I just saw this story regarding Virginia’s primary on Super Tuesday, March 6th. It turns out that neither Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, nor Jon Huntsman submitted the necessary paper work in time to qualify for Virginia’s primary – they will not appear on the Virginia ballot.
I find this interesting because it seems to me that failing to file the requisite paperwork to appear on any of the Super Tuesday states is tantamount to admitting that your campaign for the presidency is not something you take particularly seriously. Whether it’s the sheer inability to collect the necessary signatures or the simple unwillingness to expend the resources necessary to do so, failing to appear on a Super Tuesday state’s ballot pretty much announces to the world you do not think you have a serious shot at snagging your party’s nomination.
Assuming that’s the case, I am beginning to wonder what thought these three non-candidates have given to whom they will endorse for the Republican nomination once they officially bow out of the running. So . . . I’m gonna indulge myself by making some more entirely unsubstantiated, wildly speculative, political horserace predictions.
Let’s posit that Ron Paul and Rick Perry are not viable contenders. If they manage to still be in the race by the time Super Tuesday rolls around I suppose one of the three non-candidates could endorse either one of those two, but I don’t see any reason why they would do so. Ron Paul’s retiring after next year, and Rick Perry is going back home to Texas to do what he does best: execute the mentally disabled.
I suppose endorsing either of those two might be done as a big “screw you” to Newt Romney, but I don’t see how that would gain any of these three wannabes anything of any real worth. And they all are young enough to have years in politics or political commentary ahead of them, which means I just don’t seem them doing anything out of sheer spite.
So let’s restrict the speculation as to whom these three wannabes are going to endorse (if they endorse anybody) to only Newt Romney. And let’s further assume that going into Super Tuesday both Newt and Mitt seem equally likely to snag the nomination. After all, if one looks to be a sure-fire winner then he will almost certainly snag all the endorsements because – hey! – nobody wants to be seen backing a loser, and if one guy already has been anointed then everybody else can just claim to be “rallying around the Republican nominee.”
So here’s how I see it:
I think Santorum would almost certainly endorse Newt over Romney, and for the vilest of reasons: religion. Santorum is probably the most ardent of the God botherers the Republicans have fielded this year (although Bachmann is a close second), and Newt has recently converted to L’il Ricky’s very own One True Church. I think Santorum would be hard-pressed to explain to his religious whackjob base (such as it is) the decision to endorse a Mormon, and he will not do so unless he personally thinks Romney is a shoo-in and that Romney is willing to give Santorum something substantial in trade for L’il Ricky’s blessing (such as it is).
I think the girl with the faraway eyes is also likely to endorse Newt over Romney, and for similar reasons. Although not a Catholic, La Bachmann is also a devoted God botherer and I think she would have a difficult time explaining to her religious base that she endorsed a Mormon over a more “traditional” Christian.
More importantly, Bachmann began this congressional session overtly allying herself with the Tea Party. Newt Gingrich was an early supporter of the Tea Party, and only last weekend Gingrich won a nationwide Tea Party straw poll – beating out Bachmann herself. Unlike Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann is running for re-election next year, and I think she’d have a helluva time trying to explain to her political base why she would endorse Mitt Romney over their main man Newt Gingrich.
Which leads us to . . .
I find him by far the most interesting wannabe about which to engage in shameless speculation. From the beginning I’ve wondered why someone as seemingly intelligent as Huntsman would want to throw his hat into the ring this year. He must know that merely by virtue of having worked for Obama as Ambassador to China he is tainted in the eyes of the Republican base. He must also know that merely by virtue of being Mormon he is also regarded with suspicion by that base, and that if any Republicans are able to overlook having to vote for a Mormon those voters already have attached themselves to Mitt Romney.
So my sense always has been that Huntsman has no real interest in winning the Republican nomination – not this year. My guess is that Huntsman is setting himself up for a run in 2016. I think he looked over the 2012 Republican field, figured out for himself that it is probably the weakest group of competitors either party has thrown up for quite some time, and calculated that the odds were good that Obama will win the general election no matter whom the Republicans finally nominate.
But 2016 – ah, 2016 could be different. Let’s assume – and why not – that the economy improves at least marginally throughout Obama’s second term. People will be feeling better about things in general, and about Obama specifically. But Obama can’t run for a third term. And whom will the Democrats nominate? Joe Biden? Unlikely. Hillary Clinton? Her time has passed. I just don’t see any strong Democrats on the horizon for 2016 (although, if I had my druthers, I’d dragoon former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold and force him to run for the office). And besides, after eight years of the same party in the White House Americans typically are ready for a change and willing to give the presidency to the other party (you cannot persuade me that this wasn’t one admittedly stupid reason why the Bush/Gore election was even close).
So 2016 might not be a bad year to be running as a “moderate” Republican who was once tied to the Obama administration but has also made a name for himself as a GOP stalwart. I think this 2012 race is Huntsman’s warm-up performance, his opportunity to introduce himself to the Republican base and to the American people. I think Huntsman is positioning himself to be the intelligent, moderate Republican who got passed over in 2012 just so some fire-breathing, scorched-earth, base-pleasing candidate could get crushed by Obama in the general election. I think Huntsman is gambling that four years from now the Republican Party will have come to its senses and be willing to nominate an Orderly – and not a Crazy – from the Republican Asylum to lead them to victory.
And Huntsman wants to be that Orderly.
So whom will Huntsman endorse? Well, the greatest likelihood is that he will refuse to endorse anybody, but those aren’t the rules we’re playing by. So let’s see . . .
If Huntsman endorses Romney, he endorses the candidate with probably the best chance of beating Obama in the general election. But a Romney win would screw up Huntsman’s 2016 strategy. Also, by endorsing Romney he would help cement the subterranean assumption of the religious right that “Mormonism is a cult” and that “Mormons stick together.” That might undercut Romney’s viability with the base and make him less electable in 2012, but it would do the same thing to Huntsman for the 2016 election.
On the other hand, if Huntsman endorses Newt he directly weakens Romney (“even his fellow Mormons don’t want to vote for him”), he plays up to the Crazy Republican base, and he helps nominate a guy even less likely than Mitt Romney to unseat Obama. This directly benefits Huntsman’s 2016 strategy, including even the idea that – having lost so badly by electing a fire-breathing true-blue conservative in 2012 (Newt) – maybe in 2016 the GOP should nominate a “moderate” like Huntsman. Truly, a Machiavellian plot worthy of a Marvel Comics supervillain.
So I see Huntsman giving the nod to Newt as well.
And that makes it a clean sweep.
* * *
Obviously, all of this is sheerest speculation and no doubt but that as the next few months play out I will be proved entirely wrong about everything. Also, I’ve already staked my prognosticative abilities on calling Newt Gingrich as the eventual Republican nominee, so perhaps this all just seems like me further trying to bolster that earlier prediction.
But what these speculations really boil down to is who exactly is in charge of the Republican Party right now. For decades it’s been understood that – when push came to shove – the Big Money Boyz and the wired-in party elders always had control over the Republican nomination. But I think that may have changed. I think the Monster Base has gotten off of its slab and the Big Money Boyz cannot control it. I think that is why there has been such an absolute freak out lately by Republicans at the idea that Ron Paul might actually end up winning the Iowa caucuses.
I think the Monster Base has taken over and that the Republican Establishment is no longer running things in the castle, and I think that so far only a few people have noticed. I think this new situation expresses itself in a number of ways both big and small – including the fact that it probably is in the best interests of the three non-viable candidates discussed here to endorse not the candidate the Republican Establishment wants, but the marginally viable fire-breather that the Monster Base wants.
And I guess we’ll find out over the next few months if any of that is true.