Doctor Cleveland's picture

    No Love in Iowa, No Hope in Iowa

    The obvious stories from the Iowa caucuses are that 1) Mitt Romney ended up tied with the long-long-long-shot Rick Santorum, with Ron Paul hot on their heels and 2) Romney still has exactly the same crappy vote totals he had four years ago. But there's an even more important story: the Republican turnout was pretty much exactly what it was four years ago, when the Republican electorate was depressed and demoralized. In fact, when you factor out the independents and caucus-night party-switchers, fewer Republicans showed up to vote last night than in 2008, when their enthusiasm was at its lowest ebb.

    All the drama and mayhem of the GOP campaign didn't bring more people to the polls. And the closeness of the race isn't helping. When Clinton and Obama went neck-and-neck for months in 2008, it hurt a lot of feelings in the blogosphere but it ended up helping the party, not only because the winning candidate had to build a serious ground organization during the primaries, but because it brought a lot of people to the polls. But Clinton and Obama were in a tight race because they were two strong candidates, with passionate followers. It was like a Celtics-Lakers championship match. The 2012 Republican candidates are a bunch of folks who can't get to 30% against each other's weak opposition. That doesn't help anything.

    The Republicans have been counting on an enthusiasm gap to beat Obama. But you don't enthusiasm-gap your opponent without any enthusiasm. Not only are the Republicans saddled with Romney's curiously damp anti-charisma and the off-putting antics of his rivals, but they're on the verge of running the most purely negative primary campaign in modern history. The main rationale for every contender's candidacy is that he's not one of the other guys. It's Not Romney vs. Not Romney vs. Admittedly Romney for the chance to run as Not Obama. No one's got a strong positive case to make. At least, no one's making it.

    Two bonus factors will make the negativity worse. One is Newt Gingrich, who is one of the great spite-driven mudslingers of our day and who, wait for it, feels he has been hit too hard by Mitt Romney and wants revenge. That's a recipe for trouble right there. An even bigger factor is that this is the first primary to come after Citizens United opened the door for unlimited outside money, and that money is primarily going to come in carpet-bombing waves of attack ads. An unprecedented amount of money is about to be poured into knocking the Republican candidates down, in a scorched-earth, last-creep-standing electoral scenario. The winner gets the scorched earth, a bunch of voters who've had their enthusiasm relentlessly squeezed out of them, and the lead of a party that's never liked him. Welcome to the enthusiasm gap.



    This seems to be pretty much right on as far I can tell.

    Some time ago one pundit was pondering a two-way showdown between Romney and Palin, back in the day when she was the shining star of the tea party.  He made mention that if this was to occur it would reveal a fracture in the party that has been growing between the "country club" Republicans and "tea party" Republicans (the right wing Christians are scattered throughout these two groups).  In the past this fracture was able to be patched up, everybody getting in line behind the "inevitable" winner. 

    That might still happen - if Romney has a strong showing in SC and FL, although it might have to wait until Super Tuesday.  But it does seem this time around there is more unwillingness to fall into line.  In other words, in an internal battle for heart and soul of the Republican Party before they turn their attention to go to restore the heart and soul of the country. 

    Yet just as this fracture has occurred there seems to be no real candidate to galvanize the tea party folks, as they move towards Paul, Newt and now Santorum - the current Palins if you will.  Like Palin they seem to have limited appeal across the span of the base.  Even still the willingness to speak ill of another Republican, breaking Reagan's eleventh commandment, is strong.  They have become more like Democrats in this regard.

    So one might see the antiRomney sentiment as largely or partly anti-business-as-usual.  Romney represents the same old game that Obama (and Boehner et al.) is playing.  In this regard, the right is feeling toward Mitt as the left is feeling about Obama. 

    So if Mitt wins the nomination, the enthusiasm is not going to be an intense - the fervor to oust Obama will be tempered with the feeling that what they will get will be only slightly better than Obama. 


    The great GOP schism has been long-predicted but never materialized. I think the enthusiasm gap that the Doctor diagnosed actually makes such a schism less likely. Two galvanizing but polarized leaders might inspire their followers to go to war, but no one is going to war for any of these guys (except may Paul, but his army is too small).

    The only galvanizing force on the Republican side is contempt for Obama, which is sufficient motivation for the right to keep the hatchet buried.

    The only twist I would add is that the low enthusiasm allows for the more passionate ones to have a greater numerical advantage - the schism will only really start to show if Romney loses both SC and FL.  There might be panic within Party HQ and their attempts to push Romney on unwilling constituents will amp up the resistance, and this will bring out anti-Romneys in the establishment.

