New York Times: Governor Palin Wouldn’t Have Done as Well Against Mandate Mitt as Rick Santorum; Updated

In a post a few days ago I linked to a piece by Phillip Klein in which Klein speculated that Mitt Romney would have had a decidedly tougher time winning the GOP nomination had Governor Palin entered the race. As I noted in the post, I have no doubt that Mr. Etch-a-Sketch would now be back in Massachusetts plotting his next losing political campaign had the Governor thrown her hat in the ring. Dogcatcher? ObamaCare Administrator? But really, who cares?

Anyway, yesterday New York Times Columnist Ross Douthat wrote an article in which he disagreed with this assessment. Douthat is considered by his employers at The Times to be one of their token conservatives, but his conservatism (I’m being charitable) is more closely attuned to that of fellow Times token conservative David Brooks (he with the well-documented fetish for Obama’s pant crease) and thus has zero credibility among actual conservatives. In yesterday’s remarkably obtuse piece, Douthat provided plenty of evidence as to why this is the case as he attempts to make the case that Governor Palin wouldn’t have provided as much competition for Multiple Choice Mitt as Rick Santorum. At least I think that’s what his argument is.  Honestly, it’s difficult to tell at times.

After rehashing Klein’s article and another one on the same topic by Allahpundit, Douthat begins digging:

Where enthusiasm and potential fundraising is concerned, Palin clearly would have had a huge edge on Santorum, giving her the opportunity to build the kind of infrastructure that he conspicuously lacked. But then again, nothing in her post-2008 career suggests an aptitude or appetite for the kind of work required to build a smooth-running (or even occasionally-misfiring) national campaign. Team First Dude and Co. would have spent much more money than Team Sweater Vest, no doubt, but whether they would have spent it wisely is another question. (Recall that Rick Perry spent a lot of money, too.)

Douthat’s point, presumably, is that Governor Palin’s failure to construct a campaign infrastructure is evidence that she didn’t have the “aptitude or appetite” to do so. Er, she didn’t make the decision to run or not until October 5th.  Why would she have gone through all the time and expense to set up an expensive campaign infrastructure until she was sure she was going to run.  Governor Palin’s entire history is one of frugality and responsibility with public or campaign funds.  This is completely lost on Douthat, though, as is obvious by his snarky implication that Governor Palin wouldn’t have ‘spent the money wisely’. His evidence for this contention: Rick Perry spent a lot of money.  Get it?  No, neither do I. Sorry Ross, Rick Perry is no Governor Palin.

Where the debates were concerned, meanwhile, I would give the edge to Santorum. This was a campaign in which individual debate moments mattered, but what really mattered was being consistently solid in performance after performance, — and again, nothing we’ve seen from Palin post-2008 suggests that she would have had the discipline or briefing-book mastery necessary to impress week after week.

This is just asinine.  Governor Palin destroyed Joe Biden, a 36-year Senate blow-hard in the 2008 VP debate, and sailed through the debates on her rise to the top in Alaska, obliterating veteran Alaska pol Frank Murkowski.  Can anyone honestly see her losing to any the 2012 GOP pretenders? I know I can’t.  Douthat’s non-sequitur that she wouldn’t perform well in the 2012 debates because she hasn’t demonstrated the “discipline or briefing-book mastery to impress” since 2008 indicates he’s either been living on the dark side of the moon … or writing for the New York Times.

Santorum, on the other hand, was dogged and disciplined and detail-oriented (even, alas, when the details involved the Cuban-Venezuelan-Bolivian “threat”), which paid dividends for him over the long haul that the debate calendar became. The debates made him seem a more plausible contender; there’s no reason to think they would have the same impact for Palin, and some reason to suspect the reverse.

Really? Douthat, of course, doesn’t provide anything at all to back up his assertion that there’s “reason to suspect the reverse”.  Voices in his head?  Who knows.  And I’m really struggling to understand why he sees Santorum as “dogged and disciplined and detail-oriented” and that this “paid dividends to him over the long haul”.  Santorum benefitted by only one thing: He was the last non-Romney candidate still standing. That Santorum was seen as a possible GOP standard bearer is far more an indication of Romney’s incredible weakness than it is of Santorum’s status as a “plausible contender”. And I have no idea what Douthat point is regarding Santorum’s discipline.

