Monday, May 30, 2011

You can't spell campaign coverage without "pain"

So if you haven't heard, Sarah Palin is back on the map! She joined the Hell's Angels. Or something. Also, she might run for President.

Over on, in keeping with Slate's, um, distinctive style of journalism, John Dickerson wants you to know that Palin's (potential) presence in the Republican primary could either help, or hurt, Mitt Romney! Gee, thanks, Slate.

Okay, even beyond the "either this thing is true, or else it's not" nature of the thesis, the Slate article on Palin contains a few pretty glaring oversights.

First, there's this bit:
There is one scenario, however, in which Palin's entry could cause Romney's numbers to fall. Right now, the dynamic of the race is that there is Romney and an anti-Romney candidate. If it becomes instead Palin and an anti-Palin candidate, Huntsman or Pawlenty might have a moment in the sun.
Nevermind the strangeness of informing us that the race is currently dichotomous, containing Romney and an anti-Romney -- and then, in the very next sentence, listing no fewer than three non-Romney alternatives by name. And nevermind the dubious logic behind the whole assertion (if Mitt Romney isn't popular enough to win outright, it seems that there being one significant candidate who isn't Mitt Romney would actually be better than for the person who isn't Mitt Romney than it would be for Mitt Romney).

The real oddity here is how John Dickerson tells us that there's one scenario in which Palin's presence hurts Romney -- and that scenario is if she helps Huntsman or Pawlenty. I can think of at least one other significant scenario in which she might hinder Romney: she actually wins the nomination. As Dickerson himself points out, she is currently tied for the lead in the primary polls! And while it's early, she has been more popular for longer than just about any figure in Republican politics right now! Is it really so implausible that she could win? Is it really wildly more implausible than John Huntsman winning? And why? I agree, Sarah Palin winning the Republican nomination seems comically absurd. But since we're all adults here and don't believe in magic, if we're so convinced that insurmountable obstacles stand between Palin and the nomination, we should describe them. I myself can identify no force in politics which I can say with confidence would doom a Palin candidacy. Wish though I might that America was protected by divine powers committed to sanity in government, and that, upon the eve of a Palin nomination, mystical forces would align and the granite Lincoln on the National Mall would stand up and bound towards the Palinomania campaign bus, thunderously proclaiming, "STOP, IN THE NAME OF THE UNION, FOR YOU KNOW NOT WHAT EVIL YOU UNLEASH!" we live in a world where Sarah Palin is one double-dip recession and three crappy Republican candidates away from the White House.

Well, that's not totally fair. Dickerson does identify one obstacle between Palin and the nomination. And that is... wait for it... the rhetorical genius of Willard "Mitt" Romney. You see, if Palin were to win in Iowa -- surely the first step towards First Man Todd, et al. -- Romney could then "argue that Iowa is following its pattern of selecting quirky, unlikely-to-win-the-nomination candidates like Mike Huckabee and Pat Robertson." Which would no doubt be a boon to Romney, except...

Argue to who, exactly? The top secret Supreme Republican Nomination Council? The Illuminati, who are single-handedly responsible for every presidential election result of the last two centuries? Because either assertion seems more convincing than saying Romney should make that case to the Republican electorate. We're talking about a group of people of which only every third member can successfully identify "The United States" as the birthplace of the current "President of the United States." Receptive to esoteric political arguments about the unconventional voting tendencies of the typical Iowan caucus-goer, they are not.

Look, Romney's still probably going to win. He's a vaguely slimy white guy, with a lot of money. He's boring and kind of conservative. If not Romney, it'll probably be, in my opinion, Huntsman, who is less slimy, maybe more conservative, but has less money. But that doesn't mean we have to indulge in this silly horse-race nonsense about making cases to voters and defining the race and tacking right and claiming the middle ground and winning the heart of the Tea Party.

Of course, everyone's going to do it anyway. It's going to be a long year.

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