Allan Lichtman, professor in the department of history at American University, gave this speech on "The Process of Electing the President of the United States: Role of Caucuses, Primaries and National Conventions" on December 6, 2011 in Washington, DC.
[Editor's Note: Click here for more CFR 2012 campaign resources, which examine the foreign policy and national security dimensions of the presidential race.]
MODERATOR: I just want to apologize again for the delay, but –
MR. LICHTMAN: It's my fault. (Laughter.) I'm sorry.
MODERATOR: -- Professor Lichtman is here and I want to welcome you to the Foreign Press Center. As you know, this is the first briefing of a series of three briefings that we planned for December,before the caucuses and the primaries. Next week, we have a briefing on foreign policy. It's Friday – next Friday at 11 o'clock.
So let me introduce Dr. Lichtman, who is a history professor at American University, and he'll talk about the process of electing the president of the United States, the role of caucuses, primaries, and the national conventions.
Dr. Lichtman. (Applause.)
MR. LICHTMAN: Thank you very much. I'm reminded here of that character in the movie Aladdin who keeps bowing and saying, "A thousand pardons, a thousand pardons." Well, you have my thousand pardons for being late. It's definitely not anyone's fault but my own. It's a good thing I'm not running for president, because I'd miss the Iowa caucuses, being the ultimate absentminded professor.
To understand the process for nominating a presidential candidate by a major party, you have to understand a little bit about American history. Let me give you a couple of minutes of a history lesson, then we'll take it to the present. The American Republic, of course, was founded in the 1780s with the formation of our Constitution. Do you know what the Constitution says about political parties? Anybody know? Absolutely nothing, zero. What does the Constitution say about nominating a president?
MR. LICHTMAN: Nothing, absolutely zero. So these processes actually are not grounded in the Constitution, but arose historically through common practice. And as early as the 1790s, two political parties began to form in the United States, much to the chagrin of then-President George Washington who hated political parties. He couldn't stand political parties. Do you know why? Anybody know? He thought they were divisive. Imagine that. Think about that. More than 200 years ago, George Washington had it exactly right about political polarization and the divisiveness of the parties.
But he couldn't control his two buddies, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, who went ahead and formed competing political parties. And ultimately, the party of Jefferson, the Democratic Republicans, which today's Democratic Party says is their kind of – is their founding group, prevailed. We had a one-party state in America for about 20 years, from about 1800-1824, and presidents were nominated by congressional caucuses. That's right; a few members of Congress got together and nominated the president.
That all fell apart in the 1820s with the rise of Andrew Jackson and the founding of the modern Democratic Party – still no Republican Party. And the caucus was replaced by a new invention – the national convention. And in those days, convention delegates were entirely selected by the party bosses – no primaries, no caucuses. Primaries and caucuses did not come into play until early in the 20th century. The first – anyone know when the first big primary battle was, what year, and who was involved? Someone you've all heard of – 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt, the former president, challenged the sitting Republican president, his handpicked successor, who he decided was no Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft. That was the first primary battle in America – wasn't until 1912.
But even in those days, even though they had primaries, most delegates were still selected by the party bosses. It was not – get this – until 1972, very much in the modern era, that the rules were changed. And for the first time in the 1970s, delegates were to be selected only and exclusively in open primaries and open caucuses. No more behind-the-door meetings by party bosses to select delegates. And that was the beginning of the modern system as we know it today, and it was also the beginning and the end of the importance of the national convention.
The national convention no longer selects nominees; rather, nominees are pre-selected by who comes out first in the primaries and caucuses. We have not had a convention go more than one ballot in some 60 years in America. We've not really had a convention select a nominee since the beginning of the new processes in the 1970s. Now, nominees are selected by the process of primaries and caucuses and, remarkably, kind of the order of the primaries and caucuses and, remarkably, kind of the order of the primaries and caucuses hasn't changed in many decades. Iowa traditionally is still the first in the nation contest, occurring in early January, and it is a caucus. It is then followed shortly thereafter by the New Hampshire primary.
Now, there is a difference between primaries and caucuses. Caucuses like the Iowa caucus involve something more than just going into the polling place and selecting a candidate. You actually have to attend a meeting, which typically lasts all day and can go well into the night. You debate the candidates. You divide up at the meetings and decide and count at each individual meeting how many of those actually attending support each individual candidate. And those votes are tallied up the line to finally come out with a caucus result.
