To understand why Democrats ever picked Mondale, you have to understand where the party — and where the country — was in 1982 and 1983, when the nation’s verdict on Reagan and his policies was far less positive. In those days, with unemployment surging over 10 percent and the president’s popularity slipping to sub-Carter levels, Democrats mistakenly assumed that the ’80 election had been a mirage. The electorate, they figured, had acted in haste and was rapidly returning to its senses. The results of the 1982 midterms, when Republicans (who had begun the cycle with claims that they’d win back the House) lost 26 House seats, only encouraged this thinking. To these Democrats, putting up Mondale made all the sense in the world. ~Steve Kornacki
I appreciated Kornacki’s argument. He makes several good points explaining how a party recovering from a presidential election defeat could so badly misread the political landscape and choose such a poor nominee. It could be that I am underestimating the effect that most Republicans’ sheer contempt for Obama will have on the next nomination contest. When it comes to channeling and expressing this contempt there are quite a few willing to do it, but there aren’t any prominent Republicans that take more delight in it than Palin. If Republicans choose to believe that 2008 was just a fluke and that a re-match of sorts would have a different outcome, Palin would become a very appealing candidate for them. Kornacki is right when he says:
In nominating her, Republicans would be saying to the country, “We have learned nothing these last four years. We have changed nothing.”
Indeed, they have learned nothing during the last four years, and they haven’t really changed much of anything, so Palin would be a good fit with the party’s leaders and activists for that reason, but I remain skeptical that they are really prepared to go down in flames out of little more than pride and spite. I won’t rehearse all of the reasons I have given before why I doubt the GOP would be so self-destructive as to nominate Palin, but there still seem to be too many structural reasons why someone occupying Palin’s political space cannot succeed in a Republican primary contest. The comparison with Mondale is instructive. Palin and Mondale are alike in that they represent the face of the party as it was when it was defeated, but they are quite different in their sources of support. Mondale was the candidate of the party establishment and important interest groups, and Palin has made a point of aligning herself with every possible anti-establishment, insurgent campaign she can find.
While there are some Washington pundits and journalists on the right that continue to take her seriously, she isn’t likely to have the insider support or backing from party leaders. That space is already being filled by Romney, who also enjoys the status of default frontrunner. Despite her positioning as a “populist” insurgent, she seems uninterested in building an organization to challenge better-funded, better-organized rivals, and she is quite unsuited to running as a party reformer brimming with innovative policy ideas. Her positioning as an insurgent puts her at a particular disadvantage in Republican primaries, which tend to favor runners-up and establishment favorites. Because of their overconfidence and their extremely low opinion of Obama, Republicans may end up nominating a Mondale-like candidate in 2012, but I still have a hard time seeing how Palin gets there. In many ways, Romney has a much easier path to the nomination, and he has just reminded everyone why he would be a spectacularly unsuccessful general election candidate.