Patterico's Pontifications


The invisible primary

Filed under: 2012 Election — Karl @ 10:00 am

[Posted by Karl]

Today is the Florida primary, which most expect to be won by Mitt Romney.  While we await those results this evening, it is worth reflecting on the other primary Romney essentially sews up today: the invisible primary.

Yesterday, I referred to the GOP apparat — and some of the response was to have a little fun with the idea, or to express weariness with debates about the “GOP establishment.”  Such responses are understandable.  After all, the Republican Party is not a conspiracy.  Moreover, post-1968 reforms took  presidential nominations out of the hands of party bosses and into the hands of caucus and primary voters, right?  At the very least, it placed the process more in the hands of candidates and their campaigns, yes?

Some political scientists think it is more complex than that.  For example, in The Party Decides, Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller argue the rise of the invisible primary still gives the party control of presidential nominations:

The invisible primary is essentially a long-running national conversation among members of each party coalition about who can best unite the party and win the next presidential election. The conversation occurs in newspapers, on Sunday morning television talk shows, among activist friends over beer, in chatter at party events, and, most recently, in the blogosphere. ***


Some voices obviously count for more than others in the invisible primary, but anyone can join in simply by paying attention, attending party gatherings, and chiming in.  The weighting of voices is determined by the resources (money, labor, expertise, prestige) the speaker can bring to party business and by the cogency of the remarks offered.  Politics enters as well: pressure to go along with one’s group, to get on the bandwagon of the likely winner, or to repay old obligations.  But the main business of the invisible primary is figuring out who can best unify the party and win the fall election.

Note the authors’ definition of the party extends beyond its elected officials and party functionaries, but extends to activists, fundraisers, interest groups, campaign technicians and others.

As Jay Cost noted last summer, the invisible primary has become extremely important because the cost of campaigning has increased exponentially and frontloading has altered the nature of the nomination battle.  Since the institution of the caucus/primary reforms, Jimmy Carter remains the only candidate to win his party’s nomination without winning the invisible primary, as typically measured by fundraising and endorsements — and that was largely because the parties had not recognized that someone could beat the system before 1976 and the system was not as frontloaded.  Howard Dean attempted a similar feat in 2004 via the Internet, but failed.  Barack Obama may have beaten the seemingly establishment Hillary Clinton in 2008, but he raised more money than her heading into the Iowa caucuses and his endorsements in early states were competitive with hers.  The closest example in the GOP,  John McCain, stumbled in the summer of 2007, but started and finished as the winner of the invisible primary (especially after accounting for Romney’s significantly self-funded 2008 campaign).

This cycle, anyone following politics could see the efforts mounted to pull Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie into the race.  The names of those behind such efforts were not always public, but it was hardly a shadowy cabal, either.  Tim Pawlenty’s early withdrawal from the race was a product of the invisible primary (donors lost confidence in him after the Iowa straw poll).  Most commentary and coverage of Ron Paul, Herman Cain and Michelle Bachmann reflected the judgment of the invisible primary that these were not serious candidates.  The invisible primary has never been more visible.

Of course, opinion is far from unanimous on the theory that party elites play a decisive role in determining presidential nominations.  Nate Silver is among the skeptics, helpfully noting that Romney may be preferred by GOP elites, that preference is rather tepid.  Silver focuses primarily on the relative scarcity of endorsements overall, but that data is corroborated by reports that many big-name GOP donors did not commit to Mitt until Chris Christie was officially out.

However, even if you are more partial to the view that the current rules emphasize candidates, their consultants and voters over the party per se, Jay Cost correctly notes the early caucus and primary states often favor moderates and attract large numbers of the poorly informed.  Even if you do not think the party decides, the party does more or less set the calendar.  You know who that benefits?


57 Responses to “The invisible primary”

  1. Oh come on. I watched it happen in real time. There was a “get him” theme in the last week or so and it was as ugly as something so transparent can be.

    If Newt has a strong showing despite the RED ALERT PANIC DEPLOY NOW, friendly fire on a scale which rattled him immensely I think I will be very pleased indeed.