Most people don't know this, but caucuses decided the 2008 Democratic primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was caucuses that made the difference for this reason. Inexplicably, Hillary Clinton, the more experienced candidate, the candidate who had the Clinton machine behind her, did not have an effective strategy for mobilizing supporters in caucus states. And caucus states are all about turnout, right? You got to get people to go to those meetings.
Whereas Barack Obama, the less experienced candidate, specifically targeted the caucus states and had a strategy for winning the caucus states. He's winning in places like the state of Kansas, which – how many black people are there in the state of Kansas? It wasn't because he was mobilizing African Americans. In Midwestern and Western states that had caucuses, he's mobilizing white voters behind his candidacy because he's spending money in the caucus states, his troops are on the ground in the caucus states, he's turning out voters in the caucus states. And it was his margin – not in the primaries, and few people are understanding this – but in the caucus states that gave him the narrow edge to win the majority of delegates to the national convention……….
And let me mention one complication to all of this: Anyone ever heard the term superdelegates? Superdelegates are high-elected officials and party leaders who are designed, supposedly, to balance out the unwashed masses who vote in the primaries and caucuses with these wise gray heads. Well, I've got a bit of a gray head; let me tell you, we're not always very wise. But that's another matter. And what happened was, as Obama piled up his edge, the superdelegates, who were all expected to go to Hillary Clinton – after all, she had been first lady of the United States, had the Clinton machine – all switched to Barack Obama for one simple reason: They want a winner.
So caucus states are really tricky and really difficult. And don't necessary believe the polls in the caucus states. Who's ahead in the polls right now for the Republicans in Iowa?
QUESTION: Newt Gingrich.
MR. LICHTMAN: Newt Gingrich. And I'm not saying Newt Gingrich won't win Iowa. But what does Newt Gingrich lack in Iowa? Anybody know? He lacks an organization. Romney's been working Iowa, God knows, since 2006. He's got an organization there. Newt Gingrich is a wonderful off-the-cuff guy. He's a horrible political organizer and doesn't have any money.
So I'm not sure who's going to win Iowa. The momentum, the zest, the enthusiasm goes to Gingrich, because Gingrich appeals to the Republican base, and I'll talk about that in a moment. But Romney has the organization. If Romney wins Iowa, this could be over. Because he's going to win New Hampshire, and it's going to be awfully tough for anyone to come back if Romney completes the daily double of Iowa plus New Hampshire.
But presume for a moment that Iowa goes to Gingrich – and by the way, don't count out Michele Bachmann in Iowa. She's down at 8 percent, but she has the best organization in Iowa. Let's presume for a moment, for arguendo's sake, that Gingrich wins Iowa and Romney wins New Hampshire. Does anybody know what the next critical primary is? South Carolina. South Carolina has decided a lot of elections for the Republicans. In 1996, in an absolute shock and dismay to the Republican establishment, anyone know who won the New Hampshire primary? Pat Buchanan of all people – like me, a commentator, but not exactly an experienced – stunned everyone by winning New Hampshire. He then got beaten in South Carolina, could never recover, and Bob Dole became the nominee.
Who won New Hampshire in 2000? John McCain, the Republican maverick, stunned everyone by winning New Hampshire by almost 20 points. He got stopped in South Carolina by George W. Bush, and George W. Bush went on to win the nomination. And obviously, South Carolina is a much more favorable state to Newt Gingrich than it is to Mitt Romney, because it's such a strong Christian conservative state, and Christian conservatives in the Republican Party have two problems with Mitt Romney.
Number one, he's a Mormon, and a lot of evangelicals think Mormons are heretics. And number two, they don't believe he's a real conservative, so he's a double heretic. And that's a big problem in a place like South Carolina. That's why Iowa has suddenly become so much more important for Romney. At first, everyone thought he was going to bypass Iowa. He's not bypassing it anymore. He needs to do well in Iowa. He doesn't have to win it, but he needs at least to be a very, very strong second and really try to win it, because if it's a split and South Carolina becomes the deciding factor, then Newt Gingrich is significantly favored.
This Republican nomination contest is unlike any I have ever seen, and I've been watching these things for a very long time since the '70s, since the modern era, and studied them long before that. I have never seen so many candidates rise and equally, rapidly fall. It's like the rise and the fall of the Roman Empire in miniature and time-compressed. It's just absolutely extraordinary what has happened. For a while, it looked like Michele Bachmann was going to be the new Republican star, the new Sarah Palin of the Republicans. And she turned out to be a little too much Sarah Palin – too many gaffes, too little knowledge, too narrow a base, too many negatives.
