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August 24, 2011

Perry Leads The Field By... 12

That's not the most interesting tidbit here, either.

Perry is a strong contender among key Republican subgroups. Older Republicans and those living in the South show especially strong support for him, at or near 40%. Conservative Republicans strongly favor Perry over Romney, but liberal and moderate Republicans support the two about equally. Perry's support is also above average among religious Republicans.

For a long time I have been contending that candidates must be viewed in respect to two criteria -- and not just one, as the more ideologically-minded thinkers insist.

The first criteria is ideology, of course.

The second criteria is non-ideological attractiveness. Not "squishiness," mind you. But things like practical results in achieving things that are universally -- not ideologically -- valued.

I call this second criteria "neutral goods." If Obama does manage something in Libya (though that's in doubt), that would be a neutral good, because few actively root against American geopolitical victories.

Clinton's surprisingly (and Republican-thwarting) economic record was a neutral good. No one can really argue a hot economy is a bad thing. Oh, people can grouse it got "overheated" and led to a recession, but every hot economy eventually comes to a recession.

You need as many ways to win in an election as possible. You cannot just place all of your chips on ideology. No more than 30% of the country, if that, consists of ideologically-driven pure conservatives. And probably quite a bit fewer than that, when you get into the details of it -- conservatives from farm states argue for continuing tax breaks for ethanol and general government intervention in agriculture. Older conservatives especially are often quite strident (Hi, Vic!) on the notion that a promise to socialistically subsidize older citizens, by taking taxes from younger ones, is as American as cherry pie.

If a candidate has nothing to offer but that ideology, then you've got maybe 30% of the electorate, plus some small percent of the public (10% at most) which, despite being not very ideologically rigorous or motivated, is motivated by ideology enough to disfavor the Democrats... who they also find to be over-much ideological, and in the wrong way besides.

This was my problem with Christine O'Donnell. Sure, ideologically, she was decent. But what had she actually done in her time on earth? What practical results did she achieve? She managed only to be a guest of last resort on cable news shows, and argue for social conservatism... ineptly.

Michelle Bachmann is no Christine O'Donnell, certainly, but I have the same "But what has she actually done?" problem with her. She says she "fought" against the Stimulus and "led the argument" against ObamaCare. As Tim Pawlenty noted -- and this was a more cutting remark than people generally credited as -- that's all well and good, but we also lost on both of those things.

So if the entire resume is about "fighting" and "arguing," and yet there is no positive tangible result to it... well, I fight and argue, too.

The strike against her in my mind, then, is that she appeals on pure ideology, and we are back at the 30% plus some bonus late-breakers, and not enough to get to a majority (barring Obama truly getting no good news and in fact getting worse news on the economy).

She cannot tell a less-ideological voter, "Sure, you may not agree with me on my political positions, but look at these neutral goods I achieved, things that no one can persuasively argue aren't good in their own right, no matter what your political persuasion."

I think ideological people ignore this at their own peril. It is one thing to be almost entirely ideologically motivated oneself -- we all have our motivations, after all. We all have different buttons and different drives.

But it is another thing entirely to insist, contrary to fact, that the majority of voters needed for a winning coalition are similarly driven nearly entirely by on-paper policy statements and ideological affirmations.

They're not. This is a fact. To pretend otherwise is to run away from the real world and retreat to a happy place of pure fantasy.

Nor is it any answer to hear, as I often do, "Well then, we will simply argue our case with such skill and force that we will convert the less-ideologically-driven voters into more-ideologically-driven voters, who more closely resemble ourselves, and share our motivations and drives."

That is no answer. Of course that is a goal.

But -- as Obama and the liberals need to understand, so too do less practically-minded conservatives -- a goal is not the same as a plan.

Of course I'd love a 51% majority for strong conservatism. Hell, I'd like a 60% majority. And why stop there? An 80% majority would be enough to do all we like.

But that isn't the current state of things and it is indulgent and solipsistic to pretend that it is, or is likely to be so in the near term.

So for a long time I have been arguing that we need a candidate who can appeal to these less-ideologically voters.

People often misunderstand this point, and who knows, perhaps sometimes they misunderstand it intentionally.

