Will the money-cons back Huckabee to stop Palin?

Right now, there look to be four Republican Presidential candidates for 2012:  Palin, Huckabee, Romney, and Pawlenty. 

Romney, despite the doubts about whether he’s actually a flesh-and-blood human as opposed to an improbably pretty android, is the only one of the four who can plausibly be imagined either winning a Presidential contest or not looking silly in the Oval Office.  But  I don’t see how a Mormon gazillionaire leveaged-buyout operator whose Massachusetts healthcare plan looks a lot like Obamacare can win a Republican primary.  

And with three other players in the field, I don’t see how Sarah Palin gets stopped; she’ll get a solid 35% of the vote, which should be ample to bring her in first in most states under a largely winner-take-all system.  But she would split the party and get a Goldwater/McGovern/Mondale share of  the votes in November, paving the way for a hugely successful second term for Obama.  

Some of the social-con leaders will support Huckabee, but that won’t much dent Palin’s support. So the only way to prevent a Palin nomination would be for the money-cons to desert Romney, their first love, and Pawlenty, who is perfectly acceptable to them, and embrace the populist/protecionist Huckabee, whom they deeply distrust.   He’s no less extreme than Palin, and he’s hardly prepared by education or experience to be President, but he’s not merely a clown; he has raw intelligence, humor, self-awareness,  occasional eloquence, and either sincerity or the capacity to fake it.

Would Huckbee sell out his populism for money-con backing?  I bet he would.  Could the money-cons put him over the top?  I think they might; without them, Pawlenty and Romney will fade quickly, though of course Romney can self-finance.  If it came down to more or less a head-to-head with Palin, Huckabee would be very well positioned.  I doubt he could take Obama, but he’d hold the party together.

What I don’t know is whether the Forbes/Norquist crowd will game this out the way I have, or whether they’d be prepared to forgive Huckabee his economic heresies in order to protect their side from disaster.   My bet would be against it.  Once again, Barack Obama’s incredible luck in finding self-destructing opponents may come through for him, and for us.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

34 thoughts on “Will the money-cons back Huckabee to stop Palin?”

  1. I don't buy it.

    Your analysis assumes that Sarah Palin is a politician, but she's really not; she's a celebrity who served part of a term as governor of Alaska and played the role of VP candidate in McCain's doomed campaign. There really is a difference between a politician and a celebrity, although the difference is smaller than it used to be. (I would argue that Reagan was both, and that was a time when even being a celebrity took more effort than it does now.)

    In fact, running for a presidential nomination is hard work, and Palin will likely find it both frustrating and boring in short order. At best (that is, at worst), her campaign will have one early success (maybe a win or a couple of close seconds) that puts her face on the cover of Time again before it flames out and she quits in a whirl of well-practiced resentment. Just as likely her campaign will make like Fred Thompson's and just fade away.

    The only way Palin is a threat to win the nomination is if she gets strong institutional support from the party early on, so her campaign can carry her through the race like a summer camper carries an egg through an obstacle course. I don't see that happening because I think there will be too many marginal candidates — folks you didn't mention who individually lack the juice to win, but who collectively can swing enough weight to keep the party from anointing a nominee (Pawlenty is only the tip of this iceberg) — and the party leadership isn't what it used to be.

    In short, don't get your hopes up.

  2. From the Democratic perspective, Huckabee's the dangerous one. OK, I'm judging from a narrow data set (his appearances on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report) but he seems a whole lot smarter than the other three you named. Who could be more dangerous than a really smart ideologue with a sense of humor? Smart enough to take the wingnut money while avoiding any appearance of selling out.

  3. I think that Mark is speaking to a larger issue: As it exists now, the 'Big Tent Party' idea can work only inasmuch as its members are willing and able to define themselves negatively. The moment that the members begin to define themselves positively, they are reminded that they may have as little in common with their fellow members as they do with the Democrats. (Anecdotally, I have quite a few Republican family members and friends; in 2008, they were pretty evenly split between Obama, McCain, and the Libertarian Party.)