Then it looked like Rick Perry was going to be the next George W. Bush. The Governor of Texas, riding out on a white conservative horse. Well, it turned out the guy needed to go back to Debating 101. He couldn't get a coherent sentence out in a debate, and then he touched the third rail of Republican politics. Not social security, but what? Immigration. A program to give some aid to a few hundred kids of children of immigrants practically sank the entire Rick Perry campaign.
And then of course it was Mr. 999, and Herman Cain, who turned out to be Mr. Something Else, which I won't mention. (Laughter.) And by the way, a sex scandal is as old as the American Republic. Anybody know who the first president was to get involved in a sex scandal? Thomas Jefferson in 1803 was accused, we now believe justly, of fathering children with a slave. And a sex scandal is nothing new. What made the Herman Cain sex scandal different from, really, any other was the issue of sexual harassment. All the other sex scandals, except maybe Jefferson and his slave 200 some-odd years ago, were consensual. But when you're dealing with sexual harassment, that's something different.
I firmly believe you can judge societies, you can judge people by two things: How well they treat women and how well they treat subordinate employees. If you're not treating either one of those well, then you don't deserve to be president of the United States, and I think Herman Cain is justly off the scene.
This, of course, is what propelled the rise of Gingrich. You see, for two years, Romney never moves. He's somewhere between 18 and 25 percent. He's kind of the rock – no, not the Rock of Gibraltar, the Pebble of Gibraltar. (Laughter.) He doesn't have rocklike support; he's got pebble-like support. It's very small and it's very thin because they don't want him. As I said, he's a double heretic. He's a Mormon and he's not a real conservative. And that's why you see all these other candidates rise and fall.
But what makes Gingrich so formidable is this: There's no time between now and Iowa. We're talking four weeks. There's no time for someone else to rise. Now, Gingrich is certainly capable, not just of shooting himself in the foot, but machine-gunning himself in the foot, with his – (laughter) – loose talk and outsized ego. But it really would take Gingrich shooting himself in the foot for him to fall and for some other – they're running out of conservatives. They've kind of gone through all of them. There's none left out there to rise and take Gingrich's place. So I think it is realistic that we have a two-person contest within the Republican Party, and I think if you had asked me this six months ago – thank God I didn't do it, I would have offered you ten, twenty, a hundred to one odds – but there's no way in God's green earth that Newt Gingrich would ever be nominated by the Republican Party. He's a guy who's been married three times, who admitted to affairs, who has bounced out.
But it turns out a lot of these Christian conservatives really don't care what you do. They only care what you say. And as long as Newt Gingrich is saying the right things, all that horrific history of infidelity, of maltreatment of his wife, of totally shattering every family value you might think of, doesn't seem to matter because he's saying the right things. And make no mistake about it, except for New Hampshire – because we have different kinds of primaries. Some primaries are closed; only Republicans can come in. Some primaries are entirely open; everyone can come in. Some primaries are partly open; Republicans, Independents, but not registered Democrats can come in. New Hampshire's an open primary. That's why a maverick like John McCain could win in 2000.
But aside from the closed – the open primaries, make no mistake about it: The Republican primary electorate – which is just a small segment of the Republican Party because turnout in primary elections is very low – the Republican primary electorate is extremely conservative, not just on economic issues, but on the social issues as well. It's why immigration – no impact on the economy whatsoever from that small program in Texas, but he pushed a hot button social issue. It's why Romney had to do a – not a 70, not a 90, but 180-degree turnaround on abortion.
When he ran in 1994, he said, "I believe abortion should be safe and legal." Now he's saying, "Overturn Roe vs. Wade and ban all abortions." That's the price of entry in the Republican Party. You have to be right on the social issues. You can have various economic positions. They're all over the map on economic positions. Some want a flat tax, some want the Bush tax cuts. They have varying positions on trade. But they are monolithic on the social issues. You cannot deviate at all on the social issues.
It's why four years ago, the guy who looked like the most charismatic and attractive candidate couldn't get anywhere. I'm talking about Rudy Giuliani. The mayor of New York could get nowhere because he was liberal on – or at least moderate on the social issues. The price of admission in the Republican Party today is you've got to be absolutely right on all of the social issues, or you might as well not even try to become president of the United States. You will not get your foot in the door.
