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The Beltway Process of Elimination

So, the most recent available polling has Romney with more support than Pawlenty, Daniels, and Bachmann combined–with a Bachmann to spare. The notion that we “know with reasonable certainty” that either Pawlenty or Daniels will win is nonsense–unless Will figures that no other nominee has a shot against Obama. But there’s no reason to think Pawlenty and Daniels have more national appeal than Romney. ~James Joyner [1]

George Will identified Pawlenty and Daniels as the two Republicans most likely to prevail in the nominating contest because they are the only two of the five “plausible” candidates that Will previously named [2] that he still believes are viable. This has nothing to do with their actual viability, and everything to do with what George Will hopes will happen [3]. Several of the “plausible” candidates that Will identified earlier were not very plausible at all, but they are all acceptable to Beltway Republicans. I suspect that Will would like to see the Republican nominee be someone he would not be too embarrassed to support, and as of right now his list of acceptable candidates has been reduced to two.

Will’s original list also included Huntsman, Barbour, and Romney. Barbour is out of the running, Will has evidently accepted the conventional wisdom that Romney’s health care liability is ruinous, and he has no particular interest in boosting Huntsman. Of course, anything could happen, but the way that he treats Pawlenty and Daniels as the obvious default choices doesn’t seem to rest on an analysis of their strengths. Instead, it relies entirely on the assumption that ideologically impure, populist, libertarian, and Tea Party-aligned candidates are all so badly flawed that none of them will outperform these two. Let’s remember that Will is talking about one of the least popular “major” candidates and an undeclared governor few outside Indiana and Washington have ever heard of, and somehow he has concluded that these two have the inside track to the nomination.

As James says, “there’s no reason to think Pawlenty and Daniels have more national appeal than Romney,” and we can state with some certainty that neither of them has half the name recognition that Romney has. Daniels can make the excuse that he isn’t a candidate yet and hasn’t been trying to promote himself very much. Pawlenty has been actively campaigning, and he has been working for the better part of the last two years to raise his national profile ahead of the 2012 cycle, and so far there doesn’t seem to be that much interest in what he’s offering.

Update: According to a late April Rasmussen survey [4] of likely Republican voters, Pawlenty and Daniels didn’t score all that well when the respondents were asked about candidates they would vote for or vote against. Adding together definitely/probably figures, we find that just 28% said they would vote for Daniels, and 36% said they would vote against him. Pawlenty does a little better with 41% for and 33% against, but that doesn’t compare very well to Romney’s 57/31% figures. As news [5] about his inclination to choose Condi Rice as a running mate circulates more widely, Daniels’ support is likely to shrink.

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4 Comments To "The Beltway Process of Elimination"

#1 Comment By cfountain72 On May 16, 2011 @ 9:02 am

Any thoughts on Daniels mentioning Rice as a possible VP candidate? Of course, it appears the Republicans still don’t get it, since they are (legitimately) concerned about her views on abortion, yet seem oblivious to the fact that she helped drive the disaster that was the Iraq invasion.

[6]

Peace be with you.

#2 Comment By Daniel Larison On May 16, 2011 @ 9:40 am

I hadn’t seen that. That is a stunningly foolish thing for him to have said. Any way you look at it, that is a terrible idea. First of all, she was not very good at the two highest-level positions she held in the government. She was arguably one of the least effective NSAs in modern history, and her tenure at State was at best mediocre. On grounds of basic competence, there is just no way that putting her next-in-line to the Presidency passes muster.

There hasn’t been an openly “pro-choice” VP on the ticket since the ’80s, and that just isn’t going to fly in 2012. On foreign policy, Daniels might think he is placating hawkish critics, or he is revealing that he largely favored Bush administration foreign policy and her role in making it. Either way, it’s bad news. The hawks and democratists won’t be satisfied, because they regard Rice as far too much of a realist, but Daniels is indicating that he wants to be considered as someone on their side of these debates.

#3 Comment By Norwegian Shooter On May 16, 2011 @ 10:03 am

Rice as “one of the least effective NSAs in modern history” is an incredibly generous assessment. Her effectiveness rating should be that she was irrelevant. Her watch included downplaying the threat from al-Qaeda from the day she entered office, ignoring credible intelligence of an attack in the summer of 2001, allowing the VP’s office to shape the CIA’s Iraq WMD intelligence, and demagogue-ing the threat of a mushroom cloud on national TV. She was absolutely the worst NSA in modern history.

#4 Comment By Daniel Larison On May 16, 2011 @ 10:10 am

Yes, that’s true.