Wargaming The Caucuses

January 3rd, 2012 at 3:48 pm David Frum | 38 Comments |

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Result 1:

Romney wins, Santorum second, Paul third, Gingrich fourth, Perry fifth.

This is the result indicated by last day’s polling. If it eventuates, this will be a very short nominating contest. Romney will proceed to win in New Hampshire. Perry and Gingrich will try to make a last stand in South Carolina. Unless one or the other wins outright, their money will dry up after three consecutive losses. Santorum and Paul may remain in the race, but it will essentially be ballgame over by the time of the Florida primary on January 31st.

Result 2:

Santorum wins, Romney second, Paul third.

This is the result the press here is sort of hoping for, not because they like Santorum so much, but because they like campaigning–and nobody has campaigned harder than Santorum. Result 2 leads to the same outcome as Result 1. Santorum will not become a front-runner any more than Mike Huckabee did in 2008, and for the same reason: there is no funding base for Santorum-style religious conservatism, and he won’t travel well to New Hampshire the next week.

Result 3:

Paul wins, Santorum second, Romney third.

This is a result that causes a commotion, as much because of the revealed Romney weakness as because of the Paul upset. To calm the shock, Romney would have to score big in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. On the other hand–that’s probably just what he would do. Because however you game this thing tonight, the basic logic of the campaign remains fixed:

There is no path to the nomination for Ron Paul or Rick Santorum. There might have been such a path for Rick Perry–or even very very possibly Newt Gingrich–but the entrance to that path is now blocked. That leaves Romney sooner or later. Tonight’s vote will settle the timing, not the outcome.

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38 Comments so far ↓

  • Oldskool

    With any luck there will be an actual ballgame on one channel or another.

  • Geprodis

    The polls show Gingrich crushing Romney in South Carolina.

    You HOPE they run out of money. Here is a different scenario:

    Paul wins Iowa, Romney loses momentum and barely wins New Hampshire, Gingrich wins South Carolina and then Florida..well…Gingrich is ahead there too.

    You forgot to mention that if Santorum, Perry, and Bachman leave the race their support does not go to Romney, either Paul or Gingrich will be stronger.

  • MSheridan

    I’m not going to say David’s wrong in his reasoning in this piece. I’m agnostic in the matter. However, I’m still somewhat surprised that he actually wants Romney to win. Given his past editorials and statements, I’d have thought he’d want one of the more extreme candidates to pick up the nomination, so the party could learn its lesson and start picking up the pieces. From his past writing, David clearly doesn’t believe that Romney actually holds all of the positions he’s currently pretending to hold, but even assuming Romney and Frum were on the identical ideological page, it does nothing for Frum’s goals for the GOP if Romney gets the nomination. Either Romney would lose in the general election (likely), thereby convincing the party faithful that a truer, better, more Scottish conservative should have been nominated, or Romney wins in the general election and brings the GOP (and possibly the nation) down in flames. He wouldn’t have a choice in the matter. Given the way he’s positioned himself thus far, he won’t–can’t–govern as Frum has indicated he thinks a President should govern in these circumstances. He would be trapped between his GOP allies and his Democratic enemies.

    A victorious Romney, to the extent that he cooperated with the GOP in Congress, would be the ultimate Democratic pitchman. Lowering taxes on the rich while cutting services for the poor and middle class in the middle of a depression? The GOP would struggle to get a dogcatcher elected for the next ten years at least. If the GOP Congress suddenly tried to do a turnaround to relative sanity, their base, now conditioned, would tear them to pieces. Romney certainly wouldn’t be able to work with the Democrats as he did in Massachusetts. Bipartisanship is easy for an governor if the opposition party holds 85% of the seats in the legislature. Obviously, that wouldn’t be the case in Washington. In fact, if Romney won we’d have to assume the GOP would probably still hold the House and anything Romney wanted to do that the Democrats might possibly support would never pass muster with the lockstep Republican Congress.

    No, if I were David Frum, I’d be hoping for anyone BUT Romney to win the nomination, the more extreme the better. No other frontrunner would have a prayer and all of them would lose badly enough to discredit the kind of extremism Frum wants to see excised from the party to which he still inexplicably clings.

    • CautiousProgressive

      I’d have thought he’d want one of the more extreme candidates to pick up the nomination

      No; Frum is one of the most intensely pragmatic political thinkers of our time. He believes that Romney is simply the only one without crippling political flaws.

      • MSheridan

        Possibly so (counting the fact that Huntsman served in a Democratic administration as a crippling political flaw to GOP voters). But I’ve watched and listened to Romney. For an ex-governor, he’s shockingly short on charisma. He’s not going to inspire the GOP to change its current self-destructive ways. So regardless of whether he won or lost, I don’t see the benefit for Frum. He wants his party back. I don’t think Romney can give it to him.

      • Geprodis

        That made me laugh out loud.

        The base is not going to come out in November to vote for Romney.