And all those commentators who said, "Oh, what the Tea Party is really all about is limited government and fiscal responsibility," couldn't have been more wrong. The Tea Party people, who are now just folded into the Republican Party – this is no longer a Tea Party movement; it's just a component of the Republican Party – the Tea Partiers and the other conservatives who are in the Republican Party care deeply and profoundly about the social issues and don't even want to debate the social issues.
You saw the same thing with John McCain in 2008. He wasn't the same candidate he was in 2000. He had moved far to the right on all of – he wouldn't even talk about immigration in 2008, much less defend the McCain-Kennedy Bill to reform immigration, because he knew it's the kiss of death, third rail, electrocution if you're not right on the social issues.
And in fact, because Romney has turned around so much on the issues, if you just look – this is remarkable. Just think about this. If you just looked at what they're saying right now and not at their history, Romney is to the right of Gingrich. Gingrich is more moderate on a lot of issues like Medicare and even immigration than Romney is. Now, I don't think Romney believes any of those things. That's another matter. And I think Romney has gone past the point where he even knows what he's believed. He's flipped around so many times. (Laughter.) But on paper, Romney is the rightwing candidate. But of course, nobody believes that. And Gingrich was the conservative firebrand who did exorcise the – who did engineer the conservative revolution of 1994 that led to both houses of Congress going Republican and staying Republican for some time. Brilliant political strategist.
All right. What are the – assuming it's a Romney vs. Gingrich contest and Michele Bachmann doesn't surprise in Iowa, I want to mention one other candidate, and then kind of sum up the strengths and weaknesses of Romney and Gingrich and put it in the context of the general election. There's one other candidate you should pay attention to, not because he's going to be nominated for president but because he ain't going away and he has a stalwart 10 to 15 percent following everywhere. Who am I talking about?
QUESTION: Ron –
MR. LICHTMAN: Ron Paul is going to be a factor in this election. He's not going to win any primaries. He's not going to get nominated. But he's going to be there. He's going to be in the debates, and his 10 to 15 percent could be important if some of these primaries turn out to be close between Gingrich and Romney.
There's a history within a lot of primaries that some of them are extremely close. In 1964, you had a classic clash within the Republican Party of the conservative darling Barry Goldwater and the moderate Nelson Rockefeller, and Goldwater won the nomination by winning the California primary by exactly 1 percent, so close primaries could matter. Ron Paul is going to be there, and you cannot move his supporters. Nothing Romney or Gingrich can say will move a Ron Paul supporter against – away from Ron Paul. In fact, Ron Paul is the only guy in this field who, using the old metaphor, voters would walk through walls for. Who's going to walk through a wall for Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney? Forget it, won't even walk through a paper bag for those guys. But Ron Paul has his fervent supporters, and they are not going away.
What I had – now, Gingrich/Romney. What I had always thought was Romney's big advantage was – just seemed to have been shattered in yesterday's poll. Yesterday's poll – I think it was CBS, New York Time – I mean, or ABC, one of the major polling outfits – polled and found Republicans – not by much, but by a couple of points, 31 to 29 – think Gingrich – I can't believe it, but think Gingrich is more electable than Romney. And that was always Romney's big edge, kind of the John Kerry edge. Why did John Kerry beat Howard Dean for the Democratic nomination in 2004? He was supposedly electable. And now Romney seems to have lost the one edge he had big-time, and that's the electability edge, which is pure nonsense. No one knows who – remember John Kerry, the electable guy? We don't talk about President Kerry, do we? So nobody knows who's electable, but there's this myth that the voters can pick who's electable, and it's – Romney has lost that edge.
Romney still has some edges over Gingrich. Number one, he's less mistake-prone. Just – I think just a couple of days ago, Gingrich was talking about having kids in inner city schools getting down on their hands and knees and scrubbing floors instead of studying, and that caused a firestorm of protest, as you can imagine, because obviously it had racist overtones as well. Who's he talking about in these – inner city kids he wants to teach to be janitors? It's not suburban middleclass white kids. So Romney is much less mistake-prone, much less likely to shoot from the hip than Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich is an experienced politician, but Romney obviously has much more experience running a national campaign than Gingrich does. Romney has better organization and he has much more money than Gingrich. Gingrich's fundraising is obviously going to pick up now that he's surging in the polls. But for the near term, Romney is going to have a lot more money. So Romney has some significant advantages. Obviously, his disadvantages are that he's a Mormon and that the conservative Republican base doesn't trust him to be a real conservative.