    Maybe this is in some ways the last gap of the Republican Party (at least as we knew it). And why shouldn't it be? If political parties mostly exist in order to provide an informational shortcut, then maybe it is natural that – in an age where information is much more readily available – political parties should splinter, and come together only on issues of mutual agreement. If I am correct, my only caution would be that as go the Republicans, so too may go the Democrats.

  4. Sarah Palin is no more interested in being President than she was in being governor of Alaska. She's just cashing in. She'll milk the book sales and the speaking fees as long as she can, and then decline to run in the 2012 primary.

  5. You give Palin way too much credit. If she runs, which is a big if, she'll end up like Giuliani. The interesting question is if she runs, how do Huckabee, et al., handle her.

  6. I don’t see how a Mormon gazillionaire leveaged-buyout operator whose Massachusetts healthcare plan looks a lot like Obamacare can win a Republican primary.

    Mark,

    I think you underrate Romney's ability to look like exactly what the relevant voters want to see.

  7. What about Kay Bailey Hutchinson? If she becomes governor of Texas, that's a pretty good position to run from (governors tend to be better in presidential politics).

    Or someone else? I think it's too early to say there is only a field of four for 2012.

    Re Hutchinson: I don't understand why she's running for governor. She's got a secure Senate seat. Do you think she has presidential ambitions?

  8. "You give Palin way too much credit. If she runs, which is a big if, she’ll end up like Giuliani."

    No, you've got to account for the fact that the Republican base *loves* Palin.

    Whereas they were never going to feel too comfortable with a guy from

    ultra-blue New York, who dresses as a woman as a joke from time to time,

    had a couple of messy divorces, and lived with a gay couple for a while.

    Giuliani had high name recognition after 9/11, and got points for

    annoying liberals, but he wasn't a good fit for the base.

    The base *loves* Palin, they believe anything she says, and she's going

    to tell them exactly what they want to hear, no matter how far it is

    from any recognizable reality.

    In contrast, *nobody* loves Romney. And they're not going to be fooled

    by his swerving to the right: he had too much of a record as a pragmatic

    centrist technocrat in Massachusetts.

    Palin's gonna win this thing unless they change the rules. Because no

    matter what embarrassing information about Palin comes out, the hard-core

    base is just going to see it as the librul media ganging up on her.

    Obama is one lucky dude. Now earn this.

  9. To Richard Crownie: You're right that *some* of the base loves her, but I really doubt she'll run. (I live among a lot of conservatives, in Nevada, and Palin is not that popular.) She's in this for the money and fame and there's better ways to make money and be famous. As soon as things get tough, like governing a state during an economic downturn, Palin quits.

    To Bernard Romtov: I also think Romney the business-savvy gazillionare can look exactly like what the voters want during bad economic times.

  10. Palin's fame will not last two more years. She's Giuliani. Or possibly Thompson. She couldn't last nine weeks of vice presidential campaigning without completely disintegrating her reputation; nine MONTHS on the primary campaign trail would probably destroy her.

    In polling so far, Huckabee does better against Obama than Romney. In polling so far, Huckabee leads the primary field. In political skills and campaigning abilities, Huckabee far, far outpaces Romney. He's unplatable to the teabaggers, but the Tea Party set are NOT representative of the party as a whole. Huckabee can run on bread-and-butter economic issues: your oil prices are rising, food costs more, your wages are falling, and THIS IS WHY. When Romney does that, he looks like he's building up to firing you. When Huckabee does that, he looks human.

    Huckabee's economic 'failures' aren't substantial enough to sink him six years after he left the governorship. He supports the FairTax, which brings him into line with general Republican lunacy on taxes. He opposes health care reform. He doesn't tick all the boxes but he ticks ENOUGH that, on economic issues, he's in the right party.

    Pawlenty is green and has no compelling rationale. Palin isn't even a viable candidate at the moment. And Romney's not a candidate well-suited to the next cycle: he's way too far gone to run as the 'competent technocrat' again, given his 2008 strategy of running as the candidate of the conservative Republican establishment (Bush III). So it's going to be Huckabee, and the general election will be a LOT harder than you give it credit for.

