Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Party insiders and the invisible primary

For a truly great discussion about just who party insiders are and how they affect presidential nominations, look no further than Greg Marx's interview with Hans Noel (one of the co-authors of The Party Decides) in the Columbia Journalism Review. Hans explains the book's main arguments extremely well. The main point -- one that I've tried to make here on a few occasions, though not quite as eloquently as Hans -- is that the really important people at this stage of a nomination contest are neither the candidates nor the voters, but the party elites who are trying to figure out just what they want in a nominee and how to get that person. But, as Hans notes, it's easy to follow candidates and to poll voters, but it's tricky to identify party elites and track their activities. He gives an example of trying to understand how Republican insiders are feeling toward Mitt Romney:
The thing that I would emphasize is that the people he needs to please are not the voters in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina. Ultimately he has to do that, but the path to doing that is to please important leaders on those issues in the party. So when he gave his speech at the University of Michigan awhile back, the response to that really mattered. And the response within the Republican Party wasn’t very good. I don’t know what the polling results would be about how ordinary voters responded, but what mattered was the National Review, which endorsed him in 2008, was not excited by his effort to explain his health care position.
Hans also offers what I consider some helpful advice to assignment editors about how to cover nomination politics:
One thing you could do is—and I don’t want to overstate the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire; they are important but they’re not the end-all and be-all—you could have someone be responsible for learning about what’s going on in Iowa. So they would go and talk to the various party leaders in Iowa, various activists, people who have been influential in earlier campaigns. You would cover Iowa, rather than covering Michele Bachmann in Iowa. It’s daunting to say, go and understand a whole state. It’s harder than it is to follow around a particular candidate. But that is the place where the questions need to be asked.
Really, go read the whole thing.

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