Wednesday, February 15, 2012I'm generally pretty good at handicapping political races, having watched them and participated in them for (gasp) decades. Like many elections scholars, every four years I become the most popular person at work as everybody seeks me out to ask what I think of the presidential race. This year, however, the Republicans have repeatedly forced me to apologize for my errors. Now perhaps I needed a little lesson in humility, but this is getting ridiculous. It's as if the Republican primary electorate has decided that their chief goal is not electing a president but embarrassing political scientists.
Honestly, I don't pretend to understand Republicans, but I have to say I've never had to scratch my head more over a race than this one. Much like the 2008 race, I looked at it and figured that none of them could possibly be the nominee, so the one with the most establishment support looked like the safest bet. Then Perry got in and, not realizing that Texas would re-elect a buffoon so many times, figured he was a reasonably competent politician and as the logical choice for conservatives would in all probability be the nominee - which I proceeded to tell people. Of course, it turns out that Texas will repeatedly put a half-trained mentally handicapped lemur in their highest office. Apology #1. Then I figured "oh well, back to Romney. This'll be over sometime in February." Romney "wins" Iowa, wins New Hampshire and looks to be cruising. Then he loses to Newt in South Carolina, and knowing Newt as I do, it was pretty clear that Romney would pulverize Gingrich in Florida and that would be that. I told people that Romney would win Florida, and he did, and I casually pronounced the Republican nomination race over.
I've avoided the subject since Santorum's wins last week. Delegate free they may be, they were an indication that Romney was the medicine the patient just keeps spitting back up, no matter how many ways the doctors explain the necessity for it. Now Santorum is leading in the national polls, and more importantly, leading in Michigan, one of Romney's many purported home states (along with Utah, Massachusetts, and France). If Santorum wins Michigan, I will throw up my hands in exasperation and forever disclaim any future prognosticating on Republican intraparty scrums. Of course, I will also have the glee of watching the Republican Party establishment have a complete nervous breakdown.
Thinking over this nomination contest, I have decided that - thus far - the closest comparison isn't the Republicans in 2008 or the Democrats in 1984, the two most commonly cited references. No, I'm starting to think the right precedent is the 1980 Democratic nomination. Carter wasn't particularly well liked by Democrats, although they knew that they were probably stuck with him. They didn't really want Ted Kennedy either, but as long as they thought there was no chance Kennedy would actually unseat Carter, the Democrats were happy to use Ted as a protest vehicle. Until that is Kennedy won enough seats to look like he might strip Carter of the nomination after all, at which point they turned on him. Or at least this is my understanding of what happened that year. So, very tentatively, I think that Romney is Carter, and Santorum has been cast in the role of Kennedy now that Gingrich has proved so loathsome even the Republicans can't stomach him.
Having said that, I could be entirely wrong. Again. Which now that I think about it shouldn't be much of surprise. After all, to have a grasp of how Republican wingnuts make decisions I'd have to have at least a little empathy for them. Which I don't.