Archive for the ‘political science’ Category
You see the occasional article about how we are now in a “libertarian moment” or that the GOP has been captured by libertarians. It is true that libertarians are getting more publicity than before, but it truly hard to argue that libertarianism – a consistent demand that the state scale back across the board – is actually here. For example, in the Real Clear Politics average of presidential primary polls, Rand Paul, the most libertarian candidate, has a huge 2% of support from GOP voters. Gary Johnson, the libertarian GOP former governor of New Mexico, could barely register support above the margin of error of polling, also gaining 2%. Ron Paul has done the best with an enormous 8% of polling in 2008 – and he ran against only two other people! And of course, the Libertarian Party itself has done very poorly at the polls and has shown no ability to pull a significant number of GOP votes.
Why does the media periodically report that libertarians are having a “moment?” Why does Salon think that libertarians run America? Three hypotheses: (a) Republican voters and politicians conveniently co-opt anti-state rhetoric when it suits them, even if they clearly do not have libertarian sympathies; (b) Some libertarians, like Ron Paul, are charismatic and have more media presence than the average GOP politician; and (c) libertarians are disproportionately drawn to the GOP due to demographic or cultural factors. An alternative version of (c) is that the GOP is a coalition of high-SES groups who have populist grievances, which would attract libertarians. My hunch is that (a) and (c) reinforce each other, while (b) has little explanatory power. Add your own thoughts in the comments.
You will read a lot of insightful and nuanced discussion of Scott Walker’s campaign for president. Here, I want to offer an additional analysis – the “entertainment” theory of the GOP and its primary process. Normally, what you’ve seen in American politics is that various factions, or coalitions, put up candidates and that each coalition gets a fair share of the vote (e.g., liberals have Bernie Sanders now) and primaries are fought between a small number of candidates.
What happened so that the GOP has now fielded 16 contenders? The answer is that one of the major coalitions inside the GOP (the populists) has abandoned normal political practice, which usually entails vetting a small number of candidates from the ranks of the party elites. Instead, they are directing attention at candidates for their entertainment value. In other words, a significant chunk of the GOP now judges candidates not on what they’ve done or their political connections, but how amusing they are on television.
Why does this matter? It matters because the dynamics of entertainment are very different than the dynamics of traditional politics. In traditional politics, people spend a career building a reputation and social capital. You help people and they help you back. That means a certain level of stability. In contrast, if you judge people on entertainment value, then you create an unstable environment. Candidates get stale, and you move from one to the other.
The entertainment theory of the GOP does imply that eventually establishment candidates have the upper hand because entertainment does not get people out to the polls and caucuses. Organization and personal attachment to the party and candidate gets people to the polls. Scott Walker was victim of this dynamic. Tough talk got him attention, boredom set in, and now we have Fiorina, Trump, and Carson.
I am a big believer in social science. For example, I believe there is a lot of evidence supporting the view that elite endorsements do predict party nominations, as documented in The Party Decides. So how does one explain Donald Trump’s current popularity?
The answer, I think, is simple. Normally, politicians need party elites because they don’t have the money, name recognition, organization, or media presence to run for office. Trump has all of these:
- A billion dollar fortune he is willing spend from.
- Decades of media presence.
- His own business organization.
- Name recognition from books, tv, and even a board game.
Add to this that Trump is charismatic, then it is easy to see what the issue is. The Party Decides model is mainly about people who need parties for help. If you need a party, and it doesn’t like you, you’ll loose. Trump has his own resources and he’s great at projecting himself on tv. Thus, he has a chance at bucking the system.
This doesn’t mean that he’s a shoe-in. He could easily turn out to be one of the many also-rans in presidential races. But this reasoning does increase my small belief that he could win a state, or run a Ross Perot style campaign and get 10% or 20% of the popular vote. The deeper lesson here is that politicians, relatively speaking, are poor and need parties. That is why most people have to play by the party’s rules. If you have your own bank account, and you’re good on tv, you can write your own rules.
I recently discussed the GOP presidential field. It’s basically Team Bush/Nixon vs. the populists, with the fruit cake of the month. The Democratic field has evolved into a simplified version of the GOP field. It’s Team Clinton vs. the populists and no loonies need apply. Team Clinton got the nomination three times (1992, 1996, 2000) and a very, very close second place (2008 – Hilary got 47% of the vote vs. Obama’s 48%). All other challengers a combined won three nominations (2004, 2008, 2012) and one of those was when Team Clinton didn’t have anyone in the race.
Vox has a nice feature, by Jonathan Allen, on Hilary’s political style that really does a good job of explaining her political strength and how she is managing to retain the lead. She’s a horrid campaigner whose campaign organization went bankrupt and literally didn’t know the rules, but she has been a center of gravity in the Democratic party for nearly three decades. What allows this? The answer is essentially patronage. Since she’s been working in Democratic party politics since Watergate, she can assemble broad coalitions in the party and incorporates some elements of most mainstream policy proposals:
Clinton’s been a boss at building institutional support. Here’s her secret: Invite potential adversaries to the table, include some of their ideas in policy, and then send their laudatory remarks out to reporters. This signals to them that she’ll be inclusive if she’s elected president, and makes it hard for them to criticize her later on.
The MO has been most evident on the economic agenda Clinton’s in the midst of rolling out. She consulted more than 200 economists, according to her campaign. Her aides worked closely with officials at the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank, in advance of her official campaign launch rally on Roosevelt Island in New York and before her first big economic speech.
More important, she’s taking input from liberal economists who emphasize “fairness” in the economic system and have warred with more Wall Street–oriented Democratic economists such as Bob Rubin and Larry Summers. Rather than choose between their “growth” wing of the Democratic economic establishment and the “fairness” wing, represented by the likes of Joe Stiglitz and Alan Blinder, Clinton has opted for both — and managed to co-opt both.
“Today Hillary Clinton began to offer the kind of comprehensive approach we need to tackle the enormous economic challenges we face, one that is squarely in line with what we have called for at the Roosevelt Institute,” Stiglitz said in a statement.
In other words, she’s the best co-opter in the business.
If you wonder if this strategy will continue to work, just look at the results. Already, she has endorsements from a majority of the Democratic caucus and elite endorsements are strongly correlated with primary performance. Historically, the strategy works like a charm. For example, in 1992, Bill Clinton lost 5 primaries or Caucuses in a row (yes, five!) and was still leading the nomination dues to “superdelegate” endorsements.
Right now, Hilary has at least three challengers and they correctly sense that Hilary is a weak campaigner. What they may not realize is that she is one the best “insider” politicians in the party and they need to address that somehow, if they are going to win.