    This is the part we haven't seen are the established politicians fuel the schism.  Obama really took off a serious threat to Hillary in the long haul when Ted Kennedy endorsed him.  It split the party into two sides.  Right now the Republicans as a whole are either behind Romney (Chris Christie et al.) or standing on the sidelines.  Once politicians see their own constituents leaning away from Romney and he comes out of FL wounded, those who are more tea party leaning will start endorsing other candidates.

    Panic won't set in until after Super Tuesday. They have a proportional delegate target and an expectation of being behind until that point. Team Romney has been vocally advertising the strategy since skipping Ames because of how he got clowned in the areas after so much effort last time. The only reason he came into Iowa at all was to drive up Perry's negatives ... he didn't show up in earnest until his numbers jumped like crazy and he was assured that the same embarrassment from last time didn't happen (amazingly Obamalike, that).

    A close race goes to the party insiders at the convention anyhow because of all the "super delegates" built in to the system, so they aren't going to nuke anything from the establishment side (beyond running a boatload of negative ads and stuff) until the cameras are off and they get down into the precinct representative battles. That's how they roll. Nevada and Idaho both had major internal shakeups from the fallout last cycle - so it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    The scenario you paint is based on the premise that the party insiders remain unified.  If they do, the likelihood that Mitt loses in the end is very small indeed.  But what I am describing in the comment above is that the pressures from below - tea party and otherwise - creates a split amongst the insiders between those supporting Mitt and those who support some other candidate.

    What if Santorum does reasonably well in NH and Senator DeMint comes out and endorses Rick? (and we know that call has already been made by the Rick camp) A crack suddenly appears in the unified front of the insiders.  The media's coverage on such an endorsement would be more on what it means to Mitt rather than Santorum.  The media like to crown the inevitable candidate - at the same time it loves it when the inevitable candidates falls or seems about to fall. 

    It wouldn't be a full blown crisis, but the insiders wouldn't shrug it off either. 

    If a non-Mitt loses both SC and FL, it will matter very little that Team Romney has been vocally advertising the strategy of being behind until Super Tuesday. In some ways it can be seen as a modified Giuliani strategy - not as bad, but it really doesn't help going into any election day with the aura of a loser. 

    Let's remember while he won in Iowa, he didn't get any more support than he did in 2008.  He received only 15% in SC in 2008.  If he ends up doing only a little better than that, no one is going to ignore it because that was part of the "strategy."

    If it goes to the convention, it will only be because insiders like DeMint have abandoned Mitt.  If they don't, then he'll probably eek out a win at the very least. 

    And while they might do their thing at the convention with the cameras off should it make to the convention, this will only make things worse.  A key driver, if not the primary driver, for it reaching the convention will because the lower eschelons of the party have revolted against the establishment's choice.  Moving it behind closed doors so even Fox News can't see what is going on will only intensify the revolt - especially if Romney emerges after the white smoke is seen coming from the chimney.

    That insider split already happened. This is the shake out.

    In order for a DeMint endorsement to cause a real serious backlash, a faction would have to find Santorum brutally less-acceptable than Newt. Three months ago Newt was at 10. And even in the most recent polling, like 60% plus were willing to change their minds. In that situation, I don't see how DeMint endorsing Rick (who has less built-in hard negatives) causes any big drama - other than media impact and candidate grumping. That red state is a world away from my red state ... so who knows, but I'm just not seeing it.

    I think Santorum brings down Romney  and Paul a bit in NH and Gingrich and Paul a bit in SC. Santorum is 54. He's not trying to end his career - he wants up the ladder. His delegates are Romney's when the game hits a point ... with a flourish.

    I don't know about auras of a loser. I think both Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have been around the block enough times to have a strategy that assumes a need to win the election (or achieve their performance objectives) on a back foot and get results under the worst media narrative possible. Both have in place the one thing that such an aura really does negatively impact - fundraising and cash. Romney's plan seemed solid to me, and still does. So far he's ahead on his numbers (too soon to call that anything significant - but it's a start). Gingrich didn't even play in NH ... leaving Romney with Paul, Huntsman and Santorum. If Gingrich had done what folks thought he would in Iowa, he'd be there and Santorum would be out or making a bee-line to SC.

    And while they might do their thing at the convention with the cameras off should it make to the convention, this will only make things worse.

    That's not what I was talking about. It happens in a series of meetings and by-election things. Each state is a bit different but basically they next have to elect the people who are going to elect the people who elect the delegates that go to the convention or some such thing ... the deep game. How that shakes out is going to determine unity going forward.