Douthat next tries to make the case that Rick Santorum would be better at attracting Reagan Democrats and independents than Governor Palin:

As for wooing centrists, keep in mind that Santorum was relatively successful at executing a kind of pincer movement in which he won some blue-collar voters to Romney’s left (not all of whom were Democrats trying to sow havoc in the G.O.P.) as well many voters to Romney’s right. The Sarah Palin who governed Alaska as an independent-minded populist might have executed the same maneuver even more effectively. But would the Sarah Palin who’s been branded as the Most Polarizing Woman in America have had the same capacity to win over independent voters in the Midwest?  (Do we really think, as a for instance, that she would have outperformed Santorum among Catholics, the obvious place where he underperformed his?)

Where Governor Palin is concerned, whenever a New York Times writer doesn’t have anything useful to say, he trots out tired old Democrat talking points like the “she’s too polarizing” “polarizing” meme which is usually meant to end the debate. Except it doesn’t. False narratives never do. Governor Palin would have done far better with both women and blue-collar voters (or Reagan Democrats) than Santorum.  She’s one of them. And since she carries none of Santorum’s “big government conservative” baggage, she would have owned voters to Romney’s right.  And given how far left Romney is, that’s a lot of voters.

There is zero evidence to back up Douthat’s contention that Governor Palin lacked the capacity to do better with independent voters in the Midwest than Santorum.  Santorum understood Governor Palin’s appeal.  That’s why he openly asked for her support a few days after she announced she wasn’t running.  If she was as “polarizing” as Douthat claims, why would he do that?  Regarding Catholic voters, Douthat’s argument boils down to this: Rick Santorum underperformed with Catholic voters, therefore Governor Palin would have performed even worse with them.  Huh?

After citing meaningless hypothetical polling data about Governor Palin’s approval ratings (pssst…she’s neither holding an office nor currently running for one, Ross), Douthat then writes something that actually makes sense, even if it contradicts most of what he’s written so far:

The best reason to think that Palin would have given Romney a much longer and tougher fight than Santorum is that she would have polled in the double-digits from the beginning and might have consolidated the not-Romney vote early, by winning Iowa and South Carolina and clearing figures like Gingrich off the decks.

Absolutely true.  And she wouldn’t have only cleared Gingrich from the field, but Perry, Cain, Bachmann and, yes, Santorum as well. Indeed I suspect a couple of them wouldn’t have entered the race in the first place had she been in.  But after this lucid point, Douthat really veers off the logic train.

But I still have trouble seeing which of the various crucial states Santorum lost to Romney that Palin would have won. Michigan? Ohio? Illinois?.

This is easily the dumbest thing Douthat writes.  I’ll answer the question for him: Of the various crucial states Santorum lost to Romney, Palin would have won Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Illinois would have been more problematic, but certainly plausible. The following is speculation, of course, but since Douthat passes off his opinion as fact, I believe I’m entitled to a little latitude here.

Michigan

Romney only won Michigan by 3%.  And to do so, he had to vastly outspend Santorum to barely win his birth state.  So close was the vote that the two actually tied in terms of number of delegates won (until the Michigan GOP machine changed the rules after the fact and gave Romney won of Santorum’s delegates).  On a macro level, as Douthat grudgingly admits, Governor Palin would have been in a far stronger position than Santorum from the beginning of the campaign, and that alone would have been enough to give him the additional 3% lift.  If we assume Palin would have cleared Newt from the race early on, his 7% of the vote would have been hers for the taking as well.

