A Witch! A Witch!

First of all, howdy to everyone, and thanks to Steve for inviting me. As he said, I’ll be here today and tomorrow. You might know me from “Ten Miles Square” over on the right hand column…well, at any rate, stick around, there’s plenty of ground to cover.

I’ll start with a little light news from GOP WH 2012: Easy to mock former Delaware Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell did not turn anyone into a Newt last night — she instead endorsed Mitt Romney. Thus sparking plenty of sarcasm among liberals in my twitter feed, some of whom paired her with recent Mitt endorser Dan Quayle. It can’t help that she then went on TV this morning and said ” That’s one of the things that I like about him — because he’s been consistent since he changed his mind.” The gist of it all is that it’s a little pathetic for Romney to be touting the support of people that even Tea Partiers couldn’t possibly take seriously.

I disagree! Sure, it’s not as if there are lines of Iowans eagerly seeking O’Donnell’s advice, just waiting for her signal so they know what to do. But that’s not how these things work.

Instead, think about the typical Iowa caucus attendee. She’s fairly attentive to politics, certainly compared to the average general election voter. But she’s also very partisan, and used to living in a world in which conservative Republicans are the good guys and liberal Democrats are the bad guys. In other words, she’s inclined to like all of the GOP candidates. She’s also, most likely, suspicious of RINOs and sell-outs. But how can you tell? Well, endorsements actually help with that. After all, would known Tea Party extremist Christine O’Donnell endorse Romney if he was really a (gulp) moderate?

Think of it this way: when you’re trying to decide between very similar candidates (and other than Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, each of the major GOP candidates have basically very similar positions on public policy issues), what you need is information. But information from the candidates, while useful, is always at least a bit untrustworthy; obviously, in the heat of the campaign, they’re trying to tell you what you want to hear. What endorsements give you is useful information: someone with her own reputation to care about is willing to vouch for Romney as a solid conservative.

Of course, she might just be flaky. Individual endorsements generally aren’t a big deal. What tends to matter is the pattern. And so far, the pattern of endorsements, especially at the national level, indicate that Romney is slowly grinding out a broad base of high-profile supporters. It’s not enough, by any means, to guarantee him the nomination, but it is helpful. Especially since the other candidates have had so little success in that area.

So while one obviously shouldn’t put too much weight on any single endorsement, O’Donnell’s not a bad catch for Romney at all. And the truth is that the more clowns he can have on his side, the better. After all, the very first thing to remember about partisan Republicans is that if they find out that liberals don’t like someone, that’s who they want to support. Anything that the Mittster can do to get mocked by liberals is a real plus for him at this point, and for that, O’Donnell is one of the best.

Jonathan Bernstein

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