        Why would centrists pick Romney over Obama? The more to the center Romney goes, the more of the base he loses. The same isn’t necessarily true for Obama. Just take the Obama supporters on Frum Forum. They know he has failed them on countless issues, but they still support him.

        Romney lacks charisma, and he comes off as a rich prick who got rich by slashing jobs.

        Frum is not a great political strategist, or he would realize Romney is going to be crushed in November.

        • dante

          I’d bet you’re 100% wrong. People like Obama, but think he’s in over his head. They like his policies, but aren’t happy with the fact that those policies haven’t worked. I’m pretty sure that independents would love to vote for Obama’s policies but who *isn’t* Obama. In comes Romney who has almost identical policies (at least, before his recent revelations), and suddenly Romney could pick up quite a bit of the middle….

          Of course, the base isn’t going to be happy, but the GOP is in quite a pickle right now. If they pick someone who can keep the base happy, they’ll alienate the moderates. If they pick a moderate, they’ll lose ALL of the base’s energy and open themselves to a 3rd party run…

    • Houndentenor

      Should Romney be nominated and lose, the base will claim he lost because he wasn’t conservative enough. That’s also what they said about McCain. Then in 2015-16 we’ll get another similar spectacle with the candidates trying to move even further right, further alienating voters. That might be good for the Democrats, but it’s bad for the nation at large.

    • ratgov

      If the GOP Congress suddenly tried to do a turnaround to relative sanity, their base, now conditioned, would tear them to pieces.

      That’s why you start a war in Iran. That way you can say that the rules have changed.

  • TerryF98

    Doesn’t fluffing a pillock like Romney get tiring after a while. Reading the fluffing sure does.

    • CautiousProgressive

      Given the choice between monsters (Gingrich), madmen (Paul), and liars (Romney) – Frum wisely chooses a liar.

    • Probabilistic

      How can you call Romney a dullard after five years of strenuous spit and polish? I think Mitt is matte.

      • MSheridan

        You may actually be able to shine a turd, given sufficient spit, but that doesn’t mean you’d want the final product on your shelf.

  • mattparlmer

    Santorum wins over Romney by 2%, Gingrich and Paul duke it out for 3rd place. This puts Romney in an awkward position as New Hampshire approaches. Any surprises there would devastate him. This leaves us with Romney throwing his full weight into NH, while everybody else gets a chance to fight over South Carolina, and Newt solidifies his lead in Florida.

    If that pans out, things get ugly for Romney’s nomination prospects in a hurry, which is a damn shame because I would love to see him and Newt settle down into a dialogue over the next month or two.

  • Houndentenor

    Oh how fun it is to watch Republicans fall into the same mistakes that plagued Democrats for years. After a year of savaging each other, the “winner” emerges with the campaign against them already mapped out. The negative campaigning Obama’s team would need to do has already been done. They just have to re-run the old ads on youtube to keep people talking about the candidate’s weaknesses. Yes, it’s dumb. Ronald Reagan was smart to preach against this practice. The attacks haven’t been over narrow policy differences but personal in nature. None of them is seen by the others as fit to govern. Now then do they convince the electorate that they are. Sorry, this is a pathetic spectacle. We deserve better as a nation. But the GOP is getting exactly what it deserves. This is what they have been promoting for a decade and it’s all that’s left of the party. Congratulations.

  • SteveThompson

    Here is an interesting article showing the financial situation of five of the Republican primary candidates, what assets and debts they hold and details about where they derive their income:


  • squiddyboy

    This has been the most funnest Prelude to a Re-election ever! Howard Dean’s meltdown? Talk about zzzzzzzzzzz 2003-2004 who needs ya?

    Lothario pizza hucksters? CHECK

    A comically dumb bully forgetting his comically dumb bully talking points on live TV? CHECK

    A lovable old geezer who’s tired of whipper snappers (and the Black Elite/Trilateral/Elders of Zion committee)? CHECK

    A Google-bombed hate mongering weasel? A washed-up, puffy faced egomaniac hasbeen? A Darwin denying, Papillomavirus loving gun MILF? CHECK, CHECK and CHECCKKKK!!!

    You’ve got a lot to live up to 2015-2016!

  • Deep South Populist

    Ron Paul is still my first choice whatever his flaws. Obama versus Romney is a choice between slow acting poison and fast acting poison.

    Here is a nice RP interview with Scott Pelley.

    Scott Pelley: But what about Iran!!!

    RP: Actually, we contained the Soviet Union without a military intervention, and they had 30,000 nuclear weapons.


  • dante

    Sorry, DF, I’m choosing Option #4:

    First – Santorum
    Second – Paul
    Third – Romney

    I’m betting that Santorum is able to get most of the evangelical / Not-Romney vote, and that Paul’s caucus experience and drive beat Romney, who has had little involvement in Iowa to this point.

