1/20/2008

Post-South Carolina State of Affairs (R)

South Carolina and Nevada have spoken, and the results have finally produced several distinct tiers of Republican candidates: John McCain and Mitt Romney in the top tier, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani in the second tier, and Fred Thompson and Ron Paul in the third tier. Because of the sheer chaos that characterizes the Republican race, Republican voters and party operatives are anxiously waiting for signs that someone is breaking out of the pack, as they are not sure who they should rally around. Things might still be muddled right now, but the race is no longer as turbid as it once was.

John McCain's South Carolina victory is particularly sweet for him, especially after the way he was vilified in the 2000 primary. Of course, nasty kneecap politics reemerged this time around too, but that McCain was able to survive should serve as a testament to his overall strength and appeal. This victory caps McCain's improbable political comeback and has established him as the Republican frontrunner. At the very least, he is a co-frontrunner with Mitt Romney. I predicted McCain's resurgence back in December and based this prediction on the fact that even though he has made a lot of Republicans angry on individual issues, he is at least acceptable enough to all factions of the Republican Party to make him seem like a consensus candidate. The South Carolina exit polls show how balanced his support is among Republican voters. This balance potentially makes him a stronger candidate than Huckabee (whose support skews to evangelicals) or Romney (whose support skews to wealthier voters and corporate Republicans).

McCain can now enter Florida with a reasonable chance of pulling off another victory. There are major military bases in the Tampa and Pensacola areas, which should be fertile territory for him. The fact that there are also a lot of seniors there should work to his advantage too, as Huckabee tends to do better with younger voters. And because Florida is supposed to be "Giuliani's state," there's not as much pressure on him to win it. So McCain has to be sitting pretty right now.

Huckabee should study the exit polls carefully because they reveal a potentially fatal weakness about his candidacy--that his appeal among non-evangelical voters is weak. It's well known that devout Christians (those who attend church more than once per week) love Huckabee. However, the problem for Huckabee is that even in the Republican Party, there are a lot of less traditional and more moderate Christians, and these voters are decidedly not supporting Huckabee, as he only won 16% of their votes (as opposed to winning 43% of the vote among evangelical/born-again Christian voters). This does not bode well for Huckabee in less conservative states outside the Bible Belt and even in a general election. His populist rhetoric is certainly appealing, but is his Christian rhetoric turning these voters off? Huckabee had better figure out a new approach soon because as soon as he becomes a Pat Roberson candidate and nothing more, his campaign is finished.

Fred Thompson narrowly won third place in South Carolina. Because of his limited campaigning elsewhere, his falling poll numbers, and the general sense that his campaign has been a disappointment, Thompson really needed to win South Carolina to reinvigorate his campaign. However, because he barely only placed third, it's really hard to see how Thompson can continue. He will not be the nominee.

However, even though Thompson is likely finished, his presence is still having a major impact on the race. Judging from the South Carolina exit polls, Thompson significantly cut into Huckabee's base of evangelical Christians. Had Thompson not been on the ballot, it is quite probable that Huckabee would have beaten McCain. Thompson is not really attacking McCain aggressively, but he is blasting Huckabee. Since McCain and Thompson are close personal friends, could Thompson be serving as a stalking horse or a shield for McCain? Is Thompson's role to force McCain's rivals out of the race by starving them of victories they are widely expected to have? Thompson clearly held Huckabee back in South Carolina. Could he do the same with both Huckabee and Giuliani in Florida?

Fred Thompson is hurting Mike Huckabee the same way John Edwards is hurting Barack Obama. They are both Southerners who are trying to run as consistent conservative outsiders. Huckabee is the stronger candidate, but Thompson is strong enough to significantly bog Huckabee down. Needless to say, Huckabee would be thrilled if Thompson pulled out of the race before Florida. However, given Thompson's ambiguous speech after the results came in, there's no telling what to expect.

Romney's victory in uncontested Nevada overshadowed his fourth place showing in South Carolina. This is fine because he is continuing to silently rack up delegates. And seeing that Nevada had more delegates at stake than South Carolina, his decision to play in Nevada was a smart tactical move. And because the focus will be on Huckabee and Giuliani to win Florida, he enters the state with the advantage of low expectations. So while a Florida victory would be nice, Super Tuesday is clearly where his attention will lie. Second, or even third, in Florida should be good enough to give him decent momentum heading into Super Tuesday. It appears that Romney will be one of the last two (or three) candidates standing. The other one used to look like Giuliani (and that may still happen), but McCain is clearly emerging as the strongest candidate with all the momentum.