    But. The GOP - like the Democrats - is counting on fear of the other side to drive reluctant voters to the polls anyhow, so any actual enthusiasm on *either* side is just gravy.

    Not to go around and around here, but DeMint in and of himself isn't what will cause the big drama, it is if a sizeable number of significant insiders start to endorse candidates not named Romney.  But it takes those first endorsements to get the ball rolling.

    It is unlikely to happen before Super Tuesday, but who knows.  If Romney can't take and begins to underperforms in the next contests (Nevada, Maine, Colorado/Minnesota/Missouri, Arizona/Michigan, and Washington are between Florida and Super Tuesday (in that order))  In 2008, Mitt won Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, came in second in Arizona, and placed third in Missouri and Washington.  

    There is of course splits in every - but not all splits are created equal. In the past, the GOP has been very good of keeping it out of the limelight until the decision is a done deal.  The question is whether that can happen this year.

    And I think you put to much emphasis on Santorum needing to kowtow to the Party.  If he gets a head of steam, then it becomes questionable as to who is wagging who.  It is possible Santorum believes that he can be successful without the backing of the insiders as he was in Iowa (that it wasn't a question of him just being the last one standing).  If he gets some of big time backers -- one of the reason people like DeMint are important -- then he can be just like a Ron Paul.  Or become a media person like Huck.  So he may just keep at it, and not play ball with Romney. 

    The problem for Romney with loser aura is that his support he does have appears to be lukewarm.  All that money and all that campaigning - he's been at it since Obama took office - and he can't get any momentum, no surge.  In other words, support that won't stick with him through thick and thin (he seems like a loser), and undecideds who aren't going to gravitate him when he appears to be a loser when they definitely haven't come to his side when he was portrayed as the inevitable winner (see Clinton's numbers when she was thought to be the inevitable one). 

    Nevada is a caucus and the dynamics that entails.  If Newt is coming off a SC/FL win, this could upset Romney dominance in the state he showed in 2008.  Again if he does worse than the 51% he received in 2008, then....

    Who knows...

    Each state is a bit different but basically they next have to elect the people who are going to elect the people who elect the delegates that go to the convention or some such thing ... the deep game. How that shakes out is going to determine unity going forward.

    And if there is bad blood created during the deep game and there always is, and things are not settled as to who the nominee is by the time they reach Tampa, then that bad blood will spill into arena....

    All of Romney's money won't change that dynamic.  It still appears Romney has to convince a third of the 75% of the party that hasn't come over to him - if he can't....No presidential candidate is going to drop out when there is still a sliver of light on the horizon and Santorum and Newt are no different.  Ron definitely will be there for the long haul. 

    Like I said splits are not created equal.

    Another possible interpretation is that the casual republican base has decided that they are going to vote for whomever the party puts up against Obama no matter what, so why bother getting all worked up over someone just to have to get worked up over someone else in 6 months.

    When drama is stripped away, the most significant stakes are which party's insiders get a lion's share of the spoils for the next four years. As far as the party insiders go, they seem to be perfectly happy to run a basically null race between Romney and Obama with the "ZOMG! Tea Party!!!!" fear vs. the "ZOMG! Socialist Kenya-Muslin!!!" fear to drive people to the polls against the hated enemy.  Seems that's going to be how it shakes out.

    So, I'm not sure the traditional measure of enthusiasm is going to be the best to use in predicting turnout if that ends up the basic "ideological struggle" underpinning this race. That's not terribly uplifting. The GOP has given themselves a less complex terror. I'd say watch the strength of Obama's negatives with core Republican voters vs. the Tea Party's negatives in the Democratic electorate weighted against how closely the nominee is identified with the Tea Party in the Democratic electorate as an equally significant factor.

    I was terrified of Republicans long before Tea Party became a household name.  But, unlike the Paultards, PUMAs and Firebaggers, I actually remember the presidency of George W. Bush.

    They told me if I voted for McCain I'd get more war in Afghanistan, handouts for Wall Street and an increased surveillance state. I ignored them and voted for McCain, and that's what I got.

    Cute.  But you also got $800 billion in stimulus spending, the groundwork laid for universal healthcare, the first meaningful regulation of the financial industry in decades (attempting to undo the damage your hero, Bill Clinton, played a direct role in causing through evisceration of the regulations then in place,  BTW) and the end of the War in Iraq.

    Not to mention that everything you condemn Obama for is related to measures taken to clean up the historically catastrophic mess left by his predecessor, which was my point to begin with.  No president other than Obama has inherited a worse situation in modern times except for FDR.