    If he should squeak out a near draw or frank upset I will be giddy with relief that his high holy forehead is not the chosen – not yet.

    Sarahw (b0e533)

  2. Well they have to lie about Newt, whereas they are not as likely to simply say the truth about Obama.

    narciso (87e966)

  3. I’m one of those sick of hearing about the establishment herding us all toward a cliff. Romeny did a lot to cement his position by endorsing and speaking for candidates in 2009/2010, so it’s hardly surprising that the apparat (love that term, hilarious) is backing him. After all, they were there when he helped out–all the party apparatchiks who went to the fundraisers and listened to the speeches. A lot of us who complain about things weren’t there either. We didn’t donate, we didn’t attend rallies for Reps and Senators, we didn’t canvas our precincts, etc. I reckon those who do that kind of thing deserve to have a bit more say than lazybones like me. Their judgement may not be perfect, but nobody can honestly argue that we’re better off with Obama/Biden than we would’ve been with McCain/Palin. McCain made a couple of strategic errors that killed him, and despite his cozying up to the left on many occasions the press still managed to paint him as a hard-core conservative, while pretending that the Non Leader was a moderate. They’ll do the same to Romney if he gets the nomination–just wait. If only it were true…

    Renaissance Nerd (de4d63)

  4. I’d say, regarding the Entrenched, Established, or other moniker, if you’ve a residence within an hour during rush hour of a circle containing Bethesda and Alexandria you might just be entailed.

    If you are a lawyer on retainer with anyone regulated by the Federal government, you might just be coopted.

    If you’ve ever been an officer of a union, NGO, or industry trade organization you could be invested.

    Unfortunately, when the shootin’ starts, we’d better have our back to an inside wall and a short barrel in hand.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  5. 3. “I’m one of those sick of hearing about_______”

    Hear that Rico mobsters? He’s sick. What can we do for a feeling of ennui?

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  6. 6. I admit I voted for Palin. McCain was 72, dad died at 70, granddad at 61. There was some hope.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  7. How come pundits and bloggers keep mentioning Newt once supported mandates (and does not now although his current opinion is generally left unspoken – not even mentioned sotto voce –

    But don’t hammer this all farking day long:

    Sarahw (b0e533)

  8. Because it doesn’t fit the template,

    narciso (87e966)

  9. 8, 10. Oh god, now you’ve done it Sarah.

    Daley will be on your butt for the rest of your miserable existence, H8er.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  10. Daley will accuse you of slandering Flopney.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  11. I reckon those who do that kind of thing deserve to have a bit more say than lazybones like me.

    I’ve volunteered numerous times, but I don’t think I get more of a say than you. To be honest, by participating, that translates into more say and that’s all there is to it.

    Fundraisers are not sufficient to override Romney’s failed government record.

    Dustin (401f3a)

  12. Bad news for Romany donors having blown their profits ahead of selling and collecting:

    Drat, Goldman ECB plant Draghi swore he wasn’t going to print. Who can you trust anymore?

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  13. 14. The good news is we don’t have to eat Ipods anymore. Swiss chocolate and goose pate will be affordable again, until our credit swipes are denied.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  14. Oh noes! Zerohedge is just single handedly bring down the economy with bad news today.

    Vapor recovery.

    Bottom in housing was just a water logged skiff below the surface.

    Look for Europe to cancel every contract with USA for good or services yesterday.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  15. You have heard of SMOD (Sweet Meteor of Death)

    narciso (87e966)

  16. Mitt Romney, his family, staff and supporters donated a combined $66,000 to help Tim Pawlenty retire the debt left over from his presidential campaign. Romney, his wife, five sons and brother, as well as his associates from Bain Capital were among those cutting maximum checks to Pawlenty, according to a POLITICO analysis of campaign filings released Tuesday.

    [note: released from moderation. –Stashiu]

    Elliott Abrams (d1c681)

  17. The anti-Gingrich vote is large and growing…

    Colonel Haiku (3ea6d9)

  18. philipaklein: “I keep thinking Newt reached a new low, but this on Romney denying Kosher meals to Holocaust survivors takes the babka”

    Colonel Haiku (3ea6d9)

  19. Not exactly, Haiku. Romney said Jews could have reheated stuff from a truck and that was plenty

    Sarahw (b0e533)

  20. Colonel Haiku hits a new low every time he opens his mouth.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  21. already debunked, sarah, join the party. Just shows how desperate the truly desperate can be.

