Now many may disagree with me (including TheMomCat and we have discussed this lots of times) but I think the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary serve a valuable role by forcing the .01% political elite to slum amongst us 99.99% rabble and kiss ass for votes instead of simply holding an auction.
Each one tests a different aspect of a candidate’s campaign. In Iowa the test is organization, getting your votes to the poll and keeping them yours. In New Hampshire it’s a test of campaigning, developing a message of broad appeal and delivering it. Not so easy in a State with no big cities, no dominant newspapers (the Union Leader is a mere pretender) and only 1 TV Station. It’s also a test of finances since you have to shop in Massachusetts where the prices are much higher, not because of taxes but because the market is bigger.
That said I thought no one could care less about the results of the Republican Caucuses than me. I am proven wrong by Rick Perlstein–
(Y)ou probably couldn’t find a political junky in America less interested to the supposedly hotly contested race for the Republican nomination. I called it for Willard “Mitt” Romney well over three years ago-the day he finished second to John McCain in 2008. That made him “next in line;” and our modern Republican Party pretty much always nominates the next in line, or at the very least The Logical Choice Of The Party Establishment. In 1968, it was Nixon, the former vice president. In ’76 it was the accidental president, Gerald Ford. The guy who came in second in ’76, Ronald Reagan, was nominated in 1980; Vice President Bush, the man who finished second in ’80, in ’88. Old Man Dole in ’96. Son of Bush in 2000. Mighty McCain in 2008.
Matt Taibbi’s critique is a bit more far reaching and less petty-
It takes an awful lot to rob the presidential race of this elemental appeal. But this year’s race has lost that buzz. In fact, this 2012 race may be the most meaningless national election campaign we’ve ever had. If the presidential race normally captivates the public as a dramatic and angry ideological battle pitting one impassioned half of society against the other, this year’s race feels like something else entirely.
In the wake of the Tea Party, the Occupy movement, and a dozen or more episodes of real rebellion on the streets, in the legislatures of cities and towns, and in state and federal courthouses, this presidential race now feels like a banal bureaucratic sideshow to the real event – the real event being a looming confrontation between huge masses of disaffected citizens on both sides of the aisle, and a corrupt and increasingly ideologically bankrupt political establishment, represented in large part by the two parties dominating this race.
The auctioned election process is designed to reduce the field to two candidates who will each receive hundreds of millions of dollars apiece from the same pool of donors. Just take a look at the lists of top donors for Obama and McCain from the last election in 2008.
Obama’s list included all the major banks and bailout recipients, plus a smattering of high-dollar defense lawyers from firms like WilmerHale and Skadden Arps who make their money representing those same banks. McCain’s list included exactly the same banks and a similar list of law firms, the minor difference being that it was Gibson Dunn instead of WilmerHale, etc.
Those numbers tell us that both parties rely upon the same core of major donors among the top law firms, the Wall Street companies, and business leaders – basically, the 1%. Those one-percenters always give generously to both parties and both presidential candidates, although they sometimes will hedge their bets significantly when they think one side or the other has a lopsided chance at victory. That’s clearly what happened in 2008, when Wall Street correctly called Obama as a 2-1 (or maybe a 7-3) favorite to beat McCain.
The 1% donors are remarkably tolerant. They’ll give to just about anyone who polls well, provided they fall within certain parameters. What they won’t do is give to anyone who is even a remote threat to make significant structural changes, i.e. a Dennis Kucinich, an Elizabeth Warren, or a Ron Paul (hell will freeze over before Wall Street gives heavily to a candidate in favor of abolishing their piggy bank, the Fed). So basically what that means is that voters are free to choose anyone they want, provided it isn’t Dennis Kucinich, or Ron Paul, or some other such unacceptable personage.
If the voters insist on supporting such a person in defiance of these donors – this might even happen tonight, with a Paul win in Iowa – what you inevitably end up seeing is a monstrous amount of money quickly dumped into the cause of derailing that candidate.
The reason 2012 feels so empty now is that voters on both sides of the aisle are not just tired of this state of affairs, they are disgusted by it. They want a chance to choose their own leaders and they want full control over policy, not just a partial say. There are a few challenges to this state of affairs within the electoral process – as much as I disagree with Paul about many things, I do think his campaign is a real outlet for these complaints – but everyone knows that in the end, once the primaries are finished, we’re going to be left with one 1%-approved stooge taking on another.
The only place we can be absolutely sure this battle will not be found is in any national presidential race between Barack Obama and someone like Mitt Romney.
The campaign is still a gigantic ritual and it will still be attended by all the usual pomp and spectacle, but it’s empty. In fact, because it’s really a contest between 1%-approved candidates, it’s worse than empty – it’s obnoxious.
It was always annoying when these two parties and the slavish media that follows their champions around for 18 months pretended that this was a colossal clash of opposites. But now, with the economy in the shape that it’s in thanks in large part to the people financing these elections, that pretense is more than annoying, it’s offensive.
And I imagine that the more they try to play up the drama of these familiar-but-empty campaign rituals, the more irritating to the public it will all become. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if, before the season is out, the campaign itself will become a hated symbol of the 1% — with the conventions and the networks’ broadcast tents outside the inevitable “free speech zones” attracting protests the same way the offices of Chase and Bank of America did this fall.
Speaking of Matt Taibbi, Rajiv Sethi has an interesting piece up over at Yves place speculating on a Goldman-style ‘Pump and Dump’ in the Intrade prediction market driving the Santorum Surge (minds out of the gutter folks) and Romney’s enhanced chances of victory.
Public Policy Polling which has proven remarkably accurate recently predicts a Photo Finish with Ron Paul at 20%, Mitt Romney at 19%, and Rick Santorum at 18%; and as if you haven’t had enough Horse Race metaphors, John Aravosis points out this interesting graphic at Slate.
Jon Walker likes gambling on Poker better-
The Wild Card Factors
Probably the two biggest wild cards are turnout and whether Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry are able to hold their support. It is possible some of their socially conservative supporters might at the last minute move strategically to Santorum, because they see his momentum making him the strongest anti-Romney.
Similarly it is possible the Paul campaign could bring in a significant number of new, unlikely caucus voters tipping the balance for him. It is possible a large number of anti-war and/or anti-drug war independents will choose to show up at the caucus, change their registration to GOP, and vote for Paul. With overall turnout likely to be about only 130,000, as little as a few hundred votes could make a difference.
Now you can find a live blog almost anywhere except here. Not only am I uninterested in any of the above (call me Uncommitted though some think I should be), I am also still visiting my TVless friend and if I want to watch the results at all I’ll have to do it through CurrentTV’s livestream and sadly my laptop lacks to horsepower to stream and blog at the same time.
However if you have any observations you’d care to share please do so below.
It is, after all, an Open Thread.