Progressives should breathe a sigh of relief that their efforts to game the Michigan primary failed. It was tactical voting at its wrong-headed worst.
Not that there’s anything wrong with tactical voting in and of itself. Four years ago I voted for Mitt Romney in the Michigan primary. This was in Ann Arbor and, unlike this year, nobody was suggesting that Democratic voters should cross party lines. When I asked for a Republican primary ballot eyebrows were raised.
I don’t recall if the Democratic nomination had been decided by that point, or if it was merely abundantly clear that Obama was going to win the state. I do remember that most of my friends were eager to cast a symbolic vote for Obama even though they knew it wouldn’t matter. For my part, I had lived in Illinois during Obama’s Senate campaign so I had gotten that out of my system.
My 2008 Romney vote was premised on the belief that he would be a weaker candidate than McCain. Looking back now, it is difficult to believe that anyone could have been a weaker candidate, but this was before Palin, before the financial crisis, before the suspension of the campaign.
I might have also believed that Romney would be a better president than McCain. He did okay in Massachusetts and was younger than god. Such a feeling wouldn’t have been very strong. As a general matter, it seemed to me that both McCain and Romney, whatever they said on the trail, would govern as business friendly center-right moderates. I trusted that neither would countenance torture.
In any case, my motivation for voting for Romney was entirely tactical. It seemed to me that whether Obama or Clinton won the nomination, the Democratic candidate would shock the sensibilities of the GOP base. I figured that Romney, as a Mormon, would be less able to motivate the evangelicals and so would give the Democratic nominee a better shot.
Tactical reasoning was also at work with partisan Democratic voters who took part in the GOP primary here yesterday. They thought, ‘this guy is a nut! He won’t have a chance in November!’ as they marked their ballots.
Santorum is a nut, though I don’t share the belief that this will necessarily count against him in November. To my way of thinking, it’s all about the evangelicals. As Santorum keeps telling us, he’s the only GOP contender who will be able to mobilize the base. He’s also the GOP contender who polls best among the demographic that gives Obama the most trouble — working class whites.
Moreover, as political scientists have been telling us throughout this cycle, ideology only counts for a couple of points on election day. The never ending series of Romney rich boy gaffes can’t count for much less.
But even granting the tactical assumptions of party hopping Democratic partisans, voting for Santorum was an unwise thing to do.
Mitt Romney is completely out of touch and willing to say just about anything to curry political favor, but he is also someone who sees himself as a problem solving technocrat. Progressives won’t agree with his policies, but they can count on him to pursue policies that will, from a corporatist point of view, improve the functioning of government.
Santorum, on the other hand, is a fanatic. While no less beholden to monied interests than Romney, Santorum is far worse on foreign policy and social issues. A Santorum presidency would mean war on reproductive rights and more war in the Middle East.
The plain fact is that the GOP nominee, whoever it is, will stand a good chance of winning the presidency. Another plain fact is that unlike 2008 when the leading GOP contenders were about equally noxious, this year Santorum is clearly the worse option for progressives.
In such a situation, tactical voting is a bad idea because it makes the worst outcome more likely. If the tactic had succeeded in sinking the Romney campaign, its fruit would be a real chance of a Santorum presidency. A slightly better chance of an Obama victory isn’t worth that risk.
I voted "tactically" for Rick Santorum yesterday and felt sick about it (my wife couldn't bring herself to do it.) However, I didn't feel sick about the pitfalls of unleashing Rick Santorum's agenda on the GOP frontrunner position. He could have earned himself that distinguished pole position if he spent a distasteful week of honestly relating his principles. I think you overestimate the chances of Santorum grabbing the brass ring and underestimate the potential upside of Romney limping to the finish line and left unsure whether to tack towards the center to secure his general election position or towards the right to put away his opponents. But that idea rests on the belief that what happens in the primary will actually inflect the general, which is hardly guaranteed.
Actually, I think you're just more sure of yourself then I am. It's also possible that the General Election will amount to a large "reset," all primary sins will be forgiven, Mitt will be able to re-style himself a moderate pragmatist, and the race will come down to a center-left technocrat against a center-right one. Either way, partially due to this primary debacle, the GOP has all but ceded Michigan to the Ds, which will help with down-ballot elections that are important to me and mine.Believe me I take your point, but I think the worst thing you can say about the primary voting encouraged by labor and other self-styled Machiavellis is that it wasn't efficacious enough.