Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Apparently, it didn't matter ...

... that Mitt Romney won both New Hampshire and Florida with larger totals and larger percentages than the 2008 winner; or that he finished second in South Carolina, a state where he was expected to bomb, with more votes than 2008's winner; or that his win in Florida was not just in total number of votes, but also among nearly every demographic; or that he's been endorsed by Tea Party groups and activists in multiple states, as well as numerous conservative pundits and public servants.  Some people still are making the ludicrous claim that he lacks broad appeal.  There's a fallacy in thinking just because someone doesn't break 50% in a contest, especially if it's not a two-person race, it's evidence he's an unpopular figure.


... that Rick Santorum has stayed in the primary.  Despite Newt Gingrich's assertion that conservatives can't coalesce behind a "Not Romney" candidate if there are multiple alternatives, it didn't make a difference in either South Carolina (where Gingrich won) or in Florida (where both Gingrich's and Santorum's totals combined still fell a good 18,000 votes short of Romney's total).  There's a fallacy in thinking someone's failure to capture a particular group of voters, such as conservatives, is due to the presence of another candidate who also appeals to that group of voters; sometimes, it's because they're just not popular enough.


... that Romney "went negative".  Despite the fact that Gingrich had already gone negative in South Carolina and won as a result, quite a few people tried to "warn" Romney (through various media outlets) that he would lose Florida, or perhaps even the general election, if he went negative.  And yet, Romney won with an overwhelming margin.  Also, for months now, the knock against Romney was that he was perceived as not aggressive enough, that he wouldn't be able to stand up to Barack Obama.  But as soon as Romney fights Gingrich's fire with his own fire, his critics call it negative.  Even if there is a difference between aggressive and negative campaigning and even if Romney did cross that line, there's a fallacy in thinking this will somehow hurt him in the general election when it has served both him and Gingrich so well in the primaries.


... that Sarah Palin and Herman Cain both endorsed Gingrich.  Romney, as I mentioned before, had his share of conservative endorsements as well, though none are quite as ... recognizable as Palin is.  I, personally, agree that the process should continue.  The more victories he has over the rest of the field, the less room for doubt there will be in the minds of those who would dismiss his eventual nomination as unearned.  On the other hand, Palin's endorsement of Gingrich, however unofficial it may be, has done more harm to her than it has done good to him.  Romney did just as good among self-described conservatives in Florida as Gingrich did, and he certainly did better among women, two constituencies among whom Sarah Palin's endorsement should have helped Gingrich; but it didn't.  As Romney's loss in South Carolina demonstrated, there's a fallacy in thinking a well-known conservative female governor's endorsement will count for much among conservative female voters.


... that Gingrich won South Carolina.  In the ten days between that primary and Florida's, Gingrich's numbers in the latter state received the winner's bounce and then dropped back to their previous level.  As we've seen throughout this election season, every candidate has a floor of support, some lower than others.  A phantom swell of support has been granted to each candidate in turn:  Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.  Ron Paul and Romney, perhaps by virtue of their previous primary runs, were immune to the phantom bounce, which seems to be the product of a group of voters who latched on to unfamiliar candidates for exactly the amount of time it took to get to know them and then abandoned them.  Romney and Paul both rose in the polls as well, but they never fell because their rises weren't artificial.  They both lost, technically, in Iowa and South Carolina, but they also improved on their previous runs (or at least didn't do any worse).  Gingrich has now risen and fallen twice.  I suspect his second rise, in South Carolina, came at Santorum's expense.  I also suspect he won't have another.  Since Romney's floor has always been higher than Gingrich's, "phantom voters" won't be enough in the future.  There's a fallacy in thinking the nebulous popularity of one candidate will overcome the groundwork (and hard work) of another; especially when that other has already soundly outperformed the one in three out of four contests.


We've seen a lot of conventional wisdom countered in this race.  The hyperinflated number of debates has been derided by nearly everyone, and yet it has helped even the score among the candidates, to an extent.  Endorsements, both positive and negative, have proven less important than in previous years, perhaps because voters insist on making up their own minds moreso than before.  And though the two frontrunners, Romney and Gingrich, have both been endowed by the Vocal Minority with unearned labels (Gingrich the Outsider and Romney the Liberal), the voters have largely ignored those narratives.  But one thing hasn't changed:  Organization matters.  Iowa showed us that relying on either retail, Internet, or organization produced approximately equal results among the top three finishers.  In later contests, the victory went to the master of all three.  It would be a fallacy to assume the same advantage won't hold in the upcoming contests; especially the caucuses.