But I and my co-authors will be talking about this on Friday. As Seth posted yesterday, the University of Denver is hosting one of the general election presidential debates, and in anticipation of that event, DU is also hosting a number of events related to the election this year. This includes a panel set up by MOF partner Seth Masket entitled Did The Party Decide? Martin Cohen, David Karol, John Zaller and I will all be in attendance. The panel will be live-streamed, and Mischiefs of Faction will link to it.
Now, with Romney this week reaching 1144, it's easy to say that the "insider" candidate won, and that much of the party rallied to his side when he was threatened by these other candidates. That sounds like a win for The Party Decides. But not so fast. The 2012 cycle wasn't quite what we expected. It's not that Santorum made a run for it. McCain and Bradley both made it a race in 2000, but those are some of the strongest cases for parties choosing their candidates early and backing them throughout.
No, the weird thing about 2012 is that the party really was never that excited about Romney.
Our argument essentially has two parts. Working from the end, we argue that when party leaders unite behind a candidate, they can help him to victory. And since that's true, we argue that the party should unite behind a candidate, one who balances their desires for ideologically loyalty and campaign prowess. In 2012, the party insider candidate won, in part because of support and money from traditional Republicans. But while Romney was their apparent choice, most party leaders didn't much get involved at all.
This has happened before. Party leaders mostly stayed on the sidelines in the 2008 races, and Democrats did in 2004. Democrats were hesitant in 1988 as well. Why? Why, if the party can almost guarantee its choice if they unite, do they ever fail to unite?
The answer is that the blanace they are trying to pull off is hard. The problem in general is the party knows they can't just nominate the person they think would be the best president. They also try to nominate someone who can win. In 2012, the candidates who seemed like they would perform best in the general election -- Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman -- did not appeal to the party base. And the candidates who most appealed to the base -- Bachmann, Gingrich, Santorum -- did not seem like general election material. So the party was in a bind. Contrast that with 2000, when Bush was strong on both fronts. Or 2008 for the Democrats, when both Clinton and Obama were.
The problem was especially difficult in 2012, but that's a subject for a post tomorrow. And for the Denver audience tomorrow.