But there are plenty of micro level advantages Governor Palin would have enjoyed in Michigan as well.  First, let’s keep in mind that it was Governor Palin who protested the decision by the geniuses in the McCain campaign to abandon Michigan to Obama in 2008.  She wanted to fight for the state. This is the kind of thing Republican primary voters remember.  Also, Romney wouldn’t have had the massive funding advantage he had with Santorum, and certainly wouldn’t have been able to carpet-bomb the Governor as effectively.  I’m sure he would have tried, but any attempt to paint Palin as a non-conservative would have looked ridiculous, especially coming from Mandate Mitt.  Governor Palin, unlike Santorum, would have had the inclination — and resources — to rip Mitt a new one for his BS. Governor Palin also has ties to the state, even if tenuous.  Her son Track lived in Portage and played hockey for the local high school team for several months in 2006.  All of this combined would have been more than enough for her to outperform Santorum in Michigan, likely by a significant amount.

Ohio

In the buckeye state, Romney only won by .8% or 10,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast. And to accomplish this narrow victory, Romney had to outspend Santorum 12 to 1 in the Buckeye state. As in Michigan, the macro level effects of a much stronger campaign and momentum would have been sufficient to carry her past Romney. And, again, Romney wouldn’t have had such a lopsided financial advantage if he’d had one at all. Anecdotally, as an Ohioan, I was bombarded for weeks with anti-Santorum ads funded by Team Mitt. There were very few Santorum ads in response. Also, anecdotally, nobody that I know was happy with the choices on the ballot. Most voted for either Santorum or Gingrich. Not because they were excited about either, but because nobody can stomach Mitt Romney. Again, I agree with Douthat that Gingrich would have been gone from the race by this time and the 14.6% of the vote he tallied in Ohio would have been up for grabs.  I doubt Romney would have received much of it.

Oh, there’s one more reason to believe Governor Palin would have performed better than Romney among Ohio’s GOP primary voters. Last November the public employee unions in Ohio were able to put an initiative on the ballot, Ohio Issue 2. The initiative involved Ohio’s PEU reforms put into place by Governor Kasich to help prevent a Greece-style fiscal crisis. Kasich’s reforms were similar to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s. A vote in favor of the initiative would keep Kasich’s reforms in place, while a vote against would repeal the plan. in the Buckeye State. Anyway, without hesitation Governor Palin took to Facebook to endorse Governor Kasich’s plan. And Mitt? Well, he did what he usually does. He was for it, then against it, then “110 percent” for it. Whatever. In any event, Governor Palin would have only had that .8% Romney beat Santorum by in Ohio would have ben easily overcome by Governor Palin.

Wisconsin

Governor Palin would have had a bit more work to do in Wisconsin than in Ohio or Michigan but I believe macro factors would have been more than enough to deliver the state.  Santorum lost to the Mittster by 7%.  But by this time in the race, Romney was already seen as inevitable and the Establishment was in full “let’s end this now” mode.  Had Governor Palin been in the race, she would have been the beneficiary of these dynamics. And Wisconsin Republicans primary voters would not have forgotten that it was Governor Palin, not Mr. Etch-a-Sketch, who came to the lion’s den in Madison and stood in the swirling snow last April to passionately argue on behalf of conservatism in general and Governor Scott Walker’s plan to restore fiscal sanity to Wisconsin:

[videoplayer file=http://videos.videopress.com/Fqa1vEov/governor-palin_s-speech-at-tea-party-rally-in-madison-wi-e28093-april-16-2011_dvd.mp4 image=http://www.conservatives4palin.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/SNV14187-e1303011396468.jpg width=560 height=315 /]

Again, this is the kind of thing primary voters remember.

Illinois

To be sure, Illinois would have been tougher for Governor Palin. This is a liberal state with a history of electing far left candidates. And whenever a statewide election is Illinois is close, Cook County seems to magically deliver the necessary votes at the last minute for the liberal candidate to win the election, even if the aforementioned votes come posthumously. But the Illinois Primary was held on March 20, and even with Romney all but inevitable by then, he only won the state by 12 points amidst the lowest turnout in 70 years. If Governor Palin had been in the race, she likely would have been “inevitable” by March 20 and would have certainly generated far more enthusiasm — and turnout — in the race. Would it have been enough to overcome Mitt’s advantage in liberal Cook County? Good question.

