Seeing 2012

Daniel Larison on Palin’s Extremely Long Shot At The Nomination. Daniel’s argument is persuasive, but, I would add that the probabilities one projects are extremely conditional on local temporal circumstances. Even in the recent past John McCain’s candidacy went from being the clear favorite, to dead, to an unlikely win through capturing the largest segment of the electorate in a winner-take-all system. Hillary Clinton went from inevitable to insurgent upset in a period of weeks around December 2007-January 2008.

For me the main issue is that it does not seem that Sarah Palin is positioning herself for a 2012 run. But, assuming she runs I would say that Romney has 4 times likelihood of getting the nomination than she does. That sounds significant, but if I had to make up a number I would say that Romney’s chances are about 1 in 10. George W. Bush was the presumptive nominee in many ways rather early before the 2000 election, but from what I recall that only crystallized after after the 1998 elections, after Republican losses and New Gingrich’s ouster. In 1992 Bill Clinton was an exceptional case for a non-incumbent in that in 1990 he was not known to most in the country (despite his speech at the ’88 convention). Bob Dole in 1996 was the opposite case, his establishment creds were deep and long, and he was already very well known in 1994. John Kerry in 2004 and George W. Bush in 2000 are intermediate cases, vaguely familiar names, but not with the name recognition of Bob Dole. I don’t think we can predict very easily which scenario will characterize the Republicans in 2012. A Palin run would have resemblances to Dole’s run (or McCain in 2008 because of his high profile over the past decade). Romney never made it out of the early primaries, when most of the nation wasn’t paying attention, so I’d class him with Kerry or Bush. And there are many other vaguely familiar names to the public out there as well. Finally, there are unaccounted for “wild cards.” Because of the nature of modern campaigns in terms of logistics I think the chances of wild cards shaking up expectations are declining, but probably are still on the order of 1/3. That is, there’s a 1 out of 3 chance that someone who you barely know, some obscure governor or senator (It could be argued that John McCain was a wild card in 2000, Howard Dean in 2004, though like most wild cards they failed) becomes the front-runner. The remaining 2/3 of the distribution is defined by a power law, so that a few candidates are much more likely than others (e.g., Romeny vs. Tancredo), though there’s a “long tail” (to the extent that that long tail arguably simply continues into the wild card zone).

As I admit above, the numbers are somewhat made up. But I wanted to put numbers there to give a sense of what I think is the most plausible model of probabilities here. Prose is by its nature going to focus on what we know, the most probable. But that does not mean that is is very probable as an outcome. If opinions came with a high cost whereby that cost had to be recouped with accuracy, then there would be very little on this topic this far out. Like science fiction’s element of prognostication, political conversation about 2012 tells us more about the present than the future.

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