  11. "You’re right that *some* of the base loves her, but I really doubt she’ll run.

    (I live among a lot of conservatives, in Nevada, and Palin is not that popular.)

    She’s in this for the money and fame and there’s better ways to make money and be famous"

    Ah, but that's the point. As long as the Republican primaries keep the current

    winner-takes-all rules, the segment of the base that loves Palin is very probably

    enough to win her the nomination. The Palin-lovers might be only 40% of registered

    Republicans, but they'll be highly motivated and they'll turn out and vote.

    And if she has that 40%, who else can inspire enthusiasm in more than half

    of the remaining 60% ?

    As for whether Palin would do it, I don't see why not. She has energy and physical

    stamina and she loves attention: flying around to big enthusiastic crowds, dressing

    up, and giving the same red-meat speech over and over again fits her talents and

    desires just fine. She *loves* the campaigning. It's the governing she doesn't like.

    And I'm not at all sure that for Palin has any "better way … to be famous". She's

    not smart; she doesn't like hard work; going on TV would be a grind; it's not clear

    that she can be famous as anything other than a politician. That one thing she can

    definitely do (at least the campaigning bit). So she will.

    Now her campaign will probably be somewhat inept. But then, McCain's campaign

    was quite a shambles, he ran out of money, couldn't get crowds, couldn't figure

    out any kind of strategy, and it was just a mess. But he still won the nomination.

    So "can't run a campaign" probably won't stop her until she runs into the

    Obama/Axelrod/Plouffe/Emanuel juggernaut.

  12. "She couldn’t last nine weeks of vice presidential campaigning without

    completely disintegrating her reputation; nine MONTHS on the primary

    campaign trail would probably destroy her."

    But it didn't "completely" disintegrate her reputation. The general

    public hates and fears her and thinks she's a dangerous ignoramus.

    But a large part of the Republican base *loves* her. *After* seeing

    everything that went down in the campaign.

    And if they weren't dissuaded by all that, I don't think a primary

    campaign is going to make a difference. They're with her through

    thick and thin, and every dumb mistake she makes in their eyes gets

    counted as confirmation that she's "just one of us" or that the liberal

    media is playing gotcha.

  13. "The general public hates and fears her and thinks she’s a dangerous ignoramus."

    Projecting much?

  14. "Projecting much?"

    Nope, just going on the published polling figures, IIRC in

    recent polls 60% said she wasn't qualified to be president.

    They don't like her, they won't vote for her. Maybe that

    doesn't add up to "hate and fear" – though after 8 years of

    Bush a lot of people have genuine fear of another unqualified

    candidate – but in political terms it's the same.

    You might just want to go hide under the bed the next 7 years

    while your party drives itself off the cliff.

  15. "I also think Romney the business-savvy gazillionare can look exactly like

    what the voters want during bad economic times."

    Sorry, but no. The guy has good hair and used to be an efficient technocrat.

    But no-one likes him much; he doesn't have much charisma; and he isn't

    a good enough actor to perform the red-meat act needed to win Republican

    primaries. He's going to spend his own fortune and go nowhere again.

  16. "Dangerous ignoramus" is also quite correct. On Sean Hannity she suggested that the way to deal with Iranian nuclear threats is to get tough with Iraq. She said "Iraq" twice, so it was no slip of the tongue. It was immediately after Hannity had said "Iranian." No doubt her adoring crowds will think it elitist to get all hoity-toity about the difference between two foreign countries, but it is dangerous ignorance to confuse them.

    Palin lacks self-discipline but loves attention. There was one of her in every high school class. We all remember her. We may not hate and fear her, but we do not respect her abilities and we want to protect the republic from being led by her spirit of resentment and treachery against those without whom she would have remained in obscurity.

  17. To be fair to Romney, his lack of any dazzling talent might not

    have been such an obstacle if he wasn't also desperately unlucky.

