Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Perhaps our expectations for Romney are a tad high

There is an emerging narrative that Mitt Romney is simply not a good candidate. As Paul Begala said on CNN last night:
We come here, every week, this is the week he'll close the deal, as we say.... It's not the campaign. He's got good people. He's got the biggest super PAC of them all. He's got good ads. He's just not very good at this. I mean, look what we've got. He's just not that talented a politician.
Is this fair? I mean, I haven't been particularly impressed with some of his Mr. Burns-esque gaffes or his tepid response to Limbaugh, but it's hard to demonstrate that those have really hurt him. But he keeps getting criticized for failing to "close the deal." This strikes me as a case of unrealistic expectations.

As Nate Silver observes, Romney has been averaging between 35 and 40 percent of the vote in the contests so far. That puts him right about on par with Carter in 1976, Mondale in 1984, and Dukakis in 1988 -- in other words, well on track to become the nominee and have the party unify behind him.

Why hasn't he "closed the deal"? Because this year's calendar and delegate allocation system are a major departure from what we've seen in previous years. As Matthew Dickinson points out, by Super Tuesday in 2008, more than half of the Republican delegates had been allocated. And that was in early February! As of today, only 36% of the delegates for 2012 have been awarded. The contests are simply more spread out than they used to be. And while the Republicans haven't gone full-proportional for the most part, they're not exactly winner-take-all in most of these states, either, while they largely were four years ago more states were so four years ago.

So when you consider that it's harder for any candidate to amass delegates quickly and that the Republican calendar was designed for a prolonged battle, just what are people expecting Romney to have done? Also, given that his nomination is virtually a mathematical certainty at this point, perhaps we could cut the guy a bit of slack on this narrative.


Anonymous said...

Carter was running against a dozen first tier political figures in the Democratic Party. Dukakis was running against half a dozen first tier conventional political figures and Jesse Jackson who was generating huge enthusiasm.

Romney is running against joke candidates. One of them carries damn near his entire campaign organization in his suitcase and the other resigned in disgrace and is the single most hated figure in the party. He and his sockpuppets are outspending them by orders of magnitude. And he's still just barely scraping by.

It's like the U.S. having trouble to win a war with Lichtenstein after a year of fighting and saying, "well, at this point in World War II and the Civil War, the U.S. wasn't doing so great either."

Seth Masket said...

The field Dukakis ran in was widely known at the time as "the seven dwarfs." Yes, Gore, Gephardt, Biden et al. seem in hindsight like figures of stature, but they didn't seem that way at the time. And Gary Hart dropped out before Iowa due to a sex scandal and jumped back in quixotically.

Josh Putnam said...

There were 10 WTA states in 2008. There are 6 now. The GOP was mostly WTA by CD in 2008 and that is still the case this year with some very subtle differences. We saw a whole host of those differences last night. But it isn't fair to say that the GOP was mostly WTA 4 years ago; not strictly WTA anyway. There were chances then for non-McCains to pick off some CDs, but there wasn't too much of that.

Seth Masket said...

Thanks for the comment, Josh. I've adjusted the text to try to be more accurate.

sleepyirv said...

The seven dwarves might not have seemed to be anything special at the time but we now know they were actually serious candidates. Are you arguing we'll look back at Santorum and see a political savant? 3rd Wife Newt Gingrich?

Dausuul said...

Dukakis and Mondale got their respective butts handed to them in the general and are widely seen as having been very weak candidates, so I'm not sure what citing them is supposed to prove. Carter is the only one of those three who actually won, and he was running against the guy who pardoned Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Seth Masket said...

I wasn't speaking to Dukakis' or Mondale's qualities as general election candidates. They performed just about as expected in the economic forecast models anyway. My point was that they were successful nominees. They ran in competitive fields, managed to win the bulk of delegates, and managed to unite the party behind them, without major groups within the party defecting or staying home. Romney is consistent with this pattern.