Gingrich has certain obvious disadvantages as well. We've already talked about his gaff-prone nature. He carries far more baggage than any other Republican nominee. He's been involved in sex scandals. He's been married three times. There's nothing wrong with that. I've been married three times, but I'm not running for president, so it's a little different. (Laughter.) He's been involved in sex scandals; he's been involved in – (laughter) – I promise you I'm not running. (Laughter.) He's been involved in financial scandals. He's just got a whole lot of baggage. And as we've already talked about, he doesn't have much money, doesn't have much organization, and is very gaff-prone.
But Gingrich has some advantages as well. He's a brilliant political strategist, unto himself, much more brilliant than Mitt Romney or anyone around Mitt Romney. He's probably the best political strategist of the last couple generations, certainly up there with Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, and some other – and some of the legends. Secondly, he's got far more pizzazz. Gingrich may make a lot of gaffs, but he's kind of interesting. You kind of like listening to Newt Gingrich. Your head doesn't hit the table like it does when you're listening to Mitt Romney. So Gingrich has that advantage as well, and he seems to play better to the Republican base.
So you have two candidates with a lot of advantages and disadvantages. And I would say narrowly, the playing field, for the reasons I laid out, because it's Iowa, New Hampshire are likely to split and then Gingrich likely to win South Carolina. But unless Gingrich machineguns himself in the foot, which is a big caveat, because there's a fair possibility he's going to do that, he has a slight advantage.
In the end, though, this may all not matter, because, some of you may have heard, I have a system for predicting presidential elections called The Keys to the White House, which have correctly predicted the popular vote winner in the last seven presidential elections since 1984. And I predicted two years ago, before the midterm elections of 2010, that Barack Obama was going to get a second term, and that prediction has only strengthened in recent months. Look, people turn out the party in power when things are really going to hell in the country. That's why I predicted that John Kerry would not beat George Bush in 2004, but that finally in 2008, the Democrats would come back.
Yes, we've had a sour economy, but everything else is going pretty well. He got rid of bin Ladin and Qadhafi, liberated Libya, is getting out of Iraq, there's been no big foreign policy disasters. Sure, there have been protests, but the country isn't falling apart or look like it – the way it was in the 1960s. He's the sitting President. He won't be challenged in his own party. There's no third party. These are the kinds of circumstances under which sitting presidents get reelected. And moreover, the economy slowly and gradually seems to be improving. And while I pay no attention to early polls because they predict nothing, I will say this about the early polls: You would think, given how bad the economy is, how low the approval rating is for Obama, and the fact that three quarters of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, that Obama would be, right now, smashed in the polls by any Republican.
Is that the case? No. He's even or slightly ahead of Romney in all the polls and well ahead of Gingrich. And if he's polling that now at what is very likely a low point and before you've seen the Obama magic on the campaign trail, it is highly unlikely that any Republican is going to defeat Barack Obama this year.
Now, final thought: If there is one word – and I think I've hinted this already – that I would eliminate from the English language, that word is "electability." Republicans have no idea who's going to be electable, and it probably doesn't matter who they pick. So my advice to every Republican voter out there is: Forget electability; vote for the candidate who you believe in. It's my advice to all voters.
Thank you very much. I'll take all questions. (Applause.) Thank you.
MODERATOR: When you're called on, please wait for the mike and make sure you state your name and the organization you're from. Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. I'm Lorenzo Mila from Television of Spain. First question I have is: Why Iowa? What right is Iowa standing – why is always the first? Why a group of people from a state like Iowa have much power?
And the second question, because I think I will not have many opportunity, is: Would they change the profile once they get nominated?
MR. LITCHMAN: Got it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. LITCHMAN: Okay. There's – you remember that old Jewish song from the movie Fiddler on the Roof? It goes, "Tradition." That explains Iowa. Iowa traditionally has been first. And the problem is once you're first –
QUESTION: Well, how did it get there?
MR. LITCHMAN: It got there because basically, it just – before the caucuses really mattered that much, they had positioned themselves as the very first caucus in the nation before the revolution of the 1970s. And the rationale for it, which I don't necessarily agree with, but I'll give you the rationale – the rationale is Iowa is a retail politics state. Do you know what retail politics means? It means person to person, small group, not just TV advertisers. So the idea was because Iowa is a retail politics state, it gives opportunities for everyone. Not just the richest candidate can compete in Iowa. Anyone can compete in Iowa if they go and meet people and they catch fire. That's kind of the rationale.
