The Republicans: What We've Learned So Far

Four primaries and three winners have exposed, according to the dominant media, a Republican party that is listless, demoralized and casting about for unity.

There aren't many Republicans who would disagree.

Here are some thoughts on what can be learned from the first two weeks in January:

(1) Enthusiasm trumps organization. In Iowa, Mike Huckabee had the most enthusiastic supporters, measured empirically; in Michigan, Mitt Romney did; in New Hampshire, John McCain did. In Iowa and New Hampshire, Romney's organization was like a Fortune 500 company compared to his opponents' mom-and-mom shops. (I'm counting the "unofficial" Huckabee pastor networks in the enthusiasm column.) In the absence of a compelling master narrative, voters have turned to the folks they just plain like.

(2) Momentum seems to skip the next state up and seems to benefit the person who exceeded expectations, rather than the winner. This is a common enough trend. Though Mike Huckabee got no bounce in New Hampshire or Michigan, he's shot up in South Carolina and Florida. McCain received some energy after his fourth place finish in Iowa. As each state takes it turn in the spotlight, voters seem to become more resistant to the previous contests and more independent.

(3) Economic anxiety is prevalent and pervasive and growing, and Republicans who fail to understand this and respond creatively to it will do poorly. Remember, what professional conservatives -- i.e, those who spend their day's work being conservative, either as strategists or writers or lobbyists -- think a candidate should do is not what Republican voters seem to expect them to do. In South Carolina, Mike Huckabee may wind up receiving support from the same white working class demographic that might have supported a Dick Gephardt candidacy in 1988.

(4) Republicans don't seem receptive to a national message; they seem to prefer candidates who run like governors, who inspire feelings of solidarity, who cater (or pander) to their anxieties.

(5) Mitt Romney's ability to tap his own fortune has influenced every race in every state more than just about any single factor. His ability to flood Michigan with television spots helped him; he did well (enough) in New Hampshire mostly because of his television; he's going to be competitive in Florida because of his television.

(6) Good campaigns matter, but candidates unfettered matter more. Huckabee was unfettered in Iowa; McCain felt at home in New Hampshire; Romney was a Michigander -- each man bonded in states whose electorates seem to have been created just for them.

(7) Playing everywhere works, so far. Mitt Romney has a delegate lead and will probably have a delegate lead until (at least) the Florida primary regardless of what happens in South Carolina or Nevada.

(7) Former McCain chief strategist John Weaver's instincts may be proven right, after all. Running McCain as a conservative, helping him to heal relationships with professional conservatives, acknowledging, and then plotting to crush the South Carolina firewall, believing that Rudy would ultimately flame out as a candidate, believing that Thompson's appeal would be narrow...

(8) The three dimensional chess games that are the Democratic and Republican nominating contests have not influenced each other, so far -- Rudy Giuliani did not get a pass for skipping Iowa because Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton, for example, something that Giuliani's campaign hoped would happen.

(9) As a corollary, the national political press corps seems capable of covering two competitive races at once and has not unduly focused on arguably more exciting Democratic contest.

(10) The RNC's sanctions against Michigan, South Carolina and Florida did not prevent them from remaining competitive.