without having to ask “why is John Jackson running when Jack Johnson is already running?”

    Compare to Democrats.

    Off the top of my head, there are a handful of big issues that have litmus tests… abortion, say. But there’s a lot more toggles and a lot more room to be mushy on any given issue such as guns or free trade or national defense or what have you. It’s more of a “be good on 14 of these 20, and be pro-choice, and you’re a suitable candidate” kinda dynamic. Which, you’d think, would allow for a veritable deluge of democratic candidates but since there are so many different places to be mushy, it becomes a lot more difficult to tell Jane Jillson from Jill Janeson if they agree on a dozen of the 14 of 20 things.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yeah, I think that’s right, especially when you couple it with (what sure appears to be) a pretty radical transition currently occurring within conservative “establishment politics” and that new technologies provide aspiring candidates easy access to a target constituency and a funding apparatus and the appearance of “support”. I still think it’s an open question how this little conservative revolution turns out, myself.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        And actually, thinking about that some more, I’m not sure it’s so much that conservatives campaign on different policies (tho surely that happens) but that they each think they exemplify “true” conservatism, which exists at an emotional level more than anything about specific policies, and is more subject to variance across the conservative base (at least right now) than the liberal base.Report

  5. DavidTC says:

    That ties into my (very tentative theory), which is that large fields come when parties are trying to find themselves and dealing with internal conflict.

    I think the second part of that (large fields come when parties are dealing with internal conflict) is basically a tautology: When parties have internal conflict, a lot of people are struggling for control. So, duh, they will have a lot of people running for office.

    People run for presidential primaries for a combination of two reasons. a) They want the power/respect/whatever (Both of merely being a candidate, and of actually winning), and b) They think they’d do things differently than someone else/they want to push the debate in a specific direction even if they think they won’t win.

    When a party is not divided, (b) disappears. It happened with the Democrats in 2008, and it’s mostly what’s happening currently with them….but, of course, even now, it’s not *completely* gone. (And, despite the Republican’s constant projection of their own attitudes, the Democrats aren’t that big on cult of personalities…or, at least, the Dem politicians seem to resist them. So (a) isn’t quite as large there.)

    What is happening on the RNC side, OTOH…is a moderate amount of (b) on the second tier, and a hell of a lot of (a) on the first tier. (Trump barely appears to even *have* policy positions, or at least not understand they are supposed to important. And Carson’s tax plan is insane.)

    …and now I’m not sure what I just proved, because that didn’t actually go in the direction I was intending to argue. What’s going on in the GOP primary isn’t *really* due to policy disagreements. Hrm.Report