But your criticism has been made a thousand times. It's a white, small farming state. Everybody goes out there and says, "We're going to give billions to ethanol," and only people in Kansas and Iowa care about giving billions to ethanol. So it is distorting. But the problem is once you're established as first, who's going to take your place? How do you then pick someone else to take your place? You can't. That's the problem. You can't adjudicate among the 40 other states that might want to go first. So you've got to stick with Iowa.
Secondly, do candidates change their profiles once they get into the general election? Absolutely, yes. I mean, the classic example of that was George W. Bush. George W. Bush won the South Carolina primary and defeated John McCain for the nomination by coming out as a fire-breathing, hard-line Christian conservative rallying the Christian conservative base. Did he run that way against Al Gore? What was his big slogan? Compassionate conservative – not conservative, but compassionate. He had to modify it. And of course, on foreign policy, a remarkable non-prediction of what he would do, he said, "We've got to be humble. We can't go around the world telling other nations what to do." So, absolutely.
There's no Democratic nomination this time, but to win the Democratic nomination, you've got to move left; to win the Republican nomination, you've got to move right; and then the electorate is somewhere in the left-right-center. So candidates typically do. When they don't – and there are examples of candidates who don't – they usually get trounced. George McGovern in 1972 didn't modify his liberal principles. He lost by 20 points. Barry Goldwater in 1964 did not modify his conservative principles, and he lost by 20 points.
QUESTION: Sorry. The second question was: Would they – can they change their profile once they get nominated? Are we going to –
MR. LITCHMAN: I thought I just answered that.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. LITCHMAN: They do, and they can. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. Laura Haim from French Television, Canal Plus. You were saying that caucus states are tricky. Could you tell us what are the caucus states outside Iowa, which one are the other –
MR. LITCHMAN: I don't have a – do you have a list of the caucus states? I'll have to email that to you. But –
QUESTION: Or Nevada?
MR. LITCHMAN: Nevada, Kansas, North Dakota – those are some of the caucus states. I don't have every one of them. And they tend to be smaller, generally, primarily, nonminority states in the Midwest and the West.
QUESTION: And the other question is: Can you have a surprise at the national convention in August or September if there's a nominee? How (inaudible)?
MR. LITCHMAN: We haven't had a surprise at a convention, really, since 1952. So it can always happen.
And here's the scenario; it's an interesting scenario: Let's say Gingrich, Romney, and some others win some primaries, and nobody has a majority. Here is the intriguing possibility that the Republicans decide, "We want none of the above, and we're instead going to nominate Governor Christie of New Jersey, who's never run in any primary, but the convention has an absolute right to nominate him. We're going to go back to Tim Pawlenty, the former – " I doubt it, but the former governor of – or anyone. They can pick anyone they want. And this has happened before. In 1968, Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic nomination after the assassination of Kennedy, and he didn't compete in the primaries. In 1952, Adlai Stevenson got the Democratic nomination, and he didn't compete in the primaries. So in fact, the convention can turn to anyone it wants.
QUESTION: So if Palin decides to come back at the convention, can she have a chance?
MR. LITCHMAN: I would say absolutely not.
QUESTION: Okay. (Laughter.) What about someone else?
MR. LITCHMAN: So I think someone like Governor Christie could have a chance at a convention if, in fact, the convention deadlocks, which would indicate dissatisfaction with all the – so it's not impossible. Your scenario, I think, is unlikely, but it's by no means impossible that someone who is not even a candidate right now could be nominated by the Republican Party, even Dick Cheney. No. I'm teasing. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Zoltan Mikes of World Business Press Online. I have two questions. The first one is regarding Iowa and Ron Paul. Is it excluded that he can win Iowa, because he was the second one in these polls?
MR. LITCHMAN: Let me answer that, and then I'll get to your second one. No, it's not excluded that Ron Paul could win Iowa. He's polling as high as Romney. You're right. He's polling second in Iowa. And Iowa's tricky. And fervency, how strongly you support your person, makes a difference in a caucus state, because you've got to do something. You've got to go meetings, you've got to talk to other people. So I would absolutely not rule out – I think it's unlikely, but it's – you're right on the money there. Ron Paul could win Iowa, which would have Newt Gingrich spouting off even more voluminously than usual. It's not – that wouldn't – Romney would love that, because then you have Ron Paul and Romney winning the first two contests, and it would be horrific for – but look for that. You're onto something. It's unlikely, but by no means ruled out.
Your second question?
QUESTION: The second question is – it doesn't mean anything with these primaries. I just want to know your thoughts why Occupy Wall Street doesn't – became a part of Democratic Party like the Tea Party became a part of the Republicans.