They often say, "Oh, you want a squish."

No. No matter how many times I have answered "no" to that claim, I still get it.

No, I don't want a squish. I want a fairly strongly conservative candidate. But, in order to persuade voters who do not share my philosophy, I want that candidate to have a record of non-ideological achievements, things that no one can argue aren't good, in addition to his ideology.

That gives you two chances to win a vote, rather than one. The ideological conservatives in a general election will choose, obviously, the more ideologically conservative candidate. Against Barack Obama, it's safe to say we get most of these.

But the less-ideologically motivated voters will not necessarily vote for the more-conservative candidate. They might; then again, they might not.

Having no strong ideological preference for a candidate, they will base their vote, as they always do, on non-ideological factors.

Charisma. "Seems like a regular guy" (which is in fact code for "not super-ideological like many of the professional politicians I, as a disengaged independent, tend not to like"). Experience -- reassurance that when it comes to the non-ideological skills of management, a candidate can actually work the basic functions of an executive office.

And, most important of all, actual positive results of a non-ideological sort.

It's not that I want a "squish." It's that I want a candidate who is strong on the issues, but who can also turn to a voter and say, "Even if you disagree with me, you can't argue I did something in my time in office that made things better, in practical terms."

Anyway, the point of this is, that while Perry beats Romney by a big spread among "conservative" Republican primary voters, Perry only narrowly loses the "liberal/moderate" voters by 17 to 21.

That's not an insignificant spread. But it's also not big. And this is exactly what I'm talking about, then: those liberal/moderate primary voters should, if we were talking about ideology alone, flock to the man considered (or claimed to be) a moderate, Romney, or Huntsman.

But they're not. They're sort of split between the believed-to-be-conservative Perry and the believed-to-be-moderate Romney. (In fairness, note I'm saying "believed to be" -- I do not actually believe Romney is a "RINO.")

Why? Why should the supposedly knuckle-dragging red-meat-throwing Perry have any appeal for them?

I think it's obvious. They're not voting entirely on ideological alignment. They're supporting someone based on non-ideological factors -- charisma, experience, "seems like a regular guy," tangible results.

I'm not saying Romney has none of those; I'm just saying Perry seems to have enough of those to attract supporters who really should be supporting someone else, based on ideology.

Obama did not win the White House by claiming to be the Liberal True Hope. He spoke vaguely about things. He actually ran on a tax cut, which deficit hawk McCain did not.

He won maybe 35% of the voters on ideology. He won 17% more on non-ideological grounds.

That's why his approval level is at 38 or 39%. (39% today.) If people voted for him to be liberal, why, he's been very liberal indeed. So in theory a majority or near-majority should still be supporting him. Minus the super-leftists for whom he has been too goshdarn conservative.

But they don't approve, because that 17% of his coalition wasn't supporting him to be liberal, but to simply change things in practical, tangible ways for the better. Which of course he has not.

At any rate, that is why I am always opposed to narrow-casting ideology-first-and-foremost candidates. It's not that I disagree with them ideologically -- it is simply that I cannot imagine someone who is not ideologically rightist like me seeing anything in them that's attractive.

I don't want squishes; I want ideology plus. Ideology plus some other factor or factors which may plausibly be predicted to attract support even from a non-partisan or non-ideological voter.

Is Rick Perry that kind of candidate? I think he is. I could be wrong; I'm wrong lots of times. But I know I'm right about the criteria for candidate selection. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong about Perry fulfilling my demand for an ideology-plus candidate; I am not wrong that ideology-plus is what is necessary to win an election.


The Two Minute Pitch: Maybe this is the way I think about this:

Can you create a two minute pitch for a candidate which could plausibly persuade a friend or family member who isn't into politics and really could go one way or the other?

And can you construct a such a pitch only mentioning ideology or partisan fights briefly?

Because bear in mind if they were sold on the ideology or partisanship, you wouldn't have to pitch them at all.

If I think about trying to sell, say, my Aunt Jeneane on Michele Bachmann, my pitch seems to be almost entirely ideological stuff she will just shrug at.



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posted by Ace at 03:19 PM

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