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.”