Skip to comments.Two Sets of GOP Voters: Rationals and Notionals (non-Romneys aren't stupid or irrational...per se)
Posted on 03/06/2012 6:00:39 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
There is a way to think about the up-and-down GOP nomination fight that at least partially explains its volatility and the seemingly endless array of short-lived challengers to front-runner Mitt Romney as well as Romney's surprisingly resilience against any and all challengers.
It's been the battle between the rationals and the notionals.
Rational voters have been with Romney from the beginning and remain with him now. For them, he has always looked and acted the most presidential, carried the relevant business experience into the race and appeared to be the best positioned to challenge President Obama in the swing states and, possibly, have coattails long enough to carry the GOP to a majority in the U.S. Senate while protecting its current majority in the U.S. House. Whether all of this is true or not is beside the point. For the rationals, Romney looks most capable of all the GOP candidates to check these boxes and fill these party needs. Romney is by no means perfect in the eyes of the rationals, but he's more acceptable than anyone else and, as such, his support has been the most solid.
Notional voters have never been with Romney. They have a notion there's someone better out there. Someone who is more conservative, who is a better debater, who is more of a culture warrior, who has better ideas, who has a better record on job creation, who is more inspiring or more dedicated to tea party princples or who has more guts and business guile. Notional voters have had a long-running romance with the "notion" that there's some GOP candidate who is intrinsically better than Romney and ought to win their support. It's been a busy year for the notionals. Their affections have run pell mell in so many directions. There have been infatuations with Donald Trump (guts and guile), Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann (tea party tinsel strength), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (better job record), Herman Cain (better ideas, aka 9-9-9), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (better debater), and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (culture warrior).
First, it's important to say that in descriptions of "rational" voters and "notional" voters, no one is saying one group is more or less rational than another. The distinction is not one of intellect or necessarily even temperament. A Romney voter is no more or less intelligent, sophisticated or strategic in their voting behavior than, say, a voter who once backed Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain or any of the other GOP rivals still battling Romney for the nomination (Gingrich, Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul).
A quick word about Paul. His voters fall into neither category because Paul's campaign is about a conversation largely outside the current confines of the GOP. It is, as Paul likes to say, a movement that seeks a less aggressive foreign policy, the gold standard and a rapid end to deficit-financed government. Paul's voters do not fit into the rational or notional categories. They are Paul's true believers and act accordingly. They've never been lured into Romney's camp or infatuated, as the notional have been, with any of the various Romney alternatives.
Interviews with nearly a dozen GOP operatives reinforce this general division among GOP voters and their voting patterns throughout the primary and caucus process.
The crucial test from Romney on Super Tuesday is can he do something he's shown little ability to do so far -- move notionals entranced with the idea of a non-Romney dream candidate away from that notion and into his camp. Can he move those with a notion of a better, non-Romney candidate into his ranks of rational Romney backers?
If Romney does, he may win Ohio and could score a surprising victory in Tennessee.
Throughout this process, Romney voters have, even with some reservations, told pollsters they like their choice, believe him to be the best candidate and see him as the best available opponent to Obama. On this, the exit poll data is clear:
In New Hampshire, 33 percent said the most important candidate quality was the ability to defeat Obama and of those voters, 60 percent backed Romney. In Florida, 53 percent of all primary voters said Romney was the most like to beat Obama and more than three-quarters of Romney voters (76 percent) believed that was true.
Among Florida Republicans, 65 percent said they would be satisfied if Romney won. In Arizona, 57 percent of all GOP voters and 78 percent of Romney voters said he was most likely to beat Obama and 59 percent of Romney voters said they "strongly favor" him. It's true that 45 percent of Romney voters inArizona said they "have reservations" but that reinforces the sense that, even with doubts, Romney voters there saw him as the rational choice (no other GOP candidate had above 23 percent "strongly favor").
In Michigan, 53 percent of Romney voters said they "strongly favor" him (37 percent said they had reservations). Only 39 percent of Michigan voters said they "strongly favor" Santorum and 41 percent said they had reservations. Even in South Carolina, where Romney lost to Gingrich in a landslide, 37 percent thought he could beat Obama (to 51 percent for Gingrich) and, among Gingrich voters, 40 percent said they would "enthusiastically support" Romney if he became the nominee and 45 percent said they would back him with reservations.