Ron Paul's second place showing in Nevada will likely serve as yet another embarrassment for Giuliani. Paul also bested Giuliani in South Carolina as well. It is clear that Paul is gathering enough support to warrant respect from the other candidates. But in the end, this second place finish took place in a state where the other candidates weren't campaigning all (except for Romney), and the best he could do elsewhere prior to this was fourth or fifth. 15% seems to be Paul's ceiling, which is not enough to win a primary or caucus anywhere. The question now becomes who is Paul drawing the most votes from?

At most, there will be three tickets out of Florida. Florida will be the last stand for Huckabee, Thompson, and Giuliani. McCain and Romney can survive even if they don't win because they have each already won at least twice. Huckabee only won Iowa, and these memories of his Iowa victory are being replaced by his second and third place showings elsewhere. Thompson surprised pundits by placing third in Iowa, but he was clearly expected to do better in South Carolina. Seeing that Florida is another Southern state, Thompson essentially gets a do-over--but this is it for him. Giuliani has not been a part of the national conversation for weeks now, so his candidacy is sliding into irrelevance. Anything worse than a close second in Florida will probably end his campaign because he simply won't have the financial resources to compete on Super Tuesday. The pressure is off of McCain and Romney to win Florida, so the final ticket to Super Tuesday will go to the Huckabee-Thompson-Giuliani winner. Because of Giuliani's strength in several major Super Tuesday states, many of which more moderate, will McCain and Romney avoid crippling Huckabee and Thompson while they blast Giuliani in an attempt to abort his candidacy before it has a chance to demonstrate its true appeal?

I once thought that the GOP nomination would come down to Rudy Giuliani and his conservative alternative. But now it appears that it will come down to the establishment candidate and the outsider. That explains Clinton vs. Obama on the Democratic side and would explain McCain vs. Romney on the Republican side. Huckabee or Giuliani could still replace Romney, but the only way this could happen is if they win Florida. Second place is not good enough for those candidates anymore.

14 comment(s):

Steve Johnson said...

This thing may just end up as a battle of who has the most delegates. It doesn't look like we'll see much of a front runner in the traditional sense who easily gains the support of the later states in a domino effect. Mitt Romney's strategy for tactically fighting for delegates seems like a much better strategy at this point than Giuliani's strategy of holding off until Florida.

Like always, great analysis.

Anonymous said...

I think those who are not on the Internet like you tend to be much much less informed. Do you think South Carolina voters who are "off the grid/net" are informed? You can place your vote on whether these non-net voters are informed, and see some pro-Obama commentary for whatever it's worth.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/1/21/05324/1674/39/440324

Schenck said...

Can't wait to see what you think about the crazy Nevada dem caucus and tonight's fiery debate!

Anthony Palmer said...

SJ,

Should Romney emerge as the nominee even if he places second in more states than he wins, I'd expect a lot of regular voters who don't understand the whole delegate system to revolt. People are viewing McCain as the frontrunner even though Romney has won more states, has more money, and has more delegates. There seems to be a tremendous lack of understanding of how our political system works, unfortunately.

And thanks for the compliment.

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Anonymous,

Bingo. Most voters probably get their news from Couric, Williams, or Gibson once a day when they're at home having dinner with their families. They don't know (or care) about all the turns and twists in the daily political news cycle. So I guess there are a lot of people who support candidates for what "educated" voters call "irrational reasons." I'm not sure if I should say that's too bad or if I should say that's what we should expect.

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Schenck,

I just typed up my piece on the SC debate last night. What a mess. By the way, it might seem like I'm not updating this blog as much as I used to. It's not that, but rather that I'm now back to my usual blogging schedule. I normally only update this blog about 2-4 times a week. I had a bit more time over the past two weeks or so though because of the semester break. Now I'm back at work during the day and back in class at night, so free time is a lot harder to come by. But thanks for being such a faithful reader.

Thank you all for your comments.

The Reverend said...

The Democratic Party is fielding the most ethnically diverse choice of candidates assembled together since the American experience began. Why has the Republican Party resisted support of a candidate of color or a woman for the highest office in the land?

Nikki said...

I think I can answer the question Reverend......because we disagree with their policies. period. This idea that conservatives don't support people of color or women is absurd. Why is it people of color don't support Condaleeza Rice and Colin Powell? Democrats do not have a monopoly on civil rights I don't buy it and quite frankly I am tired of the established policing of civil rights leaders demonizing conservatives. i wouldn't vote for Hillary or Obama based on their records and their policies and I a bigot or a sexist?
Nikki

Muslims Against Sharia said...

Flashback: Giuliani to Arafat: "Take a hike!"