MR. LITCHMAN: It may well become part of the Democratic Party. It wouldn't surprise me if it does. The problem is it's such a small movement. The Tea Party movement was just a much, much larger and more politically significant movement. And I have to also say the Democratic Party is less willing to embrace its left than the Republican Party is willing to embrace its right.
QUESTION: Why is that?
MR. LICHTMAN: Because I think, since the election of Ronald Reagan, kind of being a left winger in America has been demonized, has been considered disrespectful, un-loyal, communistic. And even Barack Obama, a very centrist Democrat – come on, the guy has thrown no bombs in his years in office – is called a communist and a socialist quite frequently. So I think the Democrats are very fearful, ever since Ronald Reagan kind of discredited the left, to embrace the left. I think that's a problem for the Democrats.
MODERATOR: Right here.
QUESTION: Hi, Silvia Pisani from La Nacion in Argentina. I think I have three, but very short and specific.
First of all, you said that you are expecting not too much people to vote in the primaries. I would like to know which is the percentage, and if you are expecting – what kind of --
MR. LICHTMAN: About 25 percent --
QUESTION: Twenty-five will be okay?
MR. LICHTMAN: -- of Republicans, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. The second one is I don't know if we can relate this to tennis, but for example, when you have five sets in tennis and you win the first and you win the second, you begin to feel as the winner of the match. Is the same in this process? I mean, if you win Iowa and if you win New Hampshire, you can feel Nadal or what?
MR. LICHTMAN: Iowa and New Hampshire have not decided presidents, as I've said, but the first three primaries have – Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Very rarely does a contest go past that.
MR. LICHTMAN: Usually, whoever comes out of that as the favorite goes on to sweep the primaries. Now, an exception to that was, of course, the Democratic contest in 2008, which went on for months. But usually, these contests are over by February or March.
QUESTION: Okay. And the last one: You spoke recently about the Tea Party. And we have the difference – what I really don't get, but any – now somebody is going to explain it – between the primaries and the caucuses. Do you think that the Tea Party has more possibility to be powerful in a caucus debate than in a primary or is absolutely the same?
MR. LICHTMAN: Definitely in a caucus state, because in a caucus you have to go to meetings; you don't just go to the polling booth and vote. And the Tea Party movement does represent the dynamic element of the Republican Party. They're the ones most fervent, most interested, most committed to operating politically. And so yes, the Tea Party movement can influence the caucus states.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on ethat we are going to see now in Iowa, New Hampshire, and North Carolina --
MR. LICHTMAN: South Carolina.
QUESTION: South Carolina. Is any one of them a caucus one?
MR. LICHTMAN: Iowa.
QUESTION: Thank you. That's --
MODERATOR: New York, please ask a question. New York, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hello. Hi, I'm Miguel Ondarreta from a Spanish radio station. I have two questions: One is the role – asking you about the role of debates on television. They seem to have been very painful for Rick Perry, and I want to ask you about how important are debates in the current process.
And the second question will be, like, how – what do you think about – how long do you think it's going to be, like, seven runners in this process?
MR. LICHTMAN: What was that second question? I didn't catch it.
QUESTION: For how long do you think it's going to be seven runners trying to get the nomination?
MR. LICHTMAN: Oh, got it. Oh, yeah, got it. Debates are very important for primaries. I don't think they're of any importance at all in presidential elections – general elections – but they're very important for primaries because that's how the voters get to know these people. Nobody knew Rick Perry outside of Texas. They had heard his name and then they saw him in debates and didn't like what they saw, and that was a big problem for Rick Perry. That's kind of – he got – you can never unmake a first impression, right? And his first impression for Republican voters was not a positive one.
On the other hand, Herman Cain, a very powerful speaker, used the debates very effectively to power his meteoric rise in the polls. So I do think debates are extremely important for primaries where candidates are little known, and debates are the best way they get to introduce themselves, particularly since you don't have all the campaign ads that you have during a general election. And you can't have as much media attention. In the general election, it's two major candidates. In the primaries, it's seven, eight, so no one candidate gets enough media attention, so the debates are very important.
Secondly, no question, by South Carolina, this field will be over or whittled down to two, plus Ron Paul. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Hello, sir. My name is James Kim with Korean Broadcasting System, asking, sir – I've just got a quick question regarding about the whole candidates itself. If any of them drops out, who will support which leader in the current field right now?
