Winning by running against litmus tests

Many Michigan conservatives are undoubtedly disappointed by yesterday's gubernatorial election. Here are the results:

Governor - GOP Primary

5732 of 5732 Precincts Reporting - 100%

Snyder, Rick 380,489 36%

Hoekstra, Pete 280,326 27%

Cox, Mike 239,752 23%

Bouchard, Mike 126,991 12%

George, Tom 16,965 2%

It was quite fascinating to watch the dynamics of the race, because it reminds me of something I touched on in my recent post about Newt Gingrich: the more candidates there are running in a primary, the more likely it is that the winner will not represent of the thinking of the majority. (Depending on your POV, that may be a good or a bad thing.)

Hoekstra and Cox battled for months over which one was more conservative, the true conservative, etc. It got quite vicious, and while a lot of the arguments involved the abortion issue, in the end that didn't seem to be the top voter priority, because Cox was endorsed by Michigan Right To Life, and he came in third. Not only that, but the top vote getter, Rick Snyder has been repeatedly denounced as a "RINO" for being soft on abortion. He says he is against abortion, but refused to say when human life begins, has endorsed stem cell research (which RTL considers murder), and he has gone out of his way to duck social issues -- so much so that it is no exaggeration to characterize it as a hallmark of his campaign. I suspect that he and his campaign realized that all that "wrangling on the right" would cause the non-activist voters to default to him. So very shrewdly (IMO), he repeatedly said that he didn't want to be measured by ideological litmus tests.

Abortion thus became a very important issue, because Snyder very slickly (and without ever embracing the pro-choice position) appealed to those who found it tedious, wanted it to be less important, or even wanted it to be a non issue.

Never mind that the Michigan governor has very little say in the matter of women having abortions, which are legal because of Roe v. Wade. Never mind that in the minds of Michigan voters, the economy is number one. Michigan voters were subjected to one a classic "mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the most conservative of them all?" debate, in which the social issues ordinary people don't consider the most important issues loom large, and this forces the candidates to try to out-do each other.

Who is the most anti-abortion of us all?

(And while the question who is the most anti-gay? might not be asked directly, it certainly comes up indirectly. Wink wink.)

Additionally, it is also possible that voters might have seen Snyder (a local Ann Arbor businessman, the former Gateway Chairman, who claims to be against higher taxes and spending) as being in the best position to defeat the Democrats, who have been very strong in Michigan. I don't know whether Snyder can win or not, but I have to say I found his "I'm a nerd" campaign amusing and refreshing. But then, I don't like ideological litmus tests either:

...with ideologues, it isn't enough to sincerely oppose statism and believe in the Constitution. To be a conservative, you have to acknowledge, at least respect, an ever more irritating litany of memes and conspiracy theories, and you have to denounce "elitism," "intellectualism," "secularism," "RINOism" and all things Ivy League. It all evokes class war, which is predicated on the ad hominem fallacy. It was what made me detest the left, and it hardly endears me to the right...
However, if Snyder is elected and turns out to be another tax-and-spend, Big Government Republican, he will earn my wrath. (I find the fact that he refused to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge disturbing, to say the least.)

Returning to the main issue of abortion (which as I explained, was not the main issue but became a central issue as the primary became a de facto voter referendum on abortion as a litmus test), here's now the race looked just weeks ago:


Though Cox has the Right to Life of Michigan endorsement, Hoekstra has a slight advantage over him among voters who are anti-abortion advocates. Cox trails Hoekstra among anti-abortion voters 29.1 percent to 26.5 percent, but he leads Hoekstra 28.7 percent to 17.9 percent among Republican voters who favor abortion rights.

Larry Galmisch, director of the Right to Life of Michigan political-action committee, said the level of support for Cox could change when the organization sends postcards this week to its 160,000 members announcing its endorsement.

The west Michigan congressman also "best reflects the values" of voters, according to the poll, which had Hoekstra at 25.6 percent, followed by Cox at 21.2 percent and Snyder at 16.8 percent. All three candidates oppose abortion. Cox and Hoekstra oppose embryonic stem cell research, while Snyder favors the research.

Yet voters rate the economy as the number one issue. And Snyder was the businesman:
The economy was named the No. 1 issue facing the state by a whopping seven in 10 voters. The state budget and taxes finished a distant second at one in 10 voters. Snyder, a businessman with no political experience, was seen as the candidate with the best plan to improve the state's economy and create jobs by 22 percent of respondents, followed by Hoekstra at 20 percent and Cox at 19.8 percent. Snyder has called for eliminating the state's unpopular business tax and replacing it with a 6 percent levy on profits. He also advocates reducing the time it takes to get a permit and reforming the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Jake Suski, spokesman for Snyder, said the campaign will attempt to extend its reach to independent and Democratic voters this week. "Rick has broad appeal to cross over and independent voters who vote in this primary," he said.

Such an appeal is limited, though, because as I pointed out yesterday, any Democrat who crossed over to vote for Snyder would be unable to have any say in the Democratic Primary, which in most cities, means having no say at all in the election.

The comments to "Mike Cox for governor Hoekstra is no conservative" reflect the fierce, single-minded devotion to the abortion issue which did so much to give Snyder the winning leverage.

Here's one of his campaign ads which shows how he used such conservative bickering as a way to pitch his message:

The more Cox and Hoekstra yelled at each other, the better Snyder looked.

If there's a lesson here, I think it's a litmus test lesson in races with multiple candidates. The more candidates there are competing over ideological litmus tests, the better the chances of a candidate who runs against the litmus tests.

MORE: It occurs to me that if they really wanted to be fair and maximize the will of the majority in these primaries, they ought to consider requiring runoff elections in case such as this. (Why shouldn't GOP voters be allowed to decide between Snyder and Hoekstra?)

AND MORE: I should point out that the good news for Republicans is that the total number of votes for all Republican candidates was 1,044,523, while the total number of Democratic votes was only 527,203.

And the top GOP vote getter Rick Snyder, with only 36% of the GOP vote, still got more votes (380,489) than the winning Democrat Virg Bernero (308,764)

posted by Eric on 08.04.10 at 11:09 AM


When will you and the politicians realize that just maybe he won because he isn't a politician. We don't want anymore promises on the campaign trail by long time politicians who never keep heir word. Maybe Snyder will be no different but at least there is a chance he will keep his campaign promises and not fall into the greedy, distant politicians we are dealing with at both the state and federal levels.

Sally   ·  August 4, 2010 6:00 PM

Me and the politicians? That's a good one. I thought I hated politicians.

Eric Scheie   ·  August 4, 2010 9:07 PM

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