Gingrich/Santorum: might-have-beens and stochastic dominance

Why didn’t they cut cards for who got to run for President and who got to be Deputy Dawg?

So it now comes out that, in February 2012, Gingrich and Santorum agreed to gang up on Romney, but the deal fell apart because neither of them would take second place. Santorum claimed the Presidential nomination on the grounds that his campaign was surging while Gingrich’s was sinking; Gingrich pointed out that he was older and had more wives.


In some ways this isn’t hard to understand. The dream of the Presidency dies hard, and it’s not clear that being second fiddle on a losing Gingrich ticket would have left Santorum in a better place for 2016. Gingrich, of course, wasn’t going to get another shot. So I can imagine that each candidate preferred whatever his longshot odds were on beating Romney himself to being the VP candidate on a team with a good shot at beating Romney.

But it seems to me that – when the discussions happened – neither Gingrich nor
Santorum had as good as a one-in-five chance of beating Romney without the other’s help, and that the combination would have had no less than an even-money chance.

If so, they passed up a deal that was ex ante superior to no deal for both men. They could have agreed to a combination, and then cut cards for who got to be Top Dog and who got to be Deputy Dawg, giving each man at least a 25% chance of being the nominee.

So either no one in either camp was sharp enough to come up with this idea, or they didn’t trust each other enough to do it.

Too bad! Romney was a weak candidate, but against a Gingrich-Santorum or Santorum-Gingrich ticket Obama might have rolled up a 1984-sized landslide. Anyway, it would have made great political theater: 3 Henry VI meets the Keystone Kops.

Update See below for some very thoughtful and serious comments in response to my primarily snarky post. Some responses:

1. Yes, the Republic is healthier with two sane parties.
2. The Republicans aren’t currently a sane party. That was true with Romney as the nominee, just as it would have been true with a Santingrich or Gingorum ticket.
3. But the craziness would have been more evident to more people, and to the media, in the latter cases.
4. To have a two-sane-party system requires either (a) returning the Republicans to sanity or (b) having them implode and be replaced by a sane(r) party of the right (as the Whigs, after a delay, replaced the Federalists) or having them displaced by a new party occupying part of the same ideological space (as the Republicans displaced the Whigs).
5. Devastating political defeat for the current, Teahadi-driven GOP is the shortest path to either of the scenarios in (4).

It’s a fair question how many additional states Obama might have carried against Santingrich. North Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, Missouri, and Arizona all might have been in play, but probably not much else. But the popular-vote margin would have been substantially larger. More to the point, downballot Republicans would have suffered, either from supporting a lunatic national ticket or by not supporting it. Democrats might have taken back the House, and some state legislative chambers. That’s the lost opportunity.

Going forward, it seems to me that 2014 is won or lost depending on how closely the Democrats can make it resemble a Presidential election: high-turnout and hyper-partisan. The Republican Party is currently slightly less popular than genital herpes. The trick is to pin that label to every GOP candidate. “Friends don’t let friends vote Republican.”

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:

21 thoughts on “Gingrich/Santorum: might-have-beens and stochastic dominance”

  1. The Big G is already the Emperor of the Moon (at least in his own mind).

    But, IMHO, there was no chance in Hell of the Emperor ever being nominated and he knew it from the getgo. Even the Republicans have some sense.

    Rather the Imp (apologies to George R. R. Martin) was out to bolster his money making, consulting and lobbying business by duping the corporate folks who do the hiring in to believing that someone, somewhere was paying attention to him.

    Indeed, this appears to have been the incentive for a whole lot of the Republican “contenders.”

    Hey, it worked for Jack Abramoff–at least for a while.

  2. From the perspective of a partisan Democrat, which Kleiman admittedly is, it must have been fun to watch the GOP primary-cum-clown-rodeo.

    Now, from the perspective of someone who loves the Republic but is basically agnostic between the Big Two parties, I am less sanguine about what happened in 2012.

    It would’ve been nice to see arguably serious people like Mitch Daniels or Jon Huntsman do better in the primary process. Santorum is to the right of, I dunno, 95% of Americans (viz., his position on contraception vs. the practices of 95% of American adults) and yet he went way far into the Republican nominating process. Horrifying.

    1. For what it’s worth, I’m a fairly partisan Democrat, and I share your concern. A healthy democracy needs healthy parties, engaged with reality and ready to at least make a serious attempt at governing and addressing problems. Today’s GOP isn’t it. The D’s certainly have their flaws and I won’t pretend otherwise, but the R’s have got themselves locked into a system where the loudest and angriest win.

      1. I’m not actually convinced that two healthy parties are required, but if they are it seems obvious to me that the better way to get to them is not rehabilitation of the neo-Confederate Resentment Party, but having it implode, and what is now the Democratic Party divide into factions. (As happened when the Federalists fell apart.) A party that contains Max Baucus and Maxine Waters could spawn two healthy components engaged with reality and ready to make a serious attempt at governing.

        1. (Don’t think about it, just make a quick choice: who would you rather have running domestic policy — LBJ of 1965-66, or WJC of 1995-2001? Still think a strong opposition party is a good idea?)

          1. He didn’t say “a strong opposition party.” He said “healthy parties, engaged with reality and ready to at least make a serious attempt at governing and addressing problems.”

            For your example of that, go back to Ike of the fifties and JFK/LBJ of the early sixties, before Goldwater hijacked the GOP.