Given all of the above, if we assume Governor Palin had entered the race (let’s say in March or April), I’ll posit an alternate scenario to Douthat’s. First, had she entered in the spring, I doubt either Perry or Bachmann would have thrown their hats in the ring. I agree with Douthat that she would have won Iowa. Easily.  This would have put an end to Santorum’s campaign as he invested everything he had in Iowa. Ditto Pawlenty if he’d still been around. Readers will recall T-Paw dropped out after losing a straw poll in August. He would have lost said straw poll be an even greater margin had Governor Palin been in it.

Heading into Mitt’s stronghold of New Hampshire, she would have had plenty of momentum, having consolidated the conservative, “non-Romney” vote early on as Douthat suggests. I suppose it’s possible she could have beaten the Mittster there and ended the race on January 10th, but let’s give Say Anything Mitt the benefit of the doubt here. After all, given the recent influx of Massachusetts refugees (called “Mass-holes” by the locals) into southern New Hampshire, the Granite State is far more liberal than it once was. Good-bye, Jon Huntsman.

Next up: South Carolina. I agree with Douthat that Governor Palin would have swept that state as well, ending whatever “campaign” Gingrich may still have been waging.  I suspect he may not have even lasted as long as Herman Cain had Governor Palin been in the race, but with Newt it’s anybody’s guess. Traditionally the GOP primaries produce a winner in Iowa, a different winner in New Hampshire, then one of those two wins South Carolina, effectively ending the race. Would that have happened this year?  Possibly, but given Mitt’s decade-long obsession with being president simply because he wants to be president, I suspect the Mittster would have stayed in.

In any event, the race would have been effectively narrowed down to the Mittster and Governor Palin at this point, and none of the other non-Romney candidates can hold a candle to Governor Palin in terms of grass roots support, charisma, conservative credibility, having the right message at the right time (see gasoline prices and crony capitalism, for example), lack of personal baggage, and enthusiasm. We wouldn’t be reading about consistently low voter turnout in GOP primaries. She may have lost Florida, but that’s far from certain given the dynamics which would have been in play after her decisive victories in two of the first three contests. The bandwagon effect is real, and Governor Palin would have been riding it into Florida. More broadly, a Palin candidacy would have completely changed the race which, without her in it, devolved into a depressing mudslinging contest won by a phony conservative who happened to have far more money with which to purchase and sling the mud.

Post-Florida, Governor Palin almost certainly would have won all the states Romney lost, and several of the important ones in which Mitt had to vastly outspend his opponents to barely win (see above). The low GOP turnout this primary season is clear evidence that many conservatives stayed home due to the lack of a legitimate conservative to vote for. This would not have been the case had Governor Palin been running. Contrary to Douthat’s tripe, I see no reason to believe that she wouldn’t have dispatched Romney and become the presumptive nominee on Super Tuesday, if not sooner, and we’d now be discussing her short list for VP. My money would have been on Allen West.

Update: More cold water thrown on Douthat’s “Palin is too polarizing” meme, via Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post:

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney made history on Monday — but not in a good way.

New polling from the Washington Post and ABC News showed that Romney is the least popular presidential nominee since at least 1984, according to Post-ABC data. (His favorable rating among registered voters is 40 percent while his unfavorable rating is 48 percent.)

In fact, it’s not really that close. Just check out this chart we put together detailing the favorable and unfavorable ratings from Post-ABC polling for the two parties’ nominees dating back to that race.

As you can see, Romney is the first nominee to emerge from the primary process with a significantly higher unfavorable rating than his favorable score, according to Post-ABC polling. (Romney’s fav/unfav numbers have been surprisingly consistent — and bad — for months. Back in September 2011, Post-ABC polling had him at 33 favorable/31 unfavorable  and he’s gone downhill since then.)

In summary, the Mittster has by far the worse favorable/unfavorable rating of any presidential candidate at this stage of the election cycle since at least 1984 (including Walter Mondale), yet it’s Governor Palin who’s polarizing while Romney’s the electable one? What am I missing?



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