    He positioned himself well as a moderate pragmatist, and had some

    real achievements in Massachusetts with his health insurance reform.

    And in some alternate universe where G.W.Bush's legacy was

    education reform (NCLB), Medicare Part D, bipartisan immigration

    reform, a couple of nice clean wars won, and a healthy economy –

    an outcome that was somewhat plausible in 2003 when Romney became

    a governor – the Republican establishment might well have been

    happy to unite behind a good-looking inoffensive moderate

    governor with some policy accomplishments.

    Instead W screwed up everything he touched: Hurricane Katrina,

    Iraq, Afghanistan, immigration reform, the DoJ, torture,

    the economy, and became a massively polarizing figure. So 2008

    was really a bust. And now the moderate wing of the Republican

    party that was Mitt's natural constituency has just about

    shrivelled up and died. And on top of that, the GOP is defining

    itself with rabid and virulent opposition to precisely the

    kind of modest health-insurance reform that was Mitt's one

    big policy achievement.

    The guy just can't catch a break. But then being lucky is a

    big part of politics (one that Obama has plenty of, as shown by

    his sequence of self-destructing opponents).

  18. I'm a bit torn. If I had my druthers, it would be Huckabee. However, I think it will probably be Romney based on a few considerations: (1) the historical GOP precedent of him being "next in line", (2) the swing constituency in the next election will be among more affluent suburban voters, and he can appeal to them without setting off cultural alarm bells, (3) he's sticking to a pro-life position, and (4) if his Mormonism does cause a few Bob Jones University outbursts, so much the better for point (2).

    I don't have any hesitation about Romney's pro-life credentials. This is the only electorally important social conservative issue, and pro-lifers have (rightly and for good reason) long since stopped caring about the inner convictions of politicians on this issue. Does anyone believe that George H.W. Bush (a/k/a "Rubbers") was really and truly pro-life? I certainly don't, and it doesn't matter. Remember that it was Reagan who liberalized abortion in California. So it is not unusual to have politicians adopting pro-life positions as they seek the Republican nomination.

  19. Richard, there are plenty of people who are unqualified to be President, who are neither "hated" nor "feared". Come back to me with a poll asking people if they hate and/or fear Palin.

    "This is the only electorally important social conservative issue,"

    Riiiight. That's why Democrats are treating gun control like it's radioactive, because gun rights are not "electorally important".

  20. "there are plenty of people who are unqualified to be President, who are neither “hated” nor “feared”"

    The "fear" arises from the possibility that an unqualified candidate might

    take power. Most unqualified people have no chance, and thus are merely

    objects of amusement. Palin, however, has already been on the Republican ticket

    once, and appears to have a pretty good shot at winning the nomination.

    That's why many people fear her.

    I guess you're comfortable with the idea of having a Commander-in-Chief

    who can't remember the difference between Iran and Iraq. Most of the

    public isn't. The corruption and the vicious partisanship we could

    survive: the breathtaking incompetence – she doesn't even know how

    much she doesn't know – is what's scary.

    "the swing constituency in the next election will be among more affluent suburban voters"

    I think you're correct that Romney would be the sane choice as the

    candidate with the best chance in the general election. But the

    Republican base right now simply isn't sane: they want red meat,

    and Romney, though he'll try his damnedest, just can't satisfy them.

    He's a Mormon, he's a bloodless technocrat, and he's not a good

    enough actor to play to the base.

    Huckabee is a very interesting figure, a very disarming and genial

    fellow. And his nods to populism, though they never really amount

    to anything substantial, suggest some kind of path to a sort of

    American equivalent of Europe's Christian Democrat parties –

    socially and economically conservative, without being completely

    in the pocket of big business. I'd like to see that happen.

    However, scratch the surface and Huckabee starts to look nutty,

    supporting the teaching of Intelligent Design and lacking any

    coherent economic policy. Being governor of Arkansas doesn't

    give you much heft on foreign policy issues. And then, though it

    perhaps shouldn't make a difference, someone's going to dig up

    photos of him weighing 300+ pounds and question whether a guy with

    that kind of medical history is up to the stresses of the White House.