    Again, I know you're just trying to be glib here, because you have an irrational animus towards this president.  But if you truly think the government's actions on any of the issues you claim to have voted on would have been more to your liking under a President McCain, you are delusional.  

    Speaking of Bill Clinton, Obama also (finally) repealed the DADT policy. I actually don't fault Clinton for that policy, as I think it was the best he could do at the time, and it got abused by the military when they ignored the "don't ask" proviso.

    Well, according to the firebagging left, it was gay activists who repealed DADT.  Obama had nothing to do with it.

    Newt is one tough junk-yard dog; that is a certainty.

    I still do not get this MSNBC line about how mean Mitt is per his PAC's.

    All the Pac did in the commercials was to point out how much of a junk-yard dog this prick really is!

    I have not heard one thing of value from any of the repub candidates except for Ron Paul who envisions one half of what I believe in and one half of what Hitler believed in!

    This repub debate is just a show as far as I am concerned; the corporations will win out!

    So in November we'll have a choice between the candidates that will work to preserve corporate power, policies that promote further erosion of of basic industries, dependence on unsustainable energy sources, maintenance of the our global military empire, expansion of the security state apparatus and erosion of civil rights. The main difference being one of them is going to pretend that's not what he really wants to do.


    It almost makes you want to vote for the delusional creationist goldbug.

    Are you talking about Bush or Gore? :-)

    Yeah, sure, and also Clinton and Bush I. And Reagan and Carter. Hmm...the last time we had a good paranoid delusional freak in the White House was Nixon, and in retrospect he doesn't seem so bad these days, except for the whole "it's not illegal if the president does it" thing. Which people were mad about at the time, but seems to have become the operating principle in the White House.

    Sullivan quotes one of his Dish readers, reacting to Iowa results:

    ... Could the GOP be any more divided into three clear camps?

    You have your hardcore Christianists, who think of every issues in the prism of Jesus and the Bible, who are incensed at gay marriage and abortion and general secularism. That's your Santorum third. Then you have your old-school wealthier Republicans, who like a foreign policy with a big dick and want to make some damn money, regardless of the state of the economy, and who could really care less about what a candidate really believes as long as he says the right words ... boom, Romney. And then you have your purists, your libertarians, who probably have no beef with gays or blacks per se, but don't mind a candidate who certainly makes no effort to pander to those minority groups. so long as the big bad awful government just goes away. Paul.

    I dont see how these three groups - and all three are alive and well in the modern GOP - can come together under one candidate ... The nominee will be a well-funded Romney (a Romney battered by months of hostility from Santorum and Gingrich), and I just cannot see the Republican base rallying around this guy.

    FYI - 

    Could Typo Rewrite Caucus History?

    Caucus Vote Counter Says Romney Mistakenly Given 20 Votes

    Read more:

    Caucus night was chaotic in many places, with hundreds of voters, candidates showing up and the throngs of media who followed. The world's eyes were on Iowa. But in the quiet town of Moulton, Appanoose County, a caucus of 50 people may just blow up the results.

    Edward True, 28, of Moulton, said he helped count the votes and jotted the results down on a piece of paper to post to his Facebook page. He said when he checked to make sure the Republican Party of Iowa got the count right, he said he was shocked to find they hadn't. "When Mitt Romney won Iowa by eight votes and I've got a 20-vote discrepancy here, that right there says Rick Santorum won Iowa," True said. "Not Mitt Romney." True said at his 53-person caucus at the Garrett Memorial Library, Romney received two votes. According to the Iowa Republican Party's website, True's precinct cast 22 votes for Romney. "This is huge," True said. "It essentially changes who won." A spokeswoman with the Iowa Republican Party said True is not a precinct captain and he's not a county chairperson so he has no business talking about election results. She also said the party would not be giving interviews about possible discrepancies until the caucus vote is certified. KCCI political analyst Dennis Goldford said even if the caucus results are wrong, it's not the end of the world. This will make Iowa look a little foolish in the eyes of the rest of the country, which already questions the seriousness of the caucuses," Goldford said.

    But in terms of Santorum's results here, the Caucuses have made him a player in presidential politics and if he should nudge ahead of Gov. Romney for the final certified result that's really not going to make any significant difference at this point." True -- who said he's a Ron Paul supporter -- hopes it was a simple mistake. "I imagine it's a good possibility that somebody instead of hitting 2 might have hit 22 by accident," True said. "I hope so." But he said he won't stop talking about it until the state -- by his count -- gets the numbers right. "Numbers that I personally witnessed being counted and assisted in counting and am certain are right," he said.

    Read more:

    Latest Comments