The notional voters, however, have treated the non-Romney sweepstakes almost like a book-of-the-month club rotation of candidates. Many have risen and fallen, while Romney has plodded along with his hearty band of rationals. At some point, Romney will have to prove, as he began to do in Michigan, that the number of rational voters will out-number the notional voters. Romney's victory in Michigan, while significant, was partially discounted by his home-state roots.
Tonight's 10-state primary and caucus process could begin to give Romney what he's most needed and most conspicuously lacked during this nomination fight - a voting pattern among Republicans that says he's the rational choice and the notion of a perfect non-Romney alternative doesn't is a waste of time and waste of political energy. The battle between rational and notionals is not new. Some Republicans say it has existed for at least a generation.
"Since 1964, there has been a strain of Republicanism subject to the notion that we'll win only if present a 'clear' vision of a conservative alternative," said Vin Weber, a former member of Congress and early conservative ally of Jack Kemp and Gingrich who is now an informal adviser to Romney.
Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater won the GOP nomination in 1964 when grassroots conservatives toppled the establishment power structure long-dominated by eastern and midwestern moderate Republicans. Goldwater lost to President Lyndon Johnson in a landslide, but the concept of a pure and principled conservative alternative to Democrats and liberalism, Weber said, has persisted ever since.
"Every two to four years, some conservatives and occasionally most conservatives argue that a clearer conservative message would win," Weber said. "In 1980, they believed their world view was validated by Ronald Reagan's victory )(over President Jimmy Carter). We do need a clear differentiation from liberals. But at times, such as now, that isn't the whole equation. You also need a good candidate, a solid campaign and a rationale for independents and moderates to support you."
GOP pollster Whit Ayers compares the roving eye of the GOP notional voters to a dating game.
"You've got Romney sitting there and the father says to his daughter, 'Hey, he's good looking, has a great job, will be a good father and a great provider,'" Ayers said. "And his daughter says, 'But dad, I don't love him.' And the father says, 'You'll learn to love him.' And the daughter says, 'But i don't want to learn to love him.' Meanwhile, Gingrich pulls up outside on Harley Davidson motorcycle and says 'Wanna go for a ride?' And then Santorum walks over front he seminary wearing a sweater vest and says 'You wanna go for a walk?'"
Ayers said the notional GOP voters remain torn over this choice. The rational ones have already made it.
If Romney can win Ohio and Tennessee, Ayers said, he can prove that the ranks of notional voters can and has been thinned and that Romney, over time has proven skeptical GOP voters can support him - even if they may not love him.
Ayers compares this current phenomenon with two previous GOP nominees, former Vice President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992 and Richard Nixon in 1968.
"Neither were loved," Ayers said. "Bush was admired and most Republicans and conservatives thought he was a good man, but they didn't love him like Reagan. And Nixon? I don't think anyone loved him."
Bush and Nixon knitted the party together, exhausted their rivals and won the presidency.
Ayers said if Romney wins big tonight, he can credibly speak of taking "effective control" of the nomination. But if he loses Ohio and Tennessee, he'll still be dogged by the rational versus notional divide and that will slow him down the rest of the month as the primary parade moves next to Alabama and Mississippi, states where this schism will likely deal Romney two more defeats and the notion of non-Romney perfection will continue to dance in the minds of hard-core conservatives.
Kevin Madden, a Romney adviser, said tonight's vote in Ohio could be the best test yet of Romney's ability to woo notionals into his rational camp. Madden worked Ohio for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in 2004 and sees voting patterns there as ripe for Romney's message of delectability and steadiness.
"Ohio voters and Ohio Republicans take this very seriously," Madden said. "Ohio is the mother of all swing states and Republican voters want to look at the winner of their primary as someone who can win the general election."
If that's true, then Ohio could be the acid test of Romney's unrelenting appeal to the rational instincts of GOP voters. But if he fails, the notion of a Romney alternative will persist and he will be dogged again by the sense that every wave of momentum is short-lived and that the notion of the non-Romney remains at least as powerful in the minds of GOP voters as the rationality of ending the nomination battler sooner rather later.
I was a “Notional”. I voted for Ross Perot TWICE and put Bill Clinton in the White House. Shame on me.
If I have the resources I'd be looking to sell everything and book a one-way fare to Australia, New Zealand or somewhere else.
Not giving up quite yet, but I fear we will end up with Mittens (another McPain) who will NOT-NEVER take the fight to (or say anything "untoward") against out Fascist, Neo-Commie, Dear Leader and that bodes ill toward a shoo-in for Barry Hussein's re-election.
