The Contenders and the Clowns

Nate Silver published a piece on Friday in The New York Times that deserves attention. “In their book The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform,” he observes, “the political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller find that endorsements — not polls, fund-raising numbers or media hits — are the best early indicators of success in the presidential primaries.” Then, he points out that, by this standard, Mitt Romney is the front-runner, with Rick Perry a close second, with the other candidates “having little chance.”

This is, of course, the truth, but we really did not need to know who endorsed whom in order to know it, and my guess is that, in this stage of the contest, this would be the situation every time. There are contenders every cycle, and there are clowns – and there is rarely any doubt as to which is which.

The data Silver has collected is nonetheless interesting – for it shows that Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, and Michele Bachmann have thus far garnered no endorsements at all from any Senators, Congressmen, or Governors.

In the case of Herman Cain, this may not mean much. He is an unknown who has never himself served as a Senator, Congressman, or Governor. The rest, however, have done so – and in their years of service they have not earned the unabashed admiration of any of their colleagues. Put simply, there is no one in the Senate who thinks well enough of Santorum to endorse him; no one in the House who thinks well enough of either Bachmann, Paul, or Gingrich to endorse any of them; and no one in a gubernatorial chair who thinks well enough of Huntsman to endorse him. This is, I think, sobering. What it suggests is that not one of these individuals deserved to be up on the stage in the debate on Thursday night.

It is not hard to see why lack support. Gingrich is smart, but he blotted his copybook long ago, he remains erratic, and no one really wants him back. He might be useful in the cabinet; he is not presidential timber. Santorum is a joke. He has never held any executive office, and he lost his Senate seat by a margin of 18%. He is a might-have-been who became a has-been some time ago. He is utterly unqualified for consideration, and on Thursday night he made a fool of himself when he rose up in righteous anger to object to their being bi-national private health insurance for people who live along the Texas-Mexico border and do business on both sides. Ron Paul is a crank with a history of supporting third-party candidates. Jon Huntsman is distinguished only by his money and looks. And Michele Bachmann, who has also never held any executive position, is a loose cannon and a nasty piece of work with no friends in the Republican house delegation, who is best known for the speed with which she runs through and alienates staff. About the only thing that this crowd stars in is self-regard.

Of course, none of this would matter much were they not wasting our time at a crucial moment. The country is undergoing a crisis, and the 2012 election offers the possibility of a resolution. The Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee is bent on destroying this country as we know it and on refounding it on principles opposed to our own. The Republicans have not found a plausible candidate capable of restating the principles on which this country was founded and flourished, and the Republican National Committee makes us sit through debates dominated by figures for whom no elected official of any stature feels any enthusiasm at all.

I have no desire for the nominating process to be closed to those who are marginal. There may come a day when we really do need to turn to an outsider. But, at some point, it might make sense to exclude from the debates those who have not by that stage attracted an endorsement or two from Republicans in high office. Otherwise, the process of deliberation by which we choose our nominee will be short-circuited.

  1. Punumba!

     Gary Johnson?  Thoughts?

  2. Mel Foil

    Romney has a built-in advantage. Perry can do something stupid enough to shut off his money supply. But Romney can be as stupid as he wants, and not run out of money. If you have the money, you might be able to recover from a really stupid statement. If you don’t, you can’t.

  3. GreenCarder

    Your post seems to reflect the growing sense of disappointment a highly motivated GOP base is feeling the more we see of our potential nominees. Doubtless this sense was exacerbated by the hugely disappointing showing of Perry in the debate. With the stakes so high and the odds ostensibly so attractive, it amazes me how not just one or two but arguably all of the strongest Republican candidates have opted out. If now is not the time to run, when would be??

  4. Richard Young

    I think your description of the lesser candidates is a bit harsh on all counts.  But putting that aside, the media or sponsors of the debates decide the rules for inclusion and they must think it makes a better show from an entertainment aspect to include everyone but it does the country no good.  If you can’t drum up at least 10% in a national poll I would not have you on the stage.  Of course, the counter-argument is that no one will rise above the somnambulant national consciousness if they aren’t at least given the chance so perhaps that rule should be waived for the first two or three debates.  I thought the best forum so far was the one sponsored by Jim Demint.  All the candidates got to answer the same questions so there was a real chance to contrast and compare.  

