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June 14, 2011

In Which AllahPundit Defines Himself, And I Define Myself As "NotAllahPundit"

That's just a joke referencing my A/NotA/B analysis of the debate. It's my way of saying I don't think this is right:

Beyond that, Pawlenty has a basic strategic problem identified here by Ace in that he’s presenting himself as a clearly defined alternative to Romney and Obama rather than as the “not Romney” (and “not Obama”) in the race. That is to say, by proposing his own economic program early in the campaign and embracing the “truth-telling” gimmick on the stump (no ethanol subsidies for Iowa, etc), he’s framing the election as a choice between him and his competitors rather than as a referendum on Romney/RomneyCare and, ultimately, Obama. Which, considering that T-Paw’s big advantage is how bland and baggage-free he is, is exactly the opposite of what he’d like to be doing.

I think he's got that wrong. Had I continued to Part IX., and Part X., I might have noted that playing NotA to Obama's A is sound general-election strategy, and one pursued, to one extent or another, by virtually every candidate.

However, in a primary, primary voters are not just looking for "Not Obama." Any Republican candidate is "Not Obama," and most of them are "Very Much Not Obama."

Primary voters are in fact looking for specific reassurances and promises on specific policy questions, not a general promise to be "Not Obama."

Now this always the tension in this process; to win a primary, you have to undertake enough specific promises to convince the primary voting base that you will adequately represent them, should you win office.

But if you get the nomination, you'd prefer, to the extent possible, to run having made as few support-reducing specific commitments as possible.

For example -- I'm just speaking here in terms of your best chances for winning a general election, and expressly not in terms of best policy platform -- it would be best for any candidate to basically say "My position on abortion is what's the best policy for women and children everywhere," that is to say, say something perfectly senseless and empty so that as many people as possible can say, "Oh, what's best for women and children? I like women and children. I like that guy's take."

Now, that's not possible, but Clinton got as near as possible to that Non-Answer Nirvana with his formulation that abortion should be "safe (pro-choice!), legal (pro-choice!), and rare (sort of pro-life!)."

Bush had a similar fudge, not quite as melodic, in declaring himself in full support of the culture of life (pro-life!), but recognizing that the nation was not yet adequately educated into a culture of life (but not pro-life yet).

So, in the primary, I don't think Pawlenty's more specific policy commitments are contrary to his political interest. His specifics might hurt him in the general, but they should, in theory, help him in the primary.

Ah, but here's the rub: As long as he actually points out he's undertaken a more thorough set of conservative promises on issues than his rival Romney.

If Pawlenty creates a set of bold, conservative-pleasing proposals, but then doesn't show them off in a debate and create a contrast with the more Generalist Not Obama candidate Romney, what good does it do Pawlenty?

Edit: Of course some of T-Paw's stuff alienates some primary voters. But he doesn't have to win everyone. His budget cut/pro-growth proposals should appeal to up to 40% or so of the budget hawk part of the party. Assuming people know about them, that is.

Romney won because he did pretty well, but also because his chief rival didn't take very many shots on goal. He was all on offense against Obama (and I didn't mind that too much) because Pawlenty wasn't shooting pucks at his net.

I've already tipped my hand as soft partisan for Pawlenty, assuming he can get his his performance issues resolved. I've long said on paper he looks damn good; he's got to look damn good off paper, too.

So I'm not pleased to write any of this. I'd like to rah-rah Pawlenty, and say Romney stumbled, but that's not true.

But if we're just ignoring specific policy commitments, why not just go with the guy who seems to have an easier command of the camera? Which is why Pawlenty should not be ignoring specific policy commitments.

Anyway, hit Allah's links for other fallout from the debate, including, as I mentioned in the comments, the possibility that T-Paw might start losing some donors over a lackluster pair of debate performances. The money primary, and the media primary, are almost as important as the actual primary.

I still think T-Paw can right his ship. Or, at least I hope so, because Romney, for all of his advantages, also has some real weaknesses I could do without.

But I think right now Pawlenty has one life left on this quarter.


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posted by Ace at 08:11 PM

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