Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Wonder Woman of the Invisible Primary

Hillary Clinton hit an Invisible Primary trifecta with three big and oddly contradictory stories dropping somewhat simultaneously: First, a Super PAC called "Ready for Hillary" registered with the FEC on Friday; second, a recent WaPo-ABC News poll was released that showed the soon-to-be-former Secretary of State's heightened popularity; and third, that despite all of this, she is "not inclined" to run for president.

Well, I believe her. In an online Q&A with international students hosted by the Newseum, Clinton also said that she was going to take time to write her memoir, and that particular activity so rarely leads to a presidential bid.

In other Invisible Primary news of the day, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is sticking his neck out on the issue of immigration (you can watch him on Hannity here), Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) penned a WaPo op-ed piece about Medicaid, and my Facebook-savvy students tell me that baziollionaire Mark Zukerberg is hosting a fundraiser for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

I still want to know where Joe Biden is. If you spot him doing something particularly Invisible Primaryish, please post something for me?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Dispatch from Iowa

Though this is hardly breaking news, it does speak to the critical function that some elected officials play in the invisible primary, but as the events pre-dated the establishment of the blog I'll take this topic on now.  It would seem that my governor, Terry Branstad, seems to have some unease with the whole endorsement bit.

As we know, the winning of endorsements is a critical indicator of a candidate's likelihood of winning the nomination.  Given Iowa's privileged position in the nomination calendar, it's clear that our governor's nod would be quite the prize for a Republican hopeful.  However, the governor delayed making his endorsement of Gov. Romney until early April, a full three months after the caucus.  In his regular youtube yack session following his endorsement, he mentioned that part of his reason for not endorsing was to be a "good host" (let's call it Iowa nice) and in a press conference he claimed that he wanted his endorsement to "focus on uniting" the party at a time when the party needed to quickly land on a nominee.

In late November following the election, Branstad drew a bit of attention when he was speculating on the utility of the Iowa Straw Poll.  The straw poll, to put it diplomatically, is a spectacle bordering on the ridiculous that has drawn increasing media attention as a test of viability for the Republican field half a year in advance of the Iowa caucus.  Why this is, is a mystery to most careful observers.  It is terrible at identifying the eventual nominee (over the years a nominee or two have opted out entirely and the winner of the straw poll rarely takes the nomination) and it is in no way representative of Republican caucus goers.  Contestants literally pay participants to cast votes their way.  Branstad rightly diagnoses these maladies and proposes other fundraisers to draw candidates to Iowa during the summer.  He pointed squarely at Rep. Michele Bachmann's victory as a sure sign that the affair is promoting the precisely wrong kind of candidates that the party should be considering.

While I have no problem at all with the scrapping of the event (though it's the party's, not the governor's to scrap), I think Gov. Branstad is missing a key role that he could have played that would be far more influential than the straw poll in shaping the outcome of the caucus: making a timely endorsement.  If he is so concerned that candidates at the margins are taking center stage, the last thing he should do is abdicate his political powers by endorsing after the caucus is long over.  For his own good and the good of the party, I'd humbly suggest to the governor that he ought to embrace his role in the invisible primary.


As mentioned, one of the major Invisible Primary players is outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Last night, Clinton took to the airwaves with the boss to show her moxie and denounce any hint that she was contemplating 2016. The venerable 60 Minutes featured a happy sit-down with Clinton and Obama, two people who have worked well together despite a nasty primary fight 4 years ago. This interview was deemed so newsworthy as to attract preemptive attention from the Sunday morning newsmaker shows, but worry not: The pundits cloaked their "she's running!" excitement in a more staid "it's all about Syria" narrative. At least they are trying to look pensive.

The big question on everyone's mind (and by "everyone," clearly I mean "Joe Biden") is this: What about Joe Biden? His name was not mentioned in the 60 Minutes piece, and one could gather that the president gave some thought into this rather unprecedented atta-boy (atta-girl?) that the POTUS-Sec State interview gave to Hillary. At least over on NBC (as it is wont to do), SNL included a Biden tribute that straight-up framed the Veep as a candidate... Maybe not the best candidate, but a 2016 candidate none the less.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Look at ME!

If an Invisible Primary happens without media coverage, did it happen at all?
Of course not!
They say that the most dangerous place in Washington is in between a politician thinking about running for president and a camera (“Look at ME!”). You add to that the fact that the Washington media elite love nothing more than a good prognostication horse race, and you have ample media coverage of the Invisible Primary. Since the pundits began eying the 2016 contenders right around the time Karl Rove blew his Election Night gasket on Fox News, this blog will also pay close attention to the way the media cover those who wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and optimistically say: “Good Morning, Mr. (Mrs.) President.”

This past week included a serious number of media mentions about the 2016 hopeful class: outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wept, lectured, and waved her hands angrily about Benghazi (proving she can show a wide range of emotions); Sen. Rand Paul opined that were he president, Madam Secretary would have been removed from her post (really Sen. Paul: You can stop worrying about this particular hypothetical); and Gov. Bobby Jindal called his own party “stupid” in order to show that he is smart. Let the Invisible Primary soothsaying begin!