    Images of 300lb Huckabee and the current slimmer version can raise

    an awkward question in voter's minds: who is this guy really ?

    Is he a fat guy or a thin guy ? If he flip-flops on his own weight,

    what else is he going to flip-flop on ?

    Unfair, but that's the way the game is played, and if you're

    looking for the chance to compete against the skinny athletic Obama,

    a history of obesity is a vulnerability.

    "because gun rights are not “electorally important”."

    Gun rights are electorally important. But they're not a

    "social conservative issue". And since the Democrats are busy

    with more important issues, it's doubtful that anything's

    going to happen to make gun rights a big issue for 2012.

  21. "I guess you’re comfortable with the idea of having a Commander-in-Chief who can’t remember the difference between Iran and Iraq."

    Can't see that it's any worse than having a President who thinks there are 57 states.

    I'm sure "many" people fear Palin. In the sense that you couldn't get them all into the same phone booth… Not in any more meaningful sense. I'll grant you that I wouldn't want Palin for President. I can't think of many people who could plausibly get EITHER party's nomination that I'd actually want to have hold that office. Maybe Rep. Paul. But it sure is entertaining watching Democratic hysteria concerning her.

    "Gun rights are electorally important. But they’re not a “social conservative issue”."

    You really think that, do you?

  22. "You really think that, do you?"

    There's overlap between the NRA supporters and the right-wing evangelical

    social-conservatives. But they're not the same thing. And they're not

    the same thing on the progressive side either: the Dem base is way more

    fired up about protecting Roe vs Wade and stopping discrimination against

    homosexuals than they are about imposing gun-control restrictions.

    Frankly, your team has won on the gun-control issue, for the foreseeable

    future. Enjoy it. You're losing on most of the stuff that really

    matters.

  23. "Can’t see that it’s any worse than having a President who thinks there are 57 states."

    Obama misspeaks from time to time (though much less frequently than

    most people). Palin displays shocking ignorance every single

    time she tries to talk about the substance of policy. And even

    when she has the freedom to write! Her OpEd piece a few months

    ago about energy policy achieved the astonishing feat of talking

    about energy policy without even mentioning climate change

    (she didn't even take the trouble to deny it, she just ignored

    the issue completely). That's breathtaking.

  24. "Obama misspeaks from time to time (though much less frequently than most people)."

    Yeah, teleprompters are a real help in that regard. But, know what? An American making a mistake about how many states there are in the United States is rather more significant than an American confusing two similarly named foreign nations. That's the sort of fact that's usually pretty deeply ingrained in American noggins. The sort of thing you'd expect the average American to get right if shaken out of bed at 3AM.

  25. "An American making a mistake about how many states there are in the United States is

    rather more significant than an American confusing two similarly named foreign nations"

    Sure. So you don't care about having a prospective C-in-C who can't keep

    straight the difference between a country occupied by 140K+ US troops,

    and a country conating 0 US troops ? Similar names. Big big difference.

  26. I'd be concerned about it if the C in C wasn't going to have a staff. But I think an American making a mistake about how many states America has says more about that person than their confusing two foreign nations with similar names. It's a particularly strange mistake to have made.

  27. "I’d be concerned about it if the C in C wasn’t going to have a staff"

    So indeed you don't care that the elected commander-in-chief might be

    someone who, as they say in England, doesn't know her arse from her

    elbow, and who is thus completely reliant on the advice of non-elected

    staff ? I've noticed conservatives are crazy these days, but I hadn't

    realized you were all so willing to admit it. Strange.

    And you'll pick an ignoramus over a law professor and senator because

    he makes what you consider "a particularly strange mistake" for "an

    American". I have a sneaking suspicion you don't make that kind of

    comment about Americans who happen to have white skin, no matter what

    mistakes they make (and God knows just about every Republican leader

    has said crazy nonsense the last few months). Better tune that dog-

    whistle an octave higher.

