Thursday, August 4, 2011

Elites, not deciding

Nick Confessore, in today's NYT:
Two and a half years after Mr. Bush left the White House, the formidable network of Republican donors he assembled has largely melted away. Fewer than one in five of Mr. Bush’s Rangers and Pioneers, the elite corps of “bundlers” who helped Mr. Bush smash fund-raising records in his two runs for the White House and remain the gold standard of Republican fund-raising, have contributed to any of the current Republican candidates, according to a New York Times analysis.
This is a solid piece of analysis; kudos to Confessore for doing the legwork here. Like Hans Noel says, there's no one definitive piece of information that tells us how "the party insiders" are leaning, but early high-level donors, particularly those who participated actively in previous campaigns, are a decent indicator, and so far they're suggesting that elites in the GOP are having a hard time settling on a favorite for the nomination.

There are a few possible interpretations of this. It may be that the political world has changed since 2000 and you really don't need the party's elites in your corner to win the nomination anymore, as long as they're not actively opposed to you. Perhaps Internet fundraising has given candidates the ability to collect sufficient sums that they're no longer dependent on key elites for support. 

It's also possible that the same basic rules that have existed since 1980 are still in play (read The Party Decides for details), but GOP elites just can't pick a favorite, as happened in 2008. They may like Romney as a general election candidate but worry about his ideological flexibility and the difficulty a Mormon would have in winning over some conservative voters. They may like Pawlenty but have been unimpressed with his campaigning skills thus far (Shades of Fred Thompson four years ago). They may like Perry but are worried that he'll be easily caricatured as an extremist. And perhaps in their hearts they like Bachmann but in their heads they think she's nuts.

Additionally, the Tea Party movement may have made all this elite coordination a lot more challenging -- it's hard to know whether Tea Partiers would accept someone like Romney and, if they didn't, whether they could or would actually derail a presidential nomination if the rest of the party was behind him.

It's possible that some of these elites will come off the fence if Perry officially jumps in (although see here). Or perhaps they're just doing what some elite Democratic donors did in 2008 -- just sitting back and waiting for the early primaries to provide some information as to how well these folks campaign, deal with setbacks, and connect with voters.


Anonymous said...

I know a few elite Republican donors/bundlers (to be fair, I only really know/talk to the moderate/"libertarian"-leaning ones) and I think that there are two things going on. One is that your last paragraph is correct. A lot of the people I talk to are waiting for Perry, who they see as the candidate who can most easily win in 2012. I also think that a lot of the moderate Republicans with money really, really like Huntsman but know that he can't win, so they don't want to give to oppose him, but they're not going to give to a hopeless candidate.

Seth Masket said...

Thanks for the input. Yeah, I didn't even mention Huntsman in the post because I figured he had no chance -- maybe even less than Bachmann.