The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Phantom Menace, Remembered

Posted on | September 23, 2012 | 14 Comments

Perry campaign volunteers, Des Moines, Iowa, Aug. 9, 2011

“He surfed into the race on a tsunami wave of overconfidence, his campaign led by a bunch of cutthroat a–holes who had just finished sabotaging Newt Gingrich.
“They convinced a lot of people . . . to climb aboard The Smilin’ Texan Express for a one-way ride to glory.”

Robert Stacy McCain, Nov. 29, 2011

Back during the primary campaign — and I think it was in January, but I could be wrong — Ace of Spades did a post in which he ranted sarcastically against “gut hunches” as a basis for political judgment. Perhaps it is solipsistic to imagine Ace had me in mind, just because my hunches during the campaign repeatedly proved more accurate than the predictions of the elite punditocracy.

Even before the campaign really began, I saw the enormous upside potential of Herman Cain’s candidacy at a time when most of the other reporters regarded him as a novelty lightweight. By the time he zoomed to the top of the polls in late September 2011, I looked like prescient genius, and if it hadn’t been for the unexpected (and, Herman still insists, entirely false) sexual allegations, who knows what might have happened?

As soon as the Cain Train ran off the rails, I jumped straight to the Santorum Express, at a time when he was the lowest underdog in the field. Again, my gut hunch proved prescient, and by the time the polls began to catch up with my gut, Santorum was on the verge of a stunning upset in the Iowa caucuses. Despite all the odds against him, until he finally dropped out in April, Santorum was the last viable alternative to Romney.

Many other things my gut also got right: Pawlenty was too boring, Huntsman was hopeless, the Gingrich bubble predictably imploded, and Sarah Palin never got past the “maybe” I got from her people when I tried to gauge her interest in the 2012 race back in early November 2010. (The well-placed source who, in June 2011, left me hanging in the wind with his word that Palin would make a final decision “within a week”? Yeah, maybe I ought to burn him, but he swears that was the word he got from Palin’s people, and I guess their mixed signals were not his fault.)

Of all my gut hunches, however, none was more accurate than the weird vibe I got in August 2011 about the Rick Perry campaign:

“What I fear will happen is that Perry will spend several months sucking up media oxygen and burning through GOP donor cash, only to collapse early next year. This will have the effect of suffocating other conservative candidates, and thereby lead to … Romney 2012.”

Something was definitely wrong with the Perry campaign, and if I couldn’t quite articulate the rational basis for that spooky foreboding, the deadly accuracy of my hunch was amply vindicated by subsequent events. So now comes Jay Root of the Texas Tribune to tell his own version of events:

At this point you may be wondering why anyone would write a book about a presidential candidate who made the word “oops” his calling card. The short answer is that “Oops! A Diary From the 2012 Campaign Trail” began not as a book but as a diary — a behind-the-scenes look at life on a modern presidential campaign. The “embed” reporters. The bus. The way news is really gathered in the age of Twitter and YouTube.
I had every reason to believe I was covering the eventual Republican nominee when Perry immediately shot to the top of the polls in the summer of 2011. By the time his campaign ground to a halt five months later, the words of the Democratic strategist James Carville, spoken on CNN in January, seemed like the most apt description of what I had witnessed: “the worst presidential campaign/candidate in American history.”  . . .

Read the whole thing. It may not as interesting as some of my gut hunches, but it’s still pretty good.


14 Responses to “The Phantom Menace, Remembered”

  1. Charles
    September 23rd, 2012 @ 11:40 pm

    You were right about the Palin decision. She decided not to tell anyone she decided not to run.

  2. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 24th, 2012 @ 12:15 am

    Andrew Sullivan has sleep apnea. It could explain his mental decline.

  3. Adjoran
    September 24th, 2012 @ 3:14 am

    You had Perry nailed, credit for that. His campaign is a testament to the real reason you can’t jump in late in a modern national campaign: those early months spent honing the message and connecting with live voters are part of the process of success. The back surgery and sleep apnea seem like minor things, but entering at the 11th hour doesn’t allow for any glitches, and Perry was loaded with ’em.