  28. I'm concerned that YOU don't think an American not knowing how many states America has somehow doesn't demonstrate THAT C in C "doesn't know his arse from his elbow". You can't get out of elementary school without having THAT fact so deeply imbedded in your head that if there were any truth to Lysenkoism you could read it off your DNA. It is indeed a much stranger mistake for a citizen of this country to make, than confusing the names of two similarly named countries.

    And if you think my finding it strange that an American would make that particular mistake is evidence of racism, I think that's evidence that you'll attribute ANY criticism of Obama to racism.

  29. "You can’t get out of elementary school without having THAT fact so deeply imbedded"

    Whatever. I think it's pretty "strange" that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

    can't administer the oath on inauguration day correctly. But I assume that he's

    probably a human being (not clear from his judicial opinions, but I'll give him

    the benefit of the doubt) who made a mistake.

    "I think that’s evidence that you’ll attribute ANY criticism of Obama to racism."

    Not at all. I'm pretty critical of Obama myself on many of his policies (especially

    committing ever-increasing resources to the futile effort to make Afghanistan

    look like Belgium). It's the attempt to suggest that he's somehow not really fully

    American that triggers my dog-whistle alarm.

  30. Fascinating riffs here guys. In particular I noticed two things: 1. Brett Bellmore has an interesting asymmetric demand for evidence. He demands evidence that people fear or hate Palin, but makes all kinds of assertions about what people think with no evidence whatsoever. 2. Brett Bellmore makes arguments based on anecdote and emotion, while Richard Cownie makes arguments based on empirical evidence.

    Examples: Brett's assertions without evidence "there are plenty of people who are unqualified to be President, who are neither “hated” nor “feared”", do you have any proof of this?

    "I’m sure “many” people fear Palin. In the sense that you couldn’t get them all into the same phone booth" Evidence for this either?

    "in American making a mistake about how many states there are in the United States is rather more significant than an American confusing two similarly named foreign nations." Is it more significant? Or is this an emotional argument? And notice how Brett keeps stressing the phrase "an American", as if he were talking to a crowd full of "birthers". It reminds me of Nixon's Southern Strategy.

    Richard, on the other hand, tries to present evidence when pressed, but never engages in a similar demand for empirical evidence. It is a similar pattern in liberal vs. conservative arguments; the liberals tend to play defense.

    Examples: "As long as the Republican primaries keep the current

    winner-takes-all rules, the segment of the base that loves Palin is very probably

    enough to win her the nomination. The Palin-lovers might be only 40% of registered

    Republicans, but they’ll be highly motivated and they’ll turn out and vote.

    And if she has that 40%, who else can inspire enthusiasm in more than half

    of the remaining 60% ?" Though this lacks citations (should they be necessary for a blog comments section?) it attempts to present an argument based on evidence.

    "So you don’t care about having a prospective C-in-C who can’t keep

    straight the difference between a country occupied by 140K+ US troops,

    and a country conating 0 US troops ?" Here Richard plays defense, arguing tropes from the 2008 election instead of engaging the criticism head first: is Sarah Palin an idiot? An intriguing discussion that is difficult to detach and unpack from the emotions that people might feel towards or against her, and also isolated from interview gaffes that happen to all public figures (how do you uncouple Sarah Palin from the Couric interview?).

    The contrasts are interesting, and while I could try and deduce a lot about the individual persons making these arguments, I think observing the rhetorical differences and contrasts in ratiocination are enough for now. Did I miss anything?

  31. "I think observing the rhetorical differences and contrasts in ratiocination are enough for now"

    Nice to know someone else is reading. You're on the right track definitely: for the

    moment right-wingers like Brett don't have many, if any, sound arguments. We tried

    it their way for 8 years and it was a disaster. And the point of engaging in debate

    with the Bretts of the world is not to convince *them* – they're immune to logic

    and reason – but to illuminate the irrationality of their positions, lest anyone

    in the middle be tempted by their slogans.

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