Nomination season must be in full swing, because Nate Silver is starting to crank out a lot of posts on what’s going on. Regular readers know that I’m a fan of Silver, but often critical of some of his analysis. Anyway, he’s put out two interesting blog posts and a tweet of note over the last day, and I have several comments…

1. On Pawlenty: Silver knocks down the idea that if only Tim Pawlenty had stayed in, he would have obviously had a surge at some point, because that’s how things are working this cycle. He’s very good on it. Basically, my feeling is that these “surges” don’t just randomly strike various candidates, and unless you have a theory for why Pawlenty — who would have been in with very little money and no particular revealed ability to say crazy things that would appeal to the crazies in the GOP electorate — would have a surge, then odds are he wouldn’t. The more reasonable theory on Pawlenty is that had he stuck around, he would have been in good shape to inherit the nomination if Romney and Perry collapsed. Perhaps. To clarify my own position: there’s a strong pattern of candidates who originally seemed to have a chance for the GOP nomination dropping out instead of hanging around in case lightning strikes. It’s not clear why that’s the case, but I suspect there’s a systematic reason, and suggests to me that Pawlenty’s decision to drop out was strongly driven by party processes.

At any rate, I agree with Silver about what he calls “surge theory.”

2. Silver makes much of an establishment/anti-establishment split in the GOP. I remain pretty skeptical of the utility of that construct. I mean, practically no one will admit to being of this dread establishment, and practically no one will confess to supporting it — and yet it supposedly has quite a bit of influence within the party. Moreover, the establishment seems to be made up of some, but not all, long-time conservative leaders. Are Tea Party leaders part of the “establishment”? What if, like Dick Armey, they’ve been GOP leaders in Washington for years? I understand the distinction between party elites and rank-and-file voters, and between conservatives and moderates (or perhaps between extreme conservatives and mainstream conservatives, or however you want to draw ideological lines within the GOP), but I really don’t understand establishment/anti-establishment.

3. Similarly, I very much doubt that “establishment” support is “a bug rather than a feature.” Well, check that: it’s certainly possible that there are rank-and-file voters who will say that they want an outsider or anti-establishment candidate. But when it comes down to it, the odds are that voters will tend to wind up supporting the candidates that Fox News and conservative talk show hosts talk up — and will also tend to wind up supporting the candidates who are able to buy fully stocked campaigns with the money that comes from high-profile endorsements.

4. I also recommend Silver’s article on the dangers for Herman Cain from the harassment story. Silver has been ahead of the curve on Cain’s popularity all year. I still disagree with him about how important that is for Cain’s actual chances of winning the nomination, but I probably should defer to him about Cain’s appeal to conservatives.

5. Last bit…I’m not completely sure it’s fair to criticize something that he put in a tweet instead of a post, but Silver said this yesterday: “My real guesstimates: Romney 67 percent, Perry 20 percent, Gingrich 4 percent, Cain 2 percent, Paul 1 percent, Huntsman 1 percent, Bachmann 0.5 percent, Santorum 0.5 percent, other 4 percent.” I think he’s setting the chances of Romney and Perry combined far, far too low. I’m not sure what the correct chances of one of those two winning it should be, but I’m confident that it’s at least 95 percent, and perhaps quite a bit higher. Which is (more or less) what I’ve been saying since March — that no matter what the current hype might be, there’s a very high chance, which I estimated then as at least 90 percent and probably around 98 percent, that the nominee will be someone with conventional credentials who is within the party mainstream on policy. Of course, my numbers are guesstimates too…

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.