    But to claim prescience on Cain and Santorum flies in the face of the facts. Cain was indeed a novelty lightweight. He had 10 days notice of the scandal story and still bungled the response like a rank amateur, telling five different stories in the first week after it broke – despite the notice. An innocent man doesn’t do that unless he is way out of his depth.

    And Santorum’s surge never really happened. He spent a year practically living in Iowa and only parlayed that into a statistical tie with Romney, whose efforts in the state were sporadic at first. He only emerged as the last Not Romney standing after Gingrich’s predictable implosion three states later. And you were urging him to stay in well beyond the point where there was no practical chance for him to win.

    IMHO, to take credit for “gut hunches” which predicted the flares but not the fizzles is ludicrous.

  4. AnonymousDrivel
    September 24th, 2012 @ 3:42 am

    Sorry. You lost me when I discovered the link went to the NYTimes. I’ve written off that propagandistic rag which is to say anything associated with it is tainted. The story may be true, may be false, but the provenance is NYTimes-related. Not buying it. Not anymore. My embargo of their news/opinion continues unabated.

  5. JP Stone
    September 24th, 2012 @ 4:51 am

    not to be a nitpicker off the main subject, but i gotta roll my eyes at the reference to Obama’s “you didn’t build that” as a shot at businesses “taking too much credit for their success.”
    it never ceases to amaze me how him and Warren’s insanely collectivist vision of why people succeed is spun as some vague affirmation of the “social contract” by lefties. of course Obama was right that education/community/etc. plays a role in molding us. the problem wasn’t that, but how he minimized individual achievement by making it seem like that’s the only major factor. “there’s a lot of smart people” and all that crap, as if business owners got there because of luck and screwing over others.
    i mean if someone went to the same public schools, grew up in the same community as someone else, but one of them is a layabout and one’s successful (by however you define it) what do we attribute that to? unfair fate?
    ugh, sorry, i know no one on this blog tried to defend him on that obviously but seeing this constant “nuanced” hand-waving of it as supposedly out-of-context drives me absolutely nuts. and don’t get me started on the other smart guy (the “conservative” one) at the “Times” who keeps pushing this BS that Republicans are radical Randian individualists or wtfever.

  6. JP Stone
    September 24th, 2012 @ 4:59 am

    on the main subject, i think Santorum was the only one where there was more there than a phantom not-Romney surge. it sort of distresses me that Romney has made his campaign solely about the economy (obviously that should be the #1 thing, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing) when Obama can run as an unabashed cultural leftist and not see any noticeable damage apparently. then again i suppose Romney especially wants to avoid the dread “social issues” after Akingate in particular.

  7. Wombat_socho
    September 24th, 2012 @ 5:27 am

    I’m pretty sure apnea’s not the problem there, but I’m not a doctor.

  8. scarymatt
    September 24th, 2012 @ 6:41 am

    Indeed. Santorum was Huckabee 2012.

  9. Bob Belvedere
    September 24th, 2012 @ 8:57 am

    This is why we love ya, Breeze.

  10. Bob Belvedere
    September 24th, 2012 @ 8:57 am

    This is why we love ya, Breeze.

  11. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 24th, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    I am feeling generous today.

  12. Evi L. Bloggerlady
    September 24th, 2012 @ 9:24 am

    Which is why when Cain recently said he would be ahead if he was running, the response in my head was, “So why are you not running?” I like Cain a lot but he had his shot and would have won the award for “Worst. Campaign. Ever.” if Perry did not snatch it from him.

  13. richard mcenroe
    September 24th, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

    Ace probably shouldn’t criticize your gut hunches, since his/Gabe’s mancrush on the cowboy mime did a lot of damage, IMHO, during the primary season. Frankly, I think his marathon twitter tantrums, against Palin in particular, did a lot to convince Palin that she couldn’t rely on New Media to offset the State Press.

    At least your gut hunches had a slightly higher and nobler origin.

  14. Becca Lower
    September 24th, 2012 @ 3:24 pm