The nomination process for the 2012 Republican presidential candidate is finally beginning to draw to a close. It’s been a long and turbid race, with the fortunes of candidate after candidate rising swiftly then collapsing. Michele Bachmann won the early Iowa straw pole, only to wane when Rick Perry entered the race. Next up was Herman Cain, who polled high with conservatives on the basis of his 9-9-9 plan and then plummeted amidst a flurry of scandals. And now Ron Paul, who is running for the second time, seems to be surging at just the right time.
To political economists like Mehmet Ekmekci, Ron Paul is a particularly interesting candidate. Though Paul enjoys a good deal of popular support, he faces an uphill battle based on his “electability”. “Electability in the general elections comes up as a big issue” among Republicans, said Ekmekci, an assistant professor of managerial economics and decision sciences. “The Republicans seem to be more concerned about ‘beating Obama’ than simply picking a good candidate whose policies are closer to them.”
The electability issue is part of the reason why the Republican establishment has not thrown its weight behind Paul. Yet given Paul’s high polling in Iowa among Republicans, they may be forced to change their stance, Ekmekci said. “Given the circumstances that the Republican base wants to beat Obama so badly, I think it’s very likely that if Paul wins, then he will get the classic Republican base.”
Should Paul win, he could do so as a Condorcet loser, or a candidate who wins an election without a simple majority of the vote. That Paul could win without gaining support of the majority of Republicans “seems to create a form of ‘anxiety’ ” among conservative media outlets like Fox News, Ekmekci said. “For instance, suddenly the credibility of the first primary is questioned,” he said. “One hears phrases such as, ‘If Paul wins Iowa, then this means Iowa is not that important anymore.’ ”
Up until now, Fox News and other establishment Republican media outlets do not seem worried by Paul’s poll numbers, in part because they have not been implicitly endorsing another candidate by giving him or her more airtime or coverage, Ekmekci said. That may change, though, if Paul wins or does well in the Iowa caucus. “We may expect the media to start picking their favorite candidate and push him or her through more airtime, supportive interviews, etc.,” Ekmekci added.
According to a model Ekmekci developed to study the phenomenon of the Condorcet loser, if the Republican establishment does not want Paul to win the nomination, they need to throw their weight behind a single candidate to make sure that the vote is not too divided.
Regardless of what happens, Paul’s presence in the race could shake up the Republican party. “It looks like we may be experiencing one of those moments in history when, if the Republicans embrace Paul, they can reshape their party and ideas in part because he is polling better than other Republican candidates among Iowa independents and Democrats,” Ekmekci concluded. “Whether the new shape is for better or worse, of course depends on the power dynamics in those social groups.”
Photo by Gage Skidmore.