The Best Candidate in a Losing Effort

 

Last October in The Transom, I wrote a short observation on why I thought President Obama would be reelected. My essential thesis was that none of the candidates were strong enough (at the time, the national polls had Romney/Cain/Perry in the lead); that Obama’s standing in swing states was strengthening; that the economy, while not mounting a huge comeback, would avoid another major downturn despite Europe’s travails; and that Independents who had soured on Obama would slowly come back to the fold. I later added one more point: that a rebuke within the Supreme Court decision this Spring against the individual mandate would actually help Obama in November by deflating some of the opposition to one of the worst aspects of his signature domestic policy. I gave him 60-40 odds of victory.

At the time, this was a more pessimistic view to take – I had many subscribers write me in disagreement, and several other responses online for why I was wrong. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this is a possible, even likely, result in November. It raises a question, which I’d ask you all to consider today: if Republicans are going to mount a losing effort for the presidency in 2012, who would be the best person to do it with?

How you answer may depend a lot on what you want the party to look like after November. Will it be one that is more conservative? More pragmatic? What lessons do you want it to take from this experience? But the more prominent one in my mind is: who, in a losing effort, would do the most to ensure the advance of the election of those who favor fiscal sanity and human liberty in the Senate and the House?

This is hard question to answer. On the one hand, I’m mindful of what David Frum outlined around the same time – his four scenarios for the election’s outcome were, in order of his preference:

  1. Mitt Romney is nominated, Romney is elected (his favored outcome)
  2. A tea party Republican is nominated and loses (a “tragic waste”)
  3. A tea party Republican is nominated and wins (a “formula for crisis”)
  4. Romney is nominated, Romney loses (“ugly, ominous possibilities”)

I rarely agree with David Frum, but his analysis here strikes me as correct – though I would use conservative, rather than tea party, to describe the backing for the alternative not Romney candidate (tea party support is a smaller group with a loud voice). The most likely outcome of the primary now appears to be a mortally wounded Romney stumbling into the jaws of the Obama machine having been rendered, by his own hand for the most part, an unacceptable candidate to many Independents and with sinking support in key states. A rebound is not impossible but seems unlikely.

Yet that’s not the only option for Republicans. They could also choose to nominate Rick Santorum – who certainly is surprising me for his ability to catch hold in the Midwest in particular with an organization made up of duct tape and bits of twine; or, less likely, Newt Gingrich; or even less likely, a brokered convention candidate (which is still more likely than the winless Ron Paul).

10470237-large.jpgThe argument for losing with Romney is a simple one: he’ll spend his own money more than any other candidate, letting donor support migrate down to the states (which it may be doing already), and he’ll build an organization on a national scale and compete everywhere. For Santorum, the argument is less strong – it probably comes down to the idea that he’d perform the best in Midwestern states, which include key Senate elections in Wisconsin, Missouri, and Michigan. Throughout his career and even during this race, Gingrich has stressed the importance of team-building and getting the right Senators elected – the argument for him would be that even with a divisive individual at the top of the ticket, this emphasis on presenting a team to the people united around a few popular ideas would benefit legislative elections as it did with the Contract with America.

120118_POL_gingrichSC.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large.jpgI’m honestly not sure who would be better to lose with when it comes to the Senate. But I do have a stronger opinion about what would happen in the intra-Republican blame game after a loss. A loss by Gingrich would be blamed on foolish tea partiers and conservatives who fell in love with the idea of him bringing the oratorical sledgehammer down on Barack Obama during a debate. A loss by Santorum would be blamed on crazed bans of puritanical Bible-thumpers, evangelicals and Catholics who still run things on the right from the left’s perspective. And a loss by Romney – following as it does a loss by the last “electable” candidate, John McCain – would be blamed on the Republican establishment and moderates in the party, resulting in a backlash against the leadership hierarchy to a degree unfamiliar to the modern era of politics.

This begs another question: if conservatives would be blamed for losing with Gingrich, social conservatives particularly for losing with Santorum, and moderates for losing with Romney… which would be best for the conservative movement? Is it better to go into 2012 with a flawed candidate who nonetheless argues for conservative ideology? Or is it better to put forward someone whose loss will not be seen as a repudiation of conservatism?