    Colonel Haiku (3ea6d9)

  22. wipe your chin, biden, ya got some whipped cream on it or something.

    Colonel Haiku (3ea6d9)

  23. Proteins are inhumane


    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  24. Newt, the Swinger…

    Those chains are made of chrome steel.

    Colonel Haiku (3ea6d9)

  25. Colonel Haiku go eff yourself in the butt.

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  26. 21. Baghdad Hai will make a great Press Secretary.

    ‘What is the President’s response to_____’

    “Uh, look there, you dropped your ear.”

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  27. Newt Gingrich Releases Freddie Mac Docs…

    Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has come under fire, including from Judicial Watch, for his controversial relationship with mortgage giant Freddie Mac in the years after the former House Speaker left Congress. The issue is especially sensitive in Florida, which has been described as “ground zero” of the housing crisis. Voters take to the polls in the “sunshine state” today in the Republican primary. (Judicial Watch does not endorse or oppose candidates for office.)

    Gingrich initially said in debates and press interviews that Freddie Mac paid his company as much as $25,000 per month for his services as a “historian.” He has since switched that term out for the more standard “consultant.” But the documents released by the Gingrich campaign suggest he may have been more than a “consultant.”

    Colonel Haiku (3ea6d9)

  28. I’m back from voting in SW Florida, turnout has been very light all day according to the poll workers, I walked right in. In 2010 I voted at the place and the line was nearly 50 yards long.

    ropelight (18b0e1)

  29. Isn’t $8.25 an hour enough for CT?

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  30. Gingrich initially said in debates and press interviews that Freddie Mac paid his company as much as $25,000 per month for his services as a “historian.”

    Um, no, he didn’t. Bzzzz.

    Milhouse (9a4c23)

  31. ropelight is your ballot secret?

    Sarahw (b0e533)

  32. HAiku – debunked in the sense that they could order out.

    Sarahw (b0e533)

  33. If I’d been in Romney’s position I’d have vetoed that too. (Though if I also had Romney’s money I’d have then donated the money myself.)

    Milhouse (9a4c23)

  34. So can we persuade Tejas to buy Yosemite before los Chines?

    Sucks to be Californistanian.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  35. The end in Greece is likely closer than one month:

    Jughead: Man this presidentin is hard, where’s the next vacation?

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  36. The Heart of Darkness, when the last fake Greek column falls:

    WH to Bennie “$16 Trillion in loans to world banks and you can’t even keep the NYSE afloat?”

    “QE3 indefinitely delayed because the ECB wants its turn to print?”

    “You know its not like we don’t remember who’s done us dirt, white boy.”

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  37. If the CA checks stop, will the PE’s go on strike, and how could you tell that they were having a “job action”?

    AD-RtR/OS! (b8ab92)

  38. #32, Sarahw, I voted for Rick Santorum.

    ropelight (18b0e1)

  39. Anyone that opposes the 2nd amendment has no room to call Chris Christie and the word numbnuts racist?

    Dohbiden (ef98f0)

  40. Exit polls not looking good except for the troika of RomneyBots:

    Greaseball 46%, Neuter 32%, Santorum 12%, Paul 7.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  41. The Republican party establishment has favored losers in open elections pretty consistently:

    1976 – Ford
    1980 – GHW Bush
    (1984 – Pres Reagan)
    (1988 — sitting VP)
    (1992 — Pres GHW Bush)
    1996 – Dole
    2000 – GW Bush (the only winner)
    (2004 Pres GW Bush)
    2008 – McCain
    2012 – Romney

    Kevin M (563f77)

  42. 41. Damn, I thought the Crist endorsement of Ogabe would concentrate the codgers and latinos minds.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  43. gulrud wrong again? Who woulda thunk it.