  5. Viator

    If two money bombs and other rumblings are any indication there will be another entrant, a woman. Controversial would be an understatement. Disliked, feared, hated and despised by some she is also trusted and beloved by many. Consider almost any conventional wisdom meme about her and very likely the opposite is true. We all may imagine we are going to sit and watch the spectacle of someone who has been  the subject of a great three year propaganda campaign of personal destruction attempt to prevail during her existential moment. I expect the existential moment will really be ours, each of us individually and as a nation.

  6. Charles Mark

    In the absence of a flawless candidate, should the Republicans go for the tough guy, the holy guy, the flexible guy, the persuasive guy, the radical guy, the business guy,or the electric lady? Given the present choice I would lean persuasive in spite of the baggage.

  7. Nick Stuart

     It might make sense if selecting a nominee were the object of the debates.

    The media seems to be most interested in the horse race/freak show aspect of dragging everyone in front of the cameras every week or so, asking largely inane questions, and hoping for a gaff.

  8. Palaeologus
    Nick Stuart: The media seems to be most interested in the horse race/freak show aspect of dragging everyone in front of the cameras every week or so, asking largely inane questions, and hoping for a gaff. · Sep 24 at 4:56pm

    That’s our two party system. Dems provide the “free” bread, and our clowns perform at the circus.

  9. Jerry Carroll

    Cain at least is saying what he believes. Mitt is telling you what he thinks you want to hear. Perry is telling how they do things in Texas when that tight collar lets him. Newt’s a Gatling Gun of words. Bachmann acts and looks mad at times and like an opportunist at others. Santorum endorsed Snarlin’ Arlen Specter and lost his next run for office by 18 points, Huntsman looks like the credit manager at a dodgy car lot. And so on. People are waiting for a savior, but who is left in the cupboard? Ryan and Rubio don’t seem interested, Christie’s girth and health problems give one pause. Palin? There is something about her that rubs too many people the wrong way. What a historical irony it would be if the Republicans were unable to come up with a legitimate contender at a time when the incumbent was the weakest ever.

  10. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    GreenCarder: Your post seems to reflect the growing sense of disappointment a highly motivated GOP base is feeling the more we see of our potential nominees. Doubtless this sense was exacerbated by the hugely disappointing showing of Perry in the debate. With the stakes so high and the odds ostensibly so attractive, it amazes me how not just one or two but arguably all of the strongest Republican candidates have opted out. If now is not the time to run, when would be?? · Sep 24 at 4:38pm

    It is disheartening in the extreme. Surely, we have someone on the bench who is better than what we have seen.

  11. Western Chauvinist

    Drudge headline:  SHOCK: CAIN WINS FLA STRAW POLL.

    Rahe:  ”Of course, none of this would matter much were they not wasting our time at a crucial moment. The country is undergoing a crisis, and the 2012 election offers the possibility of a resolution.”

    I’m thinking even Perry and especially Romney are also wasting our time, endorsements aside.  Romney’s political opportunism in the video KP posted just sickens me and RomneyCare is unforgivable in this election cycle.  Unforgivable!  

    What is Romney thinking, even declaring a candidacy?!  It is an act of betrayal to his country at this critical juncture to put himself forward with this as his legislative achievement in his one lousy term as governor of one of the most left-wing states in the nation.  Can you tell?  I am not a fan.

    Desperation is setting in.  If Daniels or Ryan don’t step forward, I may go to work for Cain.  Perry better step it up if he expects to win more support.

     

  12. David Williamson
    Paul A. Rahe: There may come a day when we really do need to turn to an outsider. 

    Err, I think that day has come. As Mrs Palin has pointed out, this is gonna be an unconventional election. We are starting to see that with Mr Cain in FL – I hope.

  13. Jimmy Carter
    Paul A. Rahe

    It is disheartening in the extreme. Surely, we have someone on the bench who is better than what we have seen. · Sep 24 at 5:36pm

    Well, for the time being, let’s play the hand We’re dealt.