One last point: Jonathan Last at the Weekly Standard and a few others have argued that if Romney again loses the nomination battle this year, he will return in 2016 to run again. I can’t see that happening, but if it was a likely outcome, maybe this is the real question conservatives need to answer: would it be better to get this Mitt Romney problem out of our system once and for all?

There are 51 comments.

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  1. Profile Photo Member
    @StuartCreque

    It may be an interesting thought exercise to imagine which candidate “loses best” for the GOP, but it is not the right way to pick a nominee for the actual election. What if our nominee wins? With a President as weak as Obama, that’s a risk we have to face. In my opinion, the benefits of losing with Romney are outweighed by the risks of winning with him.

    • #31
  2. Profile Photo Member
    @StuartCreque

    Ben, did you really title on of the segments in today’s The Transom “Romney’s Bracingly Stupid China Policy”? Do we really want to nominate the standard-bearer for that policy — and run the risk that he might actually win? Could a President Romney set off a protectionist cycle that could drive the world into outright economic depression?

    • #32
  3. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @AlbertArthur
    Ben Domenech

    Grendel

    Ben Domenech: …

    This begs another question:

    Aarrgh!  You aren’t begging the question.  Quite the opposite.  You are raising it.

    beg the question     a. to evade the issue     b. to assume the thing under examination as proved     c. to suggest that a question needs to be askedUsage The use of beg the question to mean that a question needs to be asked is considered by some people to be incorrect. (Collins English Dictionary) · 51 minutes ago

    My apologies. A slip in a 6 AM essay. · 28 minutes ago

    Actually, I think Ben is using it correctly. He’s assuming the Republican nominee will lose in November, then basing his entire argument on that assumption. He’s begging the question. It is not a forgone conclusion that the Republican nominee will lose. However, Ben, Peter Robinson, Jonah Goldberg, and many other are acting like it is already decided. This was the point of my arguments in Peter’s post about Romney’s stance on abortion. I think it’s not helpful for people like Ben, Peter, Jonah, and others, who have influence in Conservative circles, to be constantly talking down the field.

    • #33
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    @PaulARahe
    MJMack: Yawn. Ben doesn’t like Mitt. But he’s craven enough to cede defeat 8.5 months before the election and push a cynical gambit to encourage a purge of the squishes. This is what now passes for thoughtful discussion here? · 4 hours ago

    MJMack, Ben does not much like Mitt, and he may be wrong about the likelihood of our defeat. But he is not “craven” and his argument is not “a cynical gambit.” If you disagree with him, why don’t you attack his argument and not the man? The former would be honorable and perhaps helpful to the rest of us. The latter is . . . well, I am sure that you could find an appropriate word . . . and it helps no one.

    • #34
  5. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @AlbertArthur

    Paul, to state that Ben is giving up in defeat 8.5 months ahead of the election is not to attack Ben personally. It’s to point out that he just wrote a post about how Republicans are going to lose.

    • #35
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    @MJMack

    The notion that moderates are a problem to be gotten out of the system of conservative politics, meaning lets purge the squishes now so we don’t have to deal with them again later, is simply a foolish and immature perspective. Moderates are an essential and vital key to a winning coalition and that Mr. Domenech doesn’t grasp that and would hope to preemptively argue that they are the reason for Republican failure eight and a half months from now is simply defeatist, myopic and unworthy of someone who would have themselves seen as a serious political analyst and thinker. Small tents don’t win, and losers don’t control anything. The conservatives need to embrace the concept of a coalition and be willing to accept and promote politicians who can win in blue states and force democrats to play defense.

    • #36
  7. Profile Photo Member
    @
    MJMack: Moderates are an essential and vital key to a winning coalition…  Small tents don’t win, and losers don’t control anything.  The conservatives need to embrace the concept of a coalition and be willing to accept and promote politicians who can win in blue states and force democrats to play defense. · 1 minute ago

    Yes, although in some years it does work to run conservatives in blue states (e.g., Toomey in PA), and we shouldn’t be doctrinaire – as many in the party have been – about only moderates being able to win elections.  We shouldn’t simply forfeit the West Coast and the Northeast, but my experience is that the trend has been rather the other way:  the party has more often refused to back real conservatives in places where they could win.  

    Also, the corollary to your conclusion is that the GOP should support conservatives in red/pink states, which the party has not done so well (Exhibit 1: Lindsay Graham; Exhibit 2: Sen. Kyl’s early endorsement of Crist; Exhibit 3: Richard Lugar; etc.).  