Source: http://muslimsagainstsharia.blogspot.com/2008/01/picture-is-worth-thousand-words.html

Reverend said...

You missed me on that one Nikki. No matter what a person of color's political leanings, it is foolish lionize one party and completely demonize the other. Perhaps my question could have been better phrased in the following manner: Why hasn't the Republic party ever thrown meaningful support behind a non-white presidential candidate?

Please write back. The Reverend.

Nikki said...

Hey Reverend.....my bad, I misinterpreted the question. I think the republican party would have thrown more than meaningful support behind Colin Powell or Condaleeza Rice. I would have supported Colin Powell over the conservative candidates in place right now and that includes Mitt Romney who shares the same religion as myself. Alan Keyes doesn't count he is too extreme and at times seems kookoo. I am not black but coming out of the closet for black conservatives is not easy. Colin Powell was called an uncle tom by plenty in black leadership not to mention prominent black celebrities. President Bush gets no credit for the most diverse cabinet in history. I like Barack Obama very much but I can't support him he is too far left for me, but I find him to be very honest and inspiring. However he is not close enough to my philosophy for me to cross over and support him. Hillary is another story. As a conservative she doesn't represent me at all. I do think Ron Paul supporters could support Obama because of his stance on the war and these supporters are typically white. Perhaps the republican party needs more people of color and should certainly court them, but aren't they demonized for outing their conservatives views?
Nikki

Anthony Palmer said...

Nikki and Reverend,

In the case of Colin Powell, he talked about possibly running in 1996, but was warned by conservative groups that they would not support his candidacy. In Powell's case, I am not sure if this resentment was because of his race or if it was because of his ideology. Powell is a moderate, and there simply isn't room for moderates in the GOP. Having said that, I think he would have been a far more attractive candidate than the eventual party nominee (Bob Dole). Oh, and even today, Blacks still highly respect him.

And Condoleeza Rice is probably the single most popular person in the Bush administration right now and has remained largely untainted by his unpopularity. I think she'd be able to draw more Black support than what Nikki seems to give her credit for. Some have even speculated that she might be a good vice presidential pick and the media have asked her several times about her presidential ambitions.

It is not fair to use blanket statements like "we don't agree with their policies" because Blacks and Black politicians are not all the same. There is a definite split among Blacks into roughly three camps: 1) the old guard civil-rights era firebrands that Nikki is probably thinking of (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Louis Farrakhan), 2) the rare conservatives that seem almost hostile towards their own race with their rhetoric and receive the most blowback from other Blacks (Clarence Thomas, Armstrong Williams), and 3) a new generation of more moderate and more pragmatic leaders with broader electoral appeal. Most Americans are only familiar with Group 1, and that's where Clinton was trying to place Obama before the South Carolina primary even though he's more in Group 3.

When Republicans talk about their inclusivity (e.g., Bush's cabinet), they usually cite people in Group 2. However, these Group 2 types come across to Blacks in Group 1 the same way Blacks in Group 1 come across to non-liberal Whites in general. So that's why it seems there's such a gulf between the races and parties. They are openly hostile towards each other.

Group 3 is the group nobody hears much about, and it is the group where I think most Blacks are even though their elected representatives may be in Group 1. These are people like Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, Artur Davis of Alabama, and Deval Patrick of Massachussetts. There's a lot about conservatism and moderateness (?) that makes sense, but because Republicans don't come out strongly enough against those in their own party who disparage others for making insensitive remarks, these Black voters don't feel they are welcome in the GOP.

I also think many Republicans are reticent about throwing their support behind a Black candidate, especially publicly. Notice how Nikki said "coming out of the closet for Black conservatives is not easy." Why should it not be easy? Blacks vote for Whites all the time, partly because they usually have no choice.

People tend not to vote against their self-interests, and many White Republicans simply are uncomfortable with entrusting the reins of government to Blacks because even though the Black candidate may be in Group 2 (listed earlier), there's a fear either based on their own silent racism OR a mental block that reminds them too much of Group 1. So there's a perceived threat involved, I think.

There are no Black Republicans in Congress. None. Zippo. Zero. Rep. JC Watts of Oklahoma was the last one and he retired. A Black Republican will have to win over the support of racially progressive White Republicans and beat a Democrat (of any race) that is likely going to enter an election with a larger base of minority support. That's a tough road to travel, which would explain why there are no Black Republicans in Congress. Their numbers are too small and their electoral paths are too difficult, especially given the gerrymandered districts that promote Group 1 Blacks and the perception of Group 2 Whites. It's simply easier for Whites to support Whites. Think of the cases of Bradley in California and Wilder in Virginia.

