Ron Brownstein has a very interesting article out today for National Journal about how the field of candidates is shaping up for 2012. He posits that the field is shaping up to be between managers like Mitt Romney and populists like Sarah Palin.I think that is, largely, a false dichotomy, but if you change what he means by “manager” I think he is on to something. I’d use a word like “establishment” or even “conventional” to describe the end of the field Brownstein calls “managerial.”But there is a relevant point here that I think needs to be explored, because I this I think Brownstein hit on something that is going to be exploited, or could be exploited, by someone like Mike Pence and only a select few others.Brownstein writes:
“At the risk of oversimplifying it, I think that the upper-income college-educated [Republican] group is looking for a CEO for the economy, somebody who knows something about how jobs are created,” said veteran GOP consultant Ralph Reed, who was executive director of the influential Christian Coalition during the 1990s. “It is almost a managerial issue. I think what the more culturally conservative grassroots are looking for is a classic tea party candidate who is not intimidated by the establishment, not about to be cowed by media attacks; who will stand up and fight for them and will be a real game-changer, if elected, in terms of how Washington operates.”Republicans have typically picked nominees who fit the manager mold more closely than the populist one (although some, particularly Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, combined elements of both). But the demographic balance of power inside the GOP coalition is shifting downscale, a change that could provide a greater opening for the populists, including Palin if she runs. The party’s new tilt could also produce a 2012 race that divides the GOP much more than before along lines of class and education, the same fissures that have often characterized Democratic nominating contests, particularly the 2008 race between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.“We know from history that usually, almost always, the manager wing—the mainstream conservative Republican wing—nominates the candidate,” says consultant John Weaver, a longtime senior strategist for 2008 GOP nominee John McCain. “But if we are seeing real cultural shifts inside the party where we will have more blue-collar, noncollege-educated voters, that could change.”
Let’s ignore the labels Brownstein uses and instead view it in quadrants formed by two axes, an “x” and a “y”. The “X” we will label “connects with the base at a gut level”. The “Y” will be “connects with the establishment at a gut level.” The ideal candidate is someone who is going to be in the top right quadrant. They connect with the base and with the establishment.For purposes of making it through the nomination this time, unlike most other times, I would venture to say that connecting with the base is going to be more important than connecting with the establishment.Placement on the x and y axes is very subjective. You and I can perfectly disagree on this. But I think we should both be able to agree that placement in the upper right is best for any candidate.Right now, looking at the field, I would say that Mike Pence, Rick Perry (who I don’t think is actually running), and Haley Barbour do that best. Pence, having been in the House leadership and also unquestionably being a tea party conservative fits into that bracket. Brownstein is right that the “managerial” or “establishment” or “insider” class typically picks the nominee. See e.g. Nixon, Ford, George H. W. Bush, Dole, and McCain. Reagan and George W. Bush, however, blended both the establishment’s trust and the grassroot’s trust.In a wildcard year like 2012, I think the nominee will not by the typical “heir-apparent” as the GOP usually chooses. I think it can we a wildcard and I think of all the wild cards out there right now among existing politicos, Pence makes the most sense.