I don’t think you did that. I believe that Clinton would have defeated GHWB face to face without “their ross.” Bob Dole acted like a defeated candidate the moment he was nominated: even dissed his own party platform. Then Jack French Kemp committed debate hari kari.
Conservatives screwed themselves from the start. Romney, with advice from GHWB and Dole, knew that the path to the nomination could easily be obtained by hopeless splits in conservative ranks. Republicans in states like PA, OH, IN, IL, and MI for years have been nominating “moderate” House candidates because of such splits among multiple conservative contenders, and of course only some eight southern states have runoffs to prevent minority nominations.
Rational and notional....Garrett is spinning.
The choice is liberal versus conservative.
Many “republicans” don’t mind voting for a liberal as long as he has an “R” next to his name.
The intelligent ones, however, are conservatives, and they don’t mind voting for a conservative no matter what letter is beside his name.
We'll have none of this negativity!
Ohio and Tennessee will be interesting as their outcome based upon polling data for the last couple of days indicates no clear cut favorite.
OH has seven polls all ending on Mar. 4 that are essentially within the margin of error between Romney/Santorum. TN has three polls ending Mar. 3/4 that show it basically a three way coin flip.
Tonight will be interesting.....
There’s nothing “rational” about a conservative accepting Romney, who is not conservative in any way, shape or form.
The problem is that many Republicans are not conservative, either; they’re as much in love with big government and the welfare state as any Dem.
All of the conservatives together would easily overwhelm Romney’s numbers. Even Ron Paul’s followers are pretty conservative in some ways, and if they didn’t have the libertarian option (why was Paul even allowed to run in the GOP?) they’d probably get behind one of the other candidates. Santorum is unfortunately also a nanny-stater, but because he wants the nanny-state to enforce “family values,” this appeals to social conservatives.
And Gingrich probably has the most conservative and practical ideas, but we are now being told that this contest is not about a vision for the future (that would be the notional voter, I guess) but instead finding a way to adapt ourselves to our new totalitarian welfare-state, perhaps simply by putting a new face in charge.
As for Romney’s experience, “business experience,” especially in the financial services industry, has never been considered a qualification for being president. Executive or governing experience, yes; but Romney doesn’t want to mention his years as Governor of MA because he knows that his record reveals him to be exactly what people claim he is, a Mormon Obama.
EXACTLY! That the GOP-e has had to carefully orchestrate the GOP Primary process and are having to work so hard ($$$$$$$) to drag Mitt up to the White House (he can't break 33% most days despite all the help from the MSM, Fox News and Drudge) SHOWS us conservatives are the majority. WE WILL prevail.
Would Romney be where he his without overwhelming financial resources, organization, Republican establishment support, and Fox on his side? When most of those advantages are offset in the general, we’ll see how rational the choice was.
There are two republican voters - the insiders and those in thrall to the insiders and there are the voters the insiders hate and trash, insult and lecture at every chance.
What people who plan to vote Mitt, BELIEVE to be true about him, ain’t necessarily so.
This article places everyone and everything into neat piles...unfortunately, no pile has the correct sign on it.
There needs to be a reality check pile.
The Dems/Media look at Romney as a dream GOP candidate.
Santorum as well, but for different reasons.
Newt scares the livin’ daylights out of ‘em.
Americans must get up off their butts and care enough to vote.
That 80-90% of eligible voters don’t show up every time they have the opportunity to have a say is appalling.
Newt gets their attention and he took a lot of Romney incoming. He’s still standing and the voters can get out there and vote for liberty or sit home and lose it.
Newt will hold them accountable. He connects with the people. Capital Hill can't bs the public with Newt on the Bully Pulpit.
Translation: anti-Romney = Bitter Clinger
Sorry. Gingrich consistently looks, acts and speaks the most presidential of any candidate I've seen in years.
That is what Reagan did.
You need a conservative, you need a leader, you need a connector to the grass roots.
You need answers and the ability to explain the source of problems and their corrective measures.
Newt has all of this.
Remember Reagan saying the government can’t fix the problem because the government IS the problem.
This next one is even more on point, if possible, than that one:
The most feared words in the English language are, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.
Two comments about that...
Again, what some people BELIEVE about Mitt, ain’t necessarily so.
And, in the minds of many, appearing “presidential” equates to the best looking candidate.