In the case of Secretary Clinton, the media framing was (as is usually the case) bifurcated along ideological lines. Depending on your selection of network or newspaper, she was either lionized as passionate and articulate or, alternatively, denounced as shrill and defensive. It was interesting to see how many of the majors used three clips from Hillary (sorrowful, explanatory, livid) juxtaposed with clips from her GOP opponents, specifically Sens. Paul and Johnson (disappointment, disbelief, denial), as “balance”. These clip-collections made one specific argument, no matter which party-tinted news outlet you were on: Hillary wants to be seen as leadership material and the GOP isn’t buying it. If the 2008 narrative was that Presidential Hopeful Hillary was lacking in empathy and warmth, this performance aimed its guns at that perspective. The only thing missing was the delivery of her stand-up blue material.  And if there was any thought that the Republican Party would re-evaluate her after a generally well-received performance as Sec State, we can dismiss that idea outright. Yep. They still hate her.

Meanwhile, as Gov. Jindal tried to situate himself as the leader of the Republican Party, the media were right there to report on his progress. Coming back from the “he sounds just like Kenneth the Page from ‘30 Rock’” claim after his 2009 SOTU response, Jindal wants to position himself as a serious politico, someone with the savvy, chops, and timbre to take on the most significant issues of the day. But since the media generally do not like to deal with significant issues, Jindal was quoted extensively about the future of the GOP. Since the Party is (apparently, and much like the Washington Capitals) in a state of confused reorganization, 2016 hopefuls on the right have stepped up to try and claim the mantle of responsibility. It was no coincidence that in many accounts of Jindal’s speech, the name “Chris Christie” was mentioned as well.   

As the Invisible Primary continues, so too will the stories that frame the arguments about the contenders and the issues of the day. I cannot wait for CPAC this year: I predict BIG mentions for Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Nikki Haley. Look at me – with all this forecasting, I could be a member of the Washington media elite! Nah – let’s look at them instead.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Bad

Apologies for the delayed second posting, but J-terms have a way of absorbing one's time and energy.  Additionally, the real action of the invisible primary isn't heating up just yet in ways that are easily seen.  That said, we'll make our best efforts to catch glimpses of the action when we can.

As part of this blog's central goal of throwing light on the invisible primary, we'll have to discuss the good coverage alongside the bad.  Speaking to the bad, I encountered this article over at the Huffington Post the other day which really typifies the way we shouldn't be covering the 2016 race at this point.  The literature is pretty clear that polling data at this stage is rather superfluous.  Though it is certainly possible that such polls could identify what Cohen et al dub "focal points" in the parties' triangulation on nominees, it's far from certain that those identified by the mass public at this point in the cycle will wind up being the major players when the primary campaigns begin in earnest in the coming year or so.   Recall, that at roughly this point in the 2000 election cycle George W. Bush was often confused for his father in polls and that he was a distant blip on the polling radar behind Colin Powell, Jack Kemp, and even Dan Quayle.  How Governor Bush made up for that "weakness" was a classic invisible primary campaign that focused on winning the support of Republican governors from coast to coast.

None of this is to suggest that the dozen or so candidates that registered in PPP survey won't wind up being players in 2016 - some undoubtedly will - but polling like this isn't the best way for us to predict who's going to make the strongest run in the coming nomination contests.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Inaugural post

As political scientists have reckoned over the past decade or so, the “invisible primary” is instrumental in determining the eventual nominee.  Shortly after election day, Jonathan Bernstein commented on the commencement of the nomination campaigns for both political parties.  He noted that “we can talk about it sensibly or not.”   This blog is an attempt at the former.  Moreover, as time wears on, we’ll probably not confine ourselves strictly to the invisible primary here, and consider other workings of our party system as the two are directly tied to one another.

I thought a good inaugural post would be one quick explanation as to why this invisible primary takes so bloody long.  If Bernstein is correct (and I certainly reckon that he is) the invisible primary for the 2016 Republican nomination began in September, as their 2012 prospects dimmed.  A European friend expressed a touch of haughty derision about our long presidential election seasons and asked why it takes this long to sort out party leadership and nominees as opposed to other nations with presidential systems.  My immediate reply was it is largely an artifact of our decentralized party structure, the lack of formal national leadership, and that in many respects the American system actually isn’t as different from his as it appears at first blush.

Shoring up the support of the rank-and-file in any party system is a full time pursuit.  Party leaders in European democracies are constantly attending to their membership and keeping their factions happy; they just have the advantage of clear party hierarchy and networks that gives order to the process outside of the electoral arena and an ever-present national leadership.

The Americans lack such formal hierarchical party structures, forcing potential nominees to delve into the informal networks of intense policy demanders (elected officials, state party officials, and opinion leaders) as these broadly defined party leaders attempt to arrive at a consensus in an extended electoral process.  It’s not that this consensus is any easier or harder to land upon in either system, it’s just that in Europe the consensus is usually clear at any given time between elections as the parties almost always have a clear standard bearer, and formal means to replace failed leadership should the need arise.  American parties have no such luck.  We don’t have or really need a national standard bearer outside of a sitting president.  Hence, both the party and presidential hopefuls are forced into the long conversation of the invisible primary as the party slowly decides whom the nominee will be.  Though it may certainly annoy some people that our campaigns are interminable, there are rational, structural reasons why this is so.