    • #37
  8. Profile Photo Inactive
    @FrozenChosen

    I think it’s waaay too early to be generating scenarios on what will happen come November – there is simply no way to know what will happen between now and then.

    This is what killed the GOP in 2008 – Mccain looked like a good nominee with the Iraq war front and center until suddenly the economic collapse became issue #1 and Mccain was about the most economically illiterate candidate you could have.

    What will be the driving issue this fall?  Looks like the economy but who knows?  There are definitely some advantages to waiting until the convention to pick a candidate, although I think you have to go with Romney or Santorum rather than one of the sideliners.

    How about we put them both on the ticket but don’t say who’s at the top until the convention?

    • #38
  9. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DougLee
    Paul A. Rahe: The polls will go every which way between now and November, but I predict that we will win and win big.

    Ben, I love you, but I’ve gotta go with Paul on this one.  Other than steeling yourself for the blow, I don’t see any point in defeatism.  Plus, I think that this is by far the weakest President in my lifetime; yes, he has the advantage of a shamelessly sycophantic media, but he rode that pony for all it was worth in 08, and McCain — a truly horrible candidate — still received a record 60 million votes.  And a sycophantic media won’t be worth as much as it was in 08.

    In 08, it was as if the GOP establishment, even McCain, wanted to lose.  Many in the GOP were as enthralled with Obama as Chris Matthews was.  Do you really think it’ll be the same this time?

    One last thought:  the prediction for this summer is $5/gal gasoline.  I rest my case.

    • #39
  10. Profile Photo Inactive
    @DougLee

    One more thing, Ben, I think your analysis of who it’s best to lose with is very interesting.  Given your reasoning, I’d go with Romney.  Also, I think he’s the best bet for winning.  IMHO, of course.  And Ann Coulter’s.

    • #40
  11. Profile Photo Inactive
    @SteveMacDonald

    Ben, 

    I live on the other side of the planet and am not really in touch with the pulse of public thought – but I have difficulty believing that the American public could be so monumentally stupid as to re-elect a spectacular failure like Obama. 

    I believe that our sole focus should be on who do we think has the ability to lead us to the best future. Given our dire, abysmal straights, I am not happy with any of them. I do believe however that this should be our sole consideration.

    With regards to foreign policy, I think our biggest strategic imperative is to convince the world that the USA is no longer able to be the world’s policeman. We simply no longer have the resources to spend over a trillion per year (DOD + TSA + intelligence etc) while other rich countries/entities spend almost nothing. Made sense in the 50s and 60s but not today.

    KT, I agree with Rome, Madrid and others. I am old enough to remember the same thing in major USA cities in the 60s. I will be surprised if we don’t see a repeat in our own country in coming years. 

    • #41
  12. Profile Photo Coolidge
    @AlbertArthur
    Albert Arthur

    Actually, I think Ben is using it correctly. He’s assuming the Republican nominee will lose in November, then basing his entire argument on that assumption. He’s begging the question. It is not a forgone conclusion that the Republican nominee will lose.  · 9 hours ago

    Well, I checked with my wife, who is a copy editor, and I was wrong. The sentence that Ben wrote was incorrect, as Grendel pointed out. Still, my point was that the whole post is based on a flawed assumption.

    Hotair.com linked to this post. So that’s great, I guess. Traffic for the site. Except that the part that they quoted contained the erroneous, “begs the question…”

    • #42
  13. Profile Photo Member
    @
    MJMack: Yawn. Ben doesn’t like Mitt. But he’s craven enough to cede defeat 8.5 months before the election and push a cynical gambit to encourage a purge of the squishes. This is what now passes for thoughtful discussion here? · 24 hours ago

    Watch the ad hominems, MJMack.  I have never seen Ben write anything that suggests he is personally craven.  Can one not believe that Republicans will probably lose?  I don’t agree with that assessment, but I wouldn’t assume it comes from cowardice.  (On the other hand, the refusal of certain GOP leaders – Reps. Boehner and Cantor, most notably –  to challenge Obama on critical questions, that is either folly or cowardice, and most likely both.)

    • #43
  14. Profile Photo Inactive
    @JohnMarzan

    If the tea party backed candidate beats romney in the primaries, but loses in a landslide to obama in the general, it’s over for the tea party movement. RIP Nov 6. 2012.

