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thinking 2012: 3 constituencies, 9 viable candidates

I’m already thinking about the 2012 Republican nomination for a number of reasons. One is that people I know socially from my days at Liberty started talking about 2012 in November 0f 2008; another is of course Glenn Beck’s appearance at Liberty graduation this year and Jerry Falwell Jr’s subsequent comments about political priorities. But personally I’m interested because the field appears so wide open and the candidates are so poor.

The Republican party has for the last several election cycles (say since 1976 or 1980) had three big constituencies (and a host of minor ones). These three are more or less

  • The former fiscal conservatives: the captains of industry, pro-business types, so-called country-club Republicans.
  • The social conservatives: the Religious Right, the Theocons, what-have-you.
  • The libertarians.

Among these three groups it’s hard to win the nomination without strong support from one of the three and at least middling support from one of the others. The art of the campaign involves pitching messages that will be heard a particular way by one or more of these groups without coming back to haunt the candidate in the general election, and/or finding groups that overlap these groups and getting their support without alienating others. Breaking down the party this way explains why for example Ronald Reagan needed George H. W. Bush or maybe George W. Bush needed Dick Cheney, but why John McCain had a tough job motivating his base even with the help of Sarah Palin.

Wikipedia lists about twenty current candidates, which I think is about the size the list was a couple of months ago. I’ll use that as my baseline. If I had to pick first and second tiers of candidates from that list I’d probably pick the following:

  1. Romney, Palin, Huckabee, Paul
  2. Gingrich, Daniels, Pence, Pawlenty, Thune

And at the moment I don’t consider any of the others viable candidates. I’d probably break those nine down as follows:

  • Pro-business/establishment Republicans: Romney, Gingrich, Daniels
  • Social conservatives: Palin, Huckabee, Pence, Pawlenty, Thune
  • Libertarian: Paul

Among the pro-business types, Romney is probably the prohibitive favorite. Unfortunately for him he doesn’t currently have much appeal among social conservatives (apart from other Mormons, of course). Gingrich has reached out to James Dobson and been on his radio show, so he has at least made overtures to the Religious Right. Daniels is probably just Vice Presidential material.

Among the social conservatives, there’s Sarah Palin and everybody else. Huckabee has experience but has already run one failed campaign. Thune, a graduate of Biola, probably has the best evangelical credentials, but he’s from a small state. Palin, because of her appearances at various Tea Party events, stands a good chance of overshadowing Ron Paul as well.

I don’t really consider Ron Paul a real candidate; he’s older than John McCain and might fail to win the primary in his home state if Rick Perry were still in the race, but he’s the most solidly libertarian of the bunch.

Here are the InTrade bid/ask values for everyone with a bid of ten or more:

  1. Romney 24.2/27.6
  2. Palin 17.0/19.2
  3. Thune 13.3/16.7
  4. Pawlenty 11.0/20.1
  5. Gingrich 9.1/11.4

A bid of ten is an arbitrary cutoff but it does a pretty good job; the other four cluster around 5-7%.

The real challenge for any candidate is to appeal to two of the three groups; Palin has crossover appeal at the moment between the Religious Right and the Tea Party crowd; everyone else is in for a tough road. At the moment it’s hard to imagine how Romney can manage to appeal to the Religious Right or the libertarians, unless of course he can package himself as a Mormon who is acceptable to evangelicals, a la Glenn Beck.

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