          2. What Ken said. There’s a debate to be had about whether a carbon tax or cap-and-trade are more effective, fair, etc., than tighter emission regulations and subsidized renewables, but we aren’t having it, because one party is sticking their fingers in their ears and going “la la la.” And currently, if the D’s adopt long-standing R positions (such as exchanges for health insurance or cap-and-trade for carbon emissions), then those positions immediately become un-American tyranny. Whatever this is, I wouldn’t call it “healthy politics.”

        2. I think you’re probably right about this; the GOP’s fever seems a long way from breaking, and that within the next few years they’re going to have to reform or die. The longer rehabilitation is put off, the greater the likelihood of implosion. They’re not there yet, though they’re at least starting to think about considering the possibility. The so-called ‘autopsy’ had a lot to say about revising their messaging, but not much about the possibility that their policies are causing them problems. They should at least be considering that possibility. When the D’s went through their own version of this under Reagan / Bush I, they changed their messaging, but they also jettisoned some long-held positions and started taking new ones.

    2. Not only 95% of americans, but even *Santorum* is to the right of Santorum, as evidenced by his reproductive practices.

      When his wife’s life was threatened by a preganacy gone wrong, they chose to induce her labor, which they both were aware would result in the death of the five-month fetus. This ability to decide what to do is known as “choice,” which he opposes in all cases.

    3. I fully concur that the Republican party becoming increasingly unelectable is a serious problem for democracy, regardless of what side you’re on (for what it’s worth, while I consider myself to be center-left, I’m not a Democrat, and have my fair share of disagreements with the Democratic party when it comes to policymaking).

      I’ve written before about it, but there aren’t many ways this can go, and a lot of them are bad. Ideally, the Republican party manages to return to the center, and we will have worried about nothing. But if the Republicans swing further to the right, we either end up with a de-facto one-party state, or we’re seeing the creation of a moderate right-wing party to fill the gap, and that’s also not going to do much to contain Democrats (because a splintered right-of-center faction cannot really survive in a FPTP system, especially combined with the internecine warfare that’d be likely to develop).

      A big practical problem for Democrats resulting from the weakness of moderate Republicans is that the security state has now become a fully co-opted policy of the Obama administration. This is a situation that is unlikely to improve unless and until the White House actually has to listen to its critics, which is not going to happen if the Republican party were to weaken even more (it’s also not going to happen as long as the political landscape remains so sharply divided, either, though for different reasons).

      1. And a stronger Republican party isn’t going to do anything about the security state either.

        1. (And to play further on my LBJ/WJC comparison above, the presence of Republicans in Congress and on the land didn’t restrain LBJ in Vietnam, but was a major cause of the escalation, because LBJ was afraid of the political downside of ‘losing’ SE Asia on his watch).

        2. I don’t disagree. I’m not assuming that they would (or at best that at minority of moderate Republicans would): my point was that if you want pro-civil liberties Democrats to have a voice, both of the following situations are harmful:

          * A highly partisan, but still competitive situation, where they are asked to shut up so as not to risk losing an election to a Republican presidential candidate.
          * A situation where the Republican party is marginalized and the president can afford to ignore any given part of the Democratic party.

          I argue that in a political setup where both parties are competing for the political center (instead of where the Democratic party can take the center for granted, because they’ll still get votes as the lesser evil), pro-civil liberties Democrats have more leverage with a Democratic president.

          Of course, it will still require an electorate willing to not trade away civil liberties for (largely) fake security. Politicians will still go where the votes are.

  3. Since I really, really want Santorum to be the nominee in 2016, I’ll give him the same advice I offered on another blog in 2012. Don’t say anything about issues, not even abortion. Just make every speech at every stop one long exercise in crying. “My God, my God, see how the media persecute me! My God, my God, see how the homosexuals persecute me! My God, my God, see how the atheists and the feminists and the ACLU and the liberal blogs persecute me! It’s cruel, it’s inhuman, it’s communistic, it’s fascistic, it’s Shariatastic! There’s only one way in which America can fight back against such fiendishness, and that’s by standing up for my humble, Christian, heterosexual self.” I really think it might work.

  4. The Republicans have only one chance in 2016; they have to put Jeb Bush on the ticket.

    It doesn’t matter which slot, but he’s gotta be there. The last time they won the White House without a Bush or Nixon on the ticket was 1928.

  5. But do you really believe that, had this happened, Obama’s margin of victory would have been that much larger? He probably wins the three states that flipped from 2008–NC, IN, and MO. But what other firmly Republican states would have run away from Santorum and Ginbrich and to this particular Democrat?

  6. I think the crazy party can linger on as long as a significant chunk of the population supports them, such that it forms a majority in significant parts of the country: even if they lose the national debate, they can still have some herd power at the local level. This is still true of the Republicans and likely to remain true for a long time. Sure, they don’t represent anywhere near 50% of the total US population, and are effectively extinct in many urban areas, but if you happen to live in an overwhelmingly white-Anglo area outside the big cities, as many Americans still do, there’s still a local consensus in favour of crazy, so it seems like a perfectly reasonable position.

    Also, if a new right-wing (but not crazy) party emerges, they’re going to have to drum up support from the crazies in order to compete with the Democrats. There’s no reason to believe they are less likely to be co-opted by the Teahadis than the Republican party has been.

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