    • #44
  15. Profile Photo Member
    @StuartCreque
    John Marzan: If the tea party backed candidate beats romney in the primaries, but loses in a landslide to obama in the general, it’s over for the tea party movement. RIP Nov 6. 2012. · 6 minutes ago

    “The tea party backed candidate” – I believe that was Michelle Bachmann.  So the danger has passed.

    • #45
  16. Profile Photo Inactive
    @JohnMarzan

    who’s the more fiscally conservative candidate–santorum or romney? romney has romneycare and santorum is an anti-right to work, george w. bush big gov’t candidate without the organization or money.

    Stuart Creque

    John Marzan: If the tea party backed candidate beats romney in the primaries, but loses in a landslide to obama in the general, it’s over for the tea party movement. RIP Nov 6. 2012. · 6 minutes ago

    “The tea party backed candidate” – I believe that was Michelle Bachmann.  So the danger has passed. · 2 hours ago

    • #46
  17. Profile Photo Inactive
    @RonaldusMaximus
    Paul A. Rahe: Romney’s political career will also be over if he loses the Republican nomination. The only candidate still in the race who might be back in 2016 is Rick Santorum. For the others, it is the last hurrah. · 5 hours ago

    Amen to that and even Santorum and his big government is unpalatable to me. The fact is the GOP has wasted 2010 and offered up a bunch of candidates that don’t seem to fully grasp we’re going over a cliff.

    • #47
  18. Profile Photo Inactive
    @RonaldusMaximus
    Paul, you are more optimistic than I am, both about the mindset of the American people and the prospects for the conservative movement.

    I agree with Ben. I’m still dubious the American people are a conservative as we on the Right think or wish. Which is why I’d like a clear election with a small government conservative and a big government liberal starkly battling it out. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with both parties tripping over themselves trying to bargain with the middle, who wants its middle class welfare benefits without paying the taxes needed to pay for them.

    • #48
  19. Profile Photo Inactive
    @RonaldusMaximus
    John Hinderaker on how divorced from reality conservative activists are:

    Hinderaker should know something about being divorced from reality. He was a big Pawlenty supporter. How’d that go for ya, John?

    • #49
  20. Profile Photo Inactive
    @MJMack
     Leporello Watch the ad hominems… I have never seen Ben write anything that suggests he is … craven.

    I’m sorry, but the defeatism motivating his post, his fear of the “jaws of the Obama machine”, and his lack of faith moderates and independents can judge Obama’s performance fairly indicates to me a lack of spine and appetite for a tough fight. The sole purpose of this post was to preemptively scapegoat Romney and moderates for the defeat he’s already resigned to. That’s pessimistic, myopic, petty, not constructive and certainly far too premature.

    The stalwart thing, the thing to do if you truly want to put up a fierce fight to win, is promote and champion the causes and candidates you believe will serve those causes best, while relentlessly attacking those you want to defeat. The person we should want to defeat is Obama. Ben spends as much time bashing Romney on this site as he does Obama, if not more, and then has the temerity to fret over Romney being too weak to defeat the president.

    I don’t find it a thoughtful or respectable perspective and I won’t treat it as such.

    • #50
  21. Profile Photo Member
    @
    MJMack

     Leporello Watch the ad hominems… I have never seen Ben write anything that suggests he is … craven.

    I’m sorry, but the defeatism motivating his post, his fear of the “jaws of the Obama machine”, and his lack of faith moderates and independents can judge Obama’s performance fairly indicates to me a lack of spine and appetite for a tough fight. The sole purpose of this post was to preemptively scapegoat Romney and moderates for the defeat he’s already resigned to. That’s pessimistic, myopic, petty, not constructive and certainly far too premature.

    … Ben spends as much time bashing Romney on this site as he does Obama, if not more, and then has the temerity to fret over Romney being too weak to defeat the president.

    I don’t find it a thoughtful or respectable perspective and I won’t treat it as such. · Feb. 17 at 11:18am

    Edited on Feb. 17 at 11:19am

    We disagree, but I do appreciate the full response.  I am myself certainly against defeatism – heck, I worked for the losing side of the 2008 presidential race until the bitter end, so I’m anti-defeatist to the point of insanity. 

    • #51
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