    I think a 3rd place finish for Romney is *devastating*. To go from thinking you’re going to win to finishing a distant 3rd place behind a crank and a nobody will severely shake the view of his invincibility, and that’s really all he has to go by. I’d bet he still wins NH, but not by the 40+ pt margin that he had last week. From there on out, the race is WIDE OPEN.

    If I win, do I get a writing gig at FF? :)

    • dante

      With 3% of the precincts reporting, it’s:

      Santorum: 26.2%
      Paul: 22.9%
      Romney: 18%

      • dante

        Damn, looks like a complete toss-up among the top 3. So looks like I’ve got a 1-in-6 change of being right?

  • squiddyboy

    Marry Romney. Kill Paul. %&#! Santorum.

    • dante

      Aaaaaahahahahahahahahahaha! I’ll put this up for “comment of the night for those who get it”.


  • sparse

    Dateline Iowa.

    With santorum surging from behind, Romney has a real mess to clean up.

  • Kingofthenet

    The ‘Kingmaker’ is Ron Paul, whomever he supports gets enough to push them over the top…UNLESS he runs 3rd Party, than I LOL and LOL some more!

  • dante

    Well, my bracket is shot, so it looks like either situation #1 or 2 above…. *but* I can’t imagine that sneaking into first by (literally) a couple dozen votes is going to ‘propel’ Romney into an easy path to the nomination. I know that DF looooves Romney, but you can’t say that “winning” Iowa with right now less than 25% of the vote gives him *any* momentum going into NH. I’d almost say that a tie is worse than a couple-point loss since it only draws attention to the fact that a large number of Iowans didn’t vote for him.

    • busboy33

      I think the logic is more that the nomination is Romney’s to lose. Mitt placing at the front keeps his status as “the likely candidate” firmly in check . . . whereas if Mitt placed outside of the top he’d be crippled.

      He tied for first in Iowa, and now we go to NH where he is the presumptive winner. That gets the news cycle started with their “Romney’s got it in the bag” chanting, and if this cycle has demonstrated anything its that PR is a major factor. Then Mitt rolls in to the next few States with the momentum.

      At least, that’s how I understood it.

      • dante

        Romney couldn’t even get to 25% of the vote and he’s tied with a guy who was in the single digits until a couple weeks ago. I think Romney made a mistake by going “all-in” in the past couple weeks in the hopes of bagging Iowa (and the nomination) because it raised expectations that he might actually win it all. Tying with Santorum isn’t exactly a springboard.

        Also, Perry just dropped out (10% in Iowa) and Bachmann (6%) is looking like she’s going to as well. If either of them had dropped out before the Iowa caucus, Santorum would have won by a commanding margin. Now even Gingrich is reading the tea leaves and it sounds like he’s going to throw his campaign against whoever is closest to beating Romney. I don’t know, it’s just…. ugly.

        • busboy33

          Oh, that’s certainly a fair interpretation. I’m not endorsing the “Romney is on his way” viewpoint — its one spin of multiple possible options.

          Josh Marshall over at TPM had an interesting combination of both positions. He mentioned that prior to Tuesday, the general opinion was as long as Mitt didn’t get blown out he could count it as a “win”. However, for some reason the exact result he was hoping for now has the feeling of vulnerability. Josh predicts that the GOP Establishment will immediately go into “race is over Romney wins” drum-beating mode to smother the potential of the “Romney is weak” idea gaining any traction.

          Agreed with Bachmann/Perry’s 16% back in play, the numbers look different . . . but how different? One could easily think that Bachmann’s 6% go to Santorum because he loves Jebus so much, and Perry’s 10% go to Romney or Gingrich as the “electable” candidate. Would that have changed the result much? I still think that if Romney got out of Iowa within a few percentage points of the front he did as good as he could have expected, so unless all 16% jump into a single candidate it might not have shook anything up too drastically. Santorum still has a solid showing, but how far can he go nationally? Unless Newt gets the overwhelming majority , he still finishes behind the top 3. Paul did solidly, but faces the same national viability question that Santorum does.

          Regardless, speculating about the unknowable future is exciting!

  • ratgov

    I still think Gingrich has a path. I think he’ll do surprisingly well in New Hampshire and has a very solid chance of winning South Carolina. Ron Paul will sputter out quickly as he did last time and I don’t think people will stick with Santorum once the negative ads start. If Gingrich can stay in with some money until Florida I still think he has a chance to become the defacto anti-Romney, where he will do very well.

    • busboy33

      Newt stays in if the money keeps flowing . . . but will it keep flowing if he loses NH by 10%? Two disappointing finishes might see his free money dry up pretty damn quick.

  • nhthinker

    It’s possible that Romney, Paul and Santorum jump by 10 points in NH polls-
    Effectively mortally weakening Gingrich and killing off Perry, Huntsman and Bachmann.

    Romney will likely win almost every following primary as long as he, Paul, Santorum and Gingrich are still in. As long as Santorum and Gingrich are within 5-10 points of each other, I do not see either of them getting out. It is already clear that Paul and Romney will participate in all the primaries until the end of the summer.