Those of us who suffered through 2010′s Colorado Republican gubernatorial
campaign travesty should have learned some lessons. So far, the national presidential nominating process is making me regret that Colorado is a trend-setter.
A similar dynamic – discontent with a front-runner, seen as hostile – or at best indifferent – to the Tea Party, and seen as hand-picked by an entitled establishment too timid to settle on actual conservatives to carry the party’s banner. Both men, who seemed conservative enough in earlier incarnations, are had their bona fides questioned later. In both cases, the criticism may be somewhat unfair, but it’s also led to a lack of enthusiasm for that candidate, and fueled talk of third-party runs, even before the nomination has been decided.
McInnis seemed to spurn Tea Party support, and then was victimized by a chiron during a national TV interview; likewise, Romney, while not going out of his way to the extent that Huntsman did, has also seemed to be relying on monetary advantages and strategic support of current and former office-holders in key states.
As a result, many Colorado Republicans decided to teach McInnis a lesson on the way to the nomination, only to find that the lesson they taught him left the party with a man who had no business being the nominee, and a party apparatus that was nevertheless honor-bound to support him – if only minimally – in the general election campaign. (To be fair, many of us held Tancredo’s self-positioning for a 3rd-party run prior to the primary to be subverting rather than honoring his own party’s nominating process.)
Likewise, I believe that many, but by no means all, of those voting for Gingrich or Santorum are doing so in order to teach Romney or the party establishment a lesson, or to stretch out the process as long as practicable, perhaps even thinking it will lead to a brokered convention. February was supposed to be Romney’s month, with a series of caucuses and primaries in states friendly to him. Instead, he’s faltered, and Santorum has given conservatives reason to look to him as the last remaining credible”Not Romney.” I’m not certain that they all actually want to see Santorum on the podium in Tampa accepting the party’s nomination in August. But that’s where we could end up.
There are obvious significant differences between the campaigns. Santorum is a two-term US Senator who knows something about fundraising and running a campaign; Dan Maes was not, and did not. However badly he might do in the general election – and I think he would do very badly – nobody thinks he’s going to walk away with 11% of the vote. However much Ron Paul may dream of a 3rd-party run, he’s nowhere near as attractive a candidate as Tancredo was to desperate Republicans in 2010. It doesn’t look as though Romney’s put himself in a position to be torpedoed by members of his own party holding a grudge. And of course, the gubernatorial nomination was a one-day primary; there was no opportunity to rethink the decision.
But even as more and more people assume that the Republican sold as the most electable will be the eventual nominee, much as people even on primary night assumed that McInnis would pull out a win, Obama’s re-elect numbers on Intrade keep rising.
The Republicans need this election to be a referendum on Obama; in both 2010 and so far in 2012, the nominating process has been a referendum on the front-runner. Thus far, the Romney campaign has serially been able to create a series of successful one-on-one contests with other candidates. He’s done so with the help of a national media that was McCain’s base until he became the nominee. Some conservatives and libertarian-minded Republicans have been all too willing to chew up Mitt’s challengers from the right as not conservative, and now find themselves without a champion. And the candidates themselves were better at making the case against each other or against Romney than they were at showing how they’d make the case against Obama.
At my own caucus, I closed the discussion by asking people to vote for whom they actually wanted to see as the nominee. Not to vote as a protest against Romney, or to send a message, or as some cathartic gesture, but to vote for the man they actually wanted to see represent the party in the election. I did this, reminding people of the consequences of playing games with their vote, which is how we ended up with Dan Maes as our nominee, and John Hickenlooper as governor.
None of which is to suggest that anyone abandon their candidate for the sake of an artificial “unity.” If you want one of the three others still standing to be the party’s nominee, or believe that he better represents the party, there’s no sense in not supporting him. But if you mainly believe that Romney needs sharpening or the establishment needs its nose bloodied, you’re playing a very dangerous game.
We’ve seen that movie before, and it ends badly.