    Colonel Haiku (d18b62)

  44. 44. Which is why I don’t gamble with the kitchen money.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  45. Karl wrote,

    This cycle, anyone following politics could see the efforts mounted to pull Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie into the race. The names of those behind such efforts were not always public, but it was hardly a shadowy cabal, either.

    Aha! This, then, answers my question from the prior thread: I am the apparat! I deduce this because I posted a “Draft Paul Ryan” sidebar on my blog in May 2011. Apparently this brings me within “activists, fundraisers, interest groups, campaign technicians and others.” Yeah, that’s me: “Others.”

    I wouldn’t have included Barbour in this list, but otherwise, my reaction to this clarification is to lament that the “invisible primary” is not more powerful and effective, since none of these “apparat-approved” candidates ever got into the race.

    Seriously, if the point here is that shadowy, undefined “powers that be” — so undefined that it took a clarification to let me know whether I’m part of them (and boy, do I feel more powerful today!) — are exercising lots of influence, then my sincere belief is that they need to exercise more influence.

    Beldar (e3cb18)

  46. 46. Aparat: It is always about me, even when it isn’t.

    gary gulrud (d88477)

  47. Beldar,

    C’mon. The authors mention the blogosphere, but it’s pretty clear whose voices they consider to carry the most weight.

    As for the apparat carrying less weight, that was the point of yesterday’s post — that the process seems to be drifting a bit from the preferences of the apparat.

    Karl (ada0e9)

  48. BTW, FL thread is up.

    Karl (ada0e9)

  49. Karl, I’m really not trying to be a heckler, and I’m sorry that my comments are coming across that way.

    But to the extent I can discern any coherent message from this “invisible primary” stuff, it seems to be a variation on a leftie populist meme I rejected a long time ago. Maybe I’m being obtuse and I’m missing the point altogether. But I’m really, really not concerned that there’s some secret cabal of the rich and powerful who are pulling all the strings and giving the rest of us only an illusion of liberty. That’s just a bad Hollywood movie — or, actually, for the last few decades, practically every Hollywood movie.

    Beldar (e3cb18)

  50. Beldar – Some of us are just too dumb to vote and need to be told what to do.

    daleyrocks (bf33e9)

  51. Beldar,

    I agree there’s no cabal, and would non-snarkily suggest that the suggestion of a cabal is a strawman.

    The version in the book is not only plausible, but fairly common sense. If you want to run for POTUS, you either spend your own money and lose (see Huntsman, Romney08) or you get it from other people. Usually that’s people with money. So you need to know such people and fundraisers who know people with money. If such people aren’t interested in you running, you have a problem.

    You also need staff, consultants, pollsters, etc. If you’re serious you want people have national experience and are good at it. There aren’t a platoon of such people; they’ll have options. Sure, John Weaver might not mind sponging off Huntsman, but others might prefer to work for someone with a good chance of winning.

    The judgments of the above classes will be affected by their colleagues, endorsements by elected officials with whom they have relationships, opinions in the media (both MSM and overtly political) and so on. It’s not a cabal. It’s a party.

    Karl (ada0e9)

  52. Karl, maybe I’m projecting or imputing or imagining something in order to argue with it — a straw man, as you suggest. Help me break free of that, then. How does the following sentence end?

    “The authors of ‘The Party Decides’ hope that after you have read their book, you will ______________.”

    Beldar (e3cb18)

  53. … sh*t gold bricks?

    Colonel Haiku (d18b62)

  54. Beldar,

    I don’t know about “will,” but the authors hope you may consider that the post-1968 reforms accomplished less than most think — and what prior research suggested — when it comes to the role of the parties in selecting nominees. The CW in political science for a while was that caucuses and primaries essentially destroyed the parties and replaced them with a candidate/consultant-driven paradigm. The authors are arguing that the sort of people who would have been considered party power brokers and influencers under the old system still retain a fair amount of their power and influence, for the reasons suggested at #52.

    Karl (8cdbad)

  55. Do the authors think that the retention of influence by the sort of people who would have been considered party power brokers under the old system is a bad thing (anti-democratic) or a good thing (guiding, restraining anarchy)?

    I’m guessing they think it is a bad thing.

    Beldar (e3cb18)

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