It may be ideology, but it may also be bias. Nikki is right in that neither party has a monopoly on civil rights. However, as long as the GOP continues to embrace people like Jesse Helms and Conrad Burns and voters keep supporting them, Blacks will stay away from the GOP and it will make it less likely for them to run for office under the Republican banner. And they would be more pessimistic about their chances as well.

The GOP seriously needs to reconsider its voter outreach efforts because the fact that 90% of Blacks vote Democratic should be an outright embarrassment. It's not because Blacks like Democrats. It's because the GOP doesn't seem to try very hard to earn their votes. Why they don't try as hard would be a good topic for further study.

Reverend said...

Mr. Palmer, I want to thank you so much for such a powerful and insightful answer to my question. I really appreciate your time. One more question: Who is your pick for the upcoming presidential election?

Anthony Palmer said...

Reverend,

My candidate was Joe Biden, but he didn't survive Iowa. Now that he and my second choice (Chris Dodd) are gone, I've kinda been left twisting in the wind. I liked Biden and Dodd because I thought they were the most competent, best tested candidates out there of any party. I am not looking to be inspired in this election, which explains why I'm not an Obama-maniac. The Christian conservative agenda does not sit well with me and rhetoric about changing the Constitution so that it matches God's word frightens me, so I'm not in Huckabee's camp either. McCain is probably the best qualified candidate remaining and has a bit of pragmatism, but I strongly disagree with his Iraq policy and am not interested in watching the US step into another war. Clinton would be a competent president, but I would really like to move on from that era. Amazingly, I probably agree with Romney more than any other candidate, but I don't trust him and I think he has no core beliefs.

I really just want someone who knows how to make the trains run on time.

Knowing all of this, I guess I lean Obama simply because of what he's not. He's more liberal than what I'd like (especially on illegal immigration), but at least he's not polarizing and seems to be more in touch with regular people than the other candidates. I think I'd take him over McCain or Romney, but I don't know how enthusiastic I'd be about it.

I hope Lou Dobbs decides to throw his hat in the race. I'd vote for him in a heartbeat.

Anonymous said...

In an increasingly diverse America, why are people of color so rarely seen on the Sunday morning political forums? I do not believe that I have ever seen an Asian or Latino person featured as a regular on one of these shows.
Have I missed something? If not, why does this happen?

Anthony Palmer said...

Anonymous,

I think the networks have been a bit more progressive in their hiring policies, particularly on cable. CNN and MSNBC in particular both have very diverse political teams in terms of women and Blacks . The only Asian political correspondent/pundit I can think of, however, is Jeannie Ohm for MSNBC. I can't think of any Latinos--at least not ones who do strictly politics. (The Latino regulars I do see are usually guests who are talking about illegal immigration on Lou Dobbs' show.)

I don't think this lack of representation is attributable to racism. However, I do believe it is due to 1) a comparative lack of people of color who are interested in journalism, and 2) an even greater lack of POC who are interested in covering politics. That's why the networks try so hard to recruit them.

As for the Sunday morning talk shows, they are generally hosted by the most senior political staffers at the networks (Russert, Schieffer, Stephanopholous, Wallace), all of whom are White males. There's nothing wrong with that.

But these shows tend to focus on the heavy hitters and bring in their A-team of pundits. The only POC I regularly see on those shows are Donna Brazille, Eugene Robinson, and occasionally Rep. Maxine Waters, and they're all Black. I don't think racial hostility is to blame for it though. With time comes experience and seniority.

Also, a lot of the guests on those shows are presidential historians, former White House staffers, people from think tanks, and even elected officials themselves. There simply aren't many POC who fall into those categories. But that's slowly changing. And remember, why would Tim Russert spend 15 minutes interviewing someone who is not particularly newsworthy or influential? That's why we commonly see Doris Kearns Goodwin, Charles Krauthammer, and Peggy Noonan every Sunday.

Regarding elected officials, there are very, very few governors and senators who are not White. Most POC are congressional representatives, but there are 435 of them, and some of them are more influential or more worth covering than others. So then who do you invite?

To me, the best way to increase minority representation on these shows is to become a mover and shaker yourself and generate your own coverage, or join these media organizations and work your way up the ladder. Harold Ford seems to be a rising star on MSNBC, Juan Williams is a regular on FNC, and Amy Holmes has potential at CNN.

In short, I think it's more an issue of small numbers than closed doors.

Anyway, I would love to get a job on one of the networks as a pundit, so maybe I'll see you on the set in 5 or 10 years. Good luck!