Home/Daniel Larison/The Fantasy Candidate and the “Most Consequential Election of Our Lifetime”

The Fantasy Candidate and the “Most Consequential Election of Our Lifetime”

Jay Cost keeps the fantasy candidate dream alive:

Somebody else – somebody with the ability to make the case for reform in a sober and courageous manner – should jump into this race. And not just to keep Obama from a second term. If 2012 is a decisive election – then we need a candidate with the courage and rectitude to make the choice clear to the voters, so that once in office he has the mandate to fix this mess.

Daniels could be that candidate. While he could not win an outright majority of delegates because of the passing of too many filing deadlines, he could do what Bobby Kennedy attempted in 1968: get in late, do well in the latter contests, win some big states, and make the case that, early primaries aside, he is the true choice of the party, the one who could unify everybody around a common cause. If nobody has won a majority of delegates by June, that could very well be enough for a dark horse victory for Daniels.

Let’s hope he’s open to the idea.

Yes, nothing stirs crowds like a sober defense of entitlement reform. Cost is making what I referred to earlier this week as the wonk’s fallacy. Indeed, Cost’s remarks are a classic statement of the numerous wrong assumptions behind agitation for a fantasy Daniels candidacy: the election must offer a clear choice on a major issue, the nominee needs to be an expert and capable advocate on that issue, the fantasy candidate’s main issue is also a winning issue, and so the party must nominate him in order to win with a mandate for the candidate’s policy proposals.

Of course, this might make sense if the party’s position on the issue in question were extremely popular, and Daniels’ main issue isn’t, which Daniels enthusiasts seem intent on ignoring. Daniels enthusiasts start with the belief that entitlement reform is necessary and Daniels is the best elected Republican to make the case for it, and here they are on reasonably solid ground. Unfortunately, they then jump from that to the untenable conclusion that nominating Daniels to run a campaign focused on entitlement reform is the way to draw a sharp contrast with Obama that will also lead to victory. There never seems to be any concern that a late-entry campaign focused on an unpopular issue will flame out or result in disaffection of the voting base that feels that its choice has been hijacked. There appears to be no awareness that a general election loss for a candidate so closely identified with entitlement reform would set back the cause of reform for many more years. A general election campaign is a lousy time to educate the public about the need for entitlement reform. If one really believes that 2012 is “the most consequential election of our lifetime,” it is hardly the best time to test an experiment about the public’s willingness to support far-reaching reform of some of the most popular federal programs.

Update: Lev has more and an appropriate Soundgarden reference.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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