The Unfied Theory of the GOP Primary

This is something that’s been bouncing around in my head for a while. In the past I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to the GOP primaries. I’m aware of what goes on, yes, but I never really focused on them before. But this time by it really kept my attention. Of course, that’s all over now and the pick is made for better or worse. There’s an interesting pattern that emerged, however, and I’ve been trying to correlate all of it into a sensible equation. I think I’ve found it though. I’m sure others have said similarly of course, but I’m trying to apply it to the long term situation facing the GOP. 

But here’s the equation: the GOP shot themselves in the foot by offering more popular options than their preferred option, and were taken completely by surprise that that was the case.

When the processes for selection for the 2012 election began in mid/late 2011, the GOP’s plan was to put forward an obvious candidate. By that I mean to say that they wanted to have a candidate that would, most importantly, do well in the general election: someone that looks centrist and, therefore, attractive to independents and moderates. This is of course a sensible plan: they want to try to snipe Obama’s independent voters who have been swayed in large part by his pure likeability by offering someone with both likeability and a centrist track record. And Romney seems like a great choice. As governor of Massachusetts he pushed a centrist and sometimes even left leaning set of policies like Romneycare. He came out of the 2008 process looking like a reasonably strong candidate, just not strong enough at the time. And of course his experience in business may have helped in the face of the increasingly problematic economy. 

But it’s hard to just have one non-incumbent candidate in a primary, so they had to set up a field that makes him look like the obvious choice. And that’s the trick of the primaries, you want someone to appeal to the base for the primaries (as in, hard right wing) and to the centrists in the general election. So a pack of somewhat-known others, some with HUGE electability problems, to make sure the base recognizes that Romney has the best chance of beating Obama come November.

Then came the backfire. The base lit up with excitement for some of these hard-right, probably unelectable candidates. Rick Perry, who kept on making moronic statement after moronic statement, was never held in check by what should have been an experienced campaign team. Herman Cain was next with the popularity surge, but died as soon as the scandals cropped up, which ANY campaign manager should have known about and been prepared to address. Newt Gingrich, veteran politician but with a fucking lot of baggage, same situation: he just wasn’t prepared to handle the dredging up of his past. And finally it came down to Rick Santorum, a dude with so many electability issues I doubt I’d be able to keep it under my text limit per post. But the base faithfully went from one to the next, and only at the bitter end after most had been eliminated one way or another, did they settle on voting for Romney. So what the hell happened?

That’s the real question of this theory. How did it get to that? How was a whole suite of candidates that saw genuinely strong support knocked out in favor of such a mediocre, unpopular middle option? The best way I can explain it is that they were expected to lose. They were unfunded by the party, they weren’t supported from the get go in building real campaign teams. The money was meant for Romney all along. With the candidates unprepared, when the base was hugely supportive of them, the GOP was caught completely flatfooted and had to scramble to either 1) go and support them too and try to assemble a campaign for them, and/or 2) browbeat the base into recognizing Romney as the proper option.

That’s what I think happened, but that’s not where this whole thing ends. It’s still going on, primarily due to number 2 above. You see, the browbeating got a little vicious in the end. Although the voters went to the primaries to suggest their candidate, the real decision comes at the convention when all the delegates meet, and the delegates truly decide. After the state by state voting, though, something happened. Ron Paul, agent provocateur and darling of the libertarian internet faction, had supporters quietly follow behind the elections and talk to delegates. “Romney isn’t really up to your standards, is he?” they asked. “You can still change your vote at the convention.” And so a side story arose whereby a lot of individual delegates were expected to cast votes for Ron Paul instead. Although he didn’t have the votes to win it, it would have caused quite a stir had they been allowed to do so. They weren’t. That caused a bigger stir.

The delegation for Maine was intending to do this, but they were removed by the GOP at the last minute, and “loyal” delegates were seated instead, who voted for Romney. This is a big deal for a few reasons, but mostly because it shows that the GOP is starting to try to overwhelm its base, or at least parts of it. It also raises questions about the party’s internal processes and procedures: do the people control the party, or does the party control it? It’s alienated a hell of a lot of voters, and interest in third-party candidate Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) has seen a lot of support. For what it’s worth, Green Party candidate Jill Stein has been as well. The end result of all of this is that now Romney looks like the only candidate available, and enthusiasm is extremely weak. Sound familiar? Two words: Kerry, 2004. He doesn’t look like a candidate anyone’s excited to see anymore.  

And that’s the fascinating rabbit hole I’m eager to look down. Chances are good that Romney can’t scrape a victory at this point, but what of 2016? Will there be more infighting between the party and its disparate, more right-wing base? Will there be a real split from Tea Party supporters? It’s hard to say, but it’s probably safe to assume it’s closer now than it has been in a very long time.

I like politics. I increasingly find myself totally unconcerned with who’s elected, and much more interested in how they fuck it up in the process. Such a huge array of little mistakes adding up to massive problems, it’s like some kind of wonderful psychological chaos theory. Or Psychohistory, as Isaac Asimov might have suggested.