Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Further illustrations of why formal rules matter

Sandy Levinson

In 2008, I think it's fair to say, Barack Obama got the Democratic Party nomination and John McCainthe Republican nomination because of the basic rules bywhich delegates were assigned. That is, the Democrats followed a principle of proportional representation; the Republicans, with a few exceptions insome states, followed the traditional "winer-take-all" rule. This allowed John McCain to get 100% of Missouri's delegates by getting 34% of the primary vote, as against Mike Huckabee's 32%. (And, of course, a number of other candidates shared the other 32%).

Presumably, it doesn't really matter what the 2012 rules in the Democratic primaries will be, as no sane person will run (or will be financed in) a campaign to deny President Obama renomination (however unhappy some liberals, including myself, may be with aspects of the Obama presidency). But what about the Republicans. I believe (though I can't quickly find confirming authority) that they have moved to proportional allocation. If that's correct, then perhaps one ought to put substantial money on the likelihood that the 2012 Republican convention will be the first truly interesting convention since 1952 (or, in their quite different ways, the 1968 and 1972 Democratic conventions) inasmuch as there will be no first-ballot winner. Consider that the current Intrade percentage for Mitt Romney is 33%, while the unannounced Rick Perry is at 26%, while Michelle Bachman is given a 70% likelihood of winning the Iowa straw poll. And so on. This also makes it even more unlikely that the winning candidate will have carte blanche to choose the vice-presidential candidate (as McCain did not in 2008, else Joe Lieberman would have been his choice).

It's going to be a really interesting year for political junkies, including those who are interested in how formal structures matter.


I'm not sure that not being allowed to pick Lieberman really counts as McCain not having carte blanche to pick his own running-mate. Picking someone of the other party is very extraordinary. I don't think it's happened since 1864, and that was during the Civil War. There was talk back before the convention in 2008 that doing so might have violated the rules. Do you really think McCain would been inhibited were Lieberman a Republican?

IIRC, McCain actually benefited from the Republicans having a mix of systems; He tended to win in winner take all states, and lose in PR states. I believe somebody calculated that he'd have done worse if either system had been used in all the states.

Either somebody in the campaign was a brilliant strategist, or he had amazing luck.


The RNC adopted a rule that any state going before April 1st will have to divide up their delegates proportionately. The standard state rules apply afterward.

The RNC was attempting to push back the rush for ever earlier primaries by making state parties choose between their first past the post rules and moving up their primaries. Secondarily, the rule prevents a rich candidate (read Romney) from securing the nomination before the race even begins, but not to drag this thing across the summer like Obama vs. Clinton. It will be over by May.

By March, the establishment and the Tea Party factions of the GOP will rally around their candidates - I suspect Romney or Perry will be the establishment candidate and Bachmann or possibly Palin will be the Tea Party candidate. Pawlenty is boring people to death and Cain imploded with several dumb comments about Muslims. No one else is really in the running.

Every four years people start fantasizing about brokered conventions, but it never seems to work out that way. The main reason is that multi-candidate fields tend to get sorted out at a fairly early stage of the primary process. If we envision 3 or 4 credible candidates with the fundraising prowess to keep on chasing that rainbow through all 57 states, then sure, you might not have a first-ballot winner. But the importance of money makes that an unlikely scenario. Not enough people love John Edwards so much that they're willing to keep raising money for him just so he can rack up the 3rd-place finishes.

I appreciate Mr. DePalma's information. Perhaps it will quickly get down to a fight between two candidates, but I do wonder what the consequences of Rick Perry's entering the race might be. Whom will he push out, his Tea Party colleague Rep. Bachman or his fellow slick (former) governor Romney?

It is early yet, but I suspect that Perry will hurt Romney far more than Bachmann.

The GOP is far more of a next in line party than the Dems and Romney is next in line with Huckabee and I suspect Palin not running. The fact that Romney does not have a serious plurality lead in likely voter polls suggests that habit may change next year.

The GOP base voters are not at all thrilled with a candidate with a rather progressive governing record who appears to be adopting conservative positions simply to gain the nomination. I suspect that the establishment is also not looking for a John McCain clone to run against Obama in a rematch of 2008.

The establishment as been looking for an alternative for months, first with Indiana governor Mitch Daniels and now with TX governor Rick Perry. It looks like Perry will run, which may split the establishment vote.

The question is how much crossover appeal Perry will have with the Tea Party.

Currently, Bachmann pretty much has the Tea Party to herself because Palin is playing the old Cuomo role of the tease who is not actually running, Cain imploded after flashing in the SC debate and Gingrich (the original Tea Party rebel) went DC establishment years ago.

Bachmann's dream scenario is that Palin decides not to run, Perry and Romney divide up the establishment vote and Bachmann can unify the Tea Party with some early primary wins. The Tea Party is a majority of the GOP voters and the candidate who can win their support will likely win the nomination.

In recent likely voter polling, Bachmann has broken out to a large double digit plurality in Iowa, and those polls still offer Palin as a choice. One interesting poll asked likely caucus goers who their second choice would be and Bachmann won that as well with 20%. The combined first and second choice votes gives her a majority vote over Romney in Iowa.

This is why Romney is putting everything in NH.

As you observed Sandy, this will be an interesting race.

A sometime contributor cites how "rules matter" in reference to a book he is reading about the ratification do the Constitution.

I will believe a brokered convention will occur when it does.

I'm not sure that not being allowed to pick Lieberman really counts as McCain not having carte blanche to pick his own running-mate. Picking someone of the other party is very extraordinary. I don't think it's happened since 1864, and that was during the Civil War. There was talk back before the convention in 2008 that doing so might have violated the rules. Do you really think McCain would been inhibited were Lieberman a Republican?

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