  14. liberal jim
    Paul A. Rahe

    liberal jim: 

    On that last point, you are surely wrong. The electoral college was designed to put the President above partisanship. · Sep 24 at 6:24pm

    The debates and whether a form of ordination is required to compete in them has nothing to do with the electoral college.  Today’s cable TV and internet is comparable to the printing press of our founders day.  I don’t recall anything requiring party ordination prior to access to the press.

  15. liberal jim

    No one should be allowed to compete unless at least a few party bosses approve.  Said like a true Republican.  In case you have not noticed things are changing.  If you feel your precious time is being wasted don’t listen and stop writing about the candidates and the process.  There have always been those who sit in ivory towers and complain about those who have actually entered the arena.   But now some seem to have moved past that and are complaining about the arena itself.  Democracy is a messy business, but I much prefer it to selection by academia or political bosses and take comfort in knowing it will in time produce superior results.  Sometimes todays clowns turn into tomorrow’s contenders.  This might be closer to what our founders had in mind than what you would like.

  16. Western Chauvinist

    I remember someone saying the reason McCain won the nod in 2008 was he was the first to screw up and therefore had time to recover before the rest.  Perry had better be playing the same game of Russian Roulette as successfully or Romney really will be “the next guy” in a year when we can little afford Democrat-lite.

    /scrambling for a brown paper bag to breathe into…

  17. liberal jim
    Paul A. Rahe

    liberal jim: 

    It is not my precious time. It is the country’s precious time. We need to vet the real contenders and not waste our attention on clowns with no chance of getting the nomination. A Congressman who commands no respect in Congress has no business running. · Sep 24 at 6:27pm

    You are not serious.  Your contenders are either people with money or people who have access to people with money.  Giving a stage to people who would not be able to buy the access is a good thing.  The contenders poor poll performance against what you term “clowns”  tells more about them and their appeal to voters than any controlled debate show.  What you see operating is a semi-free market of ideas.  You are proposing wage and price controls.   

  18. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Western Chauvinist: Drudge headline:  SHOCK: CAIN WINS FLA STRAW POLL.

    Rahe:  ”Of course, none of this would matter much were they not wasting our time at a crucial moment. The country is undergoing a crisis, and the 2012 election offers the possibility of a resolution.”

    I’m thinking even Perry and especially Romney are also wasting our time, endorsements aside.  Romney’s political opportunism in the video KP posted just sickens me and RomneyCare is unforgivable in this election cycle.  Unforgivable!  

    What is Romney thinking, even declaring a candidacy?!  It is an act of betrayal to his country at this critical juncture to put himself forward with this as his legislative achievement in his one lousy term as governor of one of the most left-wing states in the nation.  Can you tell?  I am not a fan.

    Desperation is setting in.  If Daniels or Ryan don’t step forward, I may go to work for Cain.  Perry better step it up if he expects to win more support.

      · Sep 24 at 5:39pm

    I would like to disagree. I cannot.

  19. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    liberal jim: No one should be allowed to compete unless at least a few party bosses approve.  Said like a true Republican.  In case you have not noticed things are changing.  If you feel your precious time is being wasted don’t listen and stop writing about the candidates and the process.  There have always been those who sit in ivory towers and complain about those who have actually entered the arena.   But now some seem to have moved past that and are complaining about the arena itself.  Democracy is a messy business, but I much prefer it to selection by academia or political bosses and take comfort in knowing it will in time produce superior results.  Sometimes todays clowns turn into tomorrow’s contenders.  This might be closer to what our founders had in mind than what you would like. · Sep 24 at 5:58pm

    On that last point, you are surely wrong. The electoral college was designed to put the President above partisanship.

  20. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    liberal jim: No one should be allowed to compete unless at least a few party bosses approve.  Said like a true Republican.  In case you have not noticed things are changing.  If you feel your precious time is being wasted don’t listen and stop writing about the candidates and the process.  . · Sep 24 at 5:58pm

    It is not my precious time. It is the country’s precious time. We need to vet the real contenders and not waste our attention on clowns with no chance of getting the nomination. A Congressman who commands no respect in Congress has no business running.

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