And my second question is: As you know, back in 2004, Rudy was the frontrunner in the – all the primaries or anything prior to it, but the picture has been changed after he went to Florida and Iowa and everywhere. So if, by any chance, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich is not the leader after the January, who do you think – who's going to be the most possible leader out of the candidates? I know it's a very broad question, but --
MR. LICHTMAN: Yeah. Your first question – I don't think any of these candidates, except for Ron Paul, who's not endorsing anyone but Ron Paul – I don't think any of these candidates have enough of a personal following to simply pass them on to another candidate. Endorsements are way overrated in politics and usually don't mean very much.
So if you're asking me if Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney both falter, who's in the second team, I have no idea. If you look at that second team, there doesn't seem to be anyone capable of rallying anywhere near enough support. I mean, except for Paul, who's pretty much fixed and doesn't have a chance, nobody is really even registering in the double digits in any of the polls. So you may see the scenario this young lady pointed out, which is if this thing goes to the convention, it could be someone who's not even a candidate right now that the Republicans nominate.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Toru Takei of Kyodo News, a Japanese news agency.
MR. LICHTMAN: I know it well.
QUESTION: Just a quick question. Since President Obama is running for reelection, I'm just wondering what are the Democrats – will be doing in their caucuses and primaries in New Hampshire.
MR. LICHTMAN: Voting for Obama. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That's it?
MR. LICHTMAN: That's it. He doesn't even have a challenger.
QUESTION: But they will have --
MR. LICHTMAN: They're – oh, they'll hold the primary --
MR. LICHTMAN: -- because let's not forget it's not just Obama on the ticket. They've got to nominate whole lots of other people – governors, senators, congressmen, state legislature and so on. The primaries and caucuses will be held. And it's not uncommon to have uncontested – George W. Bush wasn't contested in 2004. Ronald Reagan wasn't contested in 1984. It's a very good sign, by the way, for the Democrats that Barack Obama isn't contested. Do you – anyone remember who the last Democratic president who was contested was?
QUESTION: Jimmy Carter.
MR. LICHTMAN: Jimmy Carter, by Ted Kennedy, and it certainly did not bode well for Jimmy Carter.
By the way, all these comparisons between Carter and Obama are nonsense. They're – the two are so different and the situations are totally different. The economy was on its way down, not on its way up, as Carter approached the election year, and they got hit with the Iran-Contra scandal – I mean, the Iran hostage scandal – wrong scandal; so many of them.
QUESTION: Hi, Erkan, Danish Broadcasting. Can I ask you a question about California? They recently changed the system there one and a half years ago, I believe, where now every candidate's on one list.
MR. LICHTMAN: On one list, exactly.
QUESTION: What do you make of that?
MR. LICHTMAN: I don't think that'll make any difference. That makes a difference with governors and things, but obviously not make a difference for the president since there's no contest within the Democratic Party. And by the way, the fact that there's no contest in the Democratic primary is going to influence open primary states like New Hampshire because a lot of Democrats are going to vote in the Republican primary in New Hampshire because that's where the action is. There's no action in the Obama primary. So watch for a lot of Democrats in the open states coming out.
QUESTION: Hi, Nancy Ku from Fuji TV. I have a technical question about how the delegates from each state are appointed to a candidate. In the primaries, do all the states have to follow it sort of by proportion, or is – are there any states who still do winner-by-all allocation for their delegates?
And then in the caucuses, can you talk more about how the caucus itself actually works? Like, once they debate and then separate into candidates, is that it and it's apportioned proportionally, or are there next levels to these discussions?
MR. LICHTMAN: There are next levels, but it is proportionate proportional to the sum of the individual levels, and then those people representative go on to the next level. But it's really the lower level that actually decides the results of the caucus states. I'm not aware of any more winner-take-all states. Do you know of any? I don't think there are any. There are – every state now has some degree of proportionality. That was very controversial. As I said, Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination by getting all of California's votes by 1 percent.
QUESTION: The whole debate about this registering –
MODERATOR: Your name, please.
QUESTION: My name is Wessel, Netherlands Radio Television. This whole debate about registering voters, all these impediments for youngsters to –
MR. LICHTMAN: It's huge.
QUESTION: Is this going to play a big role in this next election?
And a completely different other question: And how far has the Republican Party has had a hangover of the whole campaign of McCain, actually? Because as I understood, it was quite a messy – well, without any direction. I mean, wouldn't they be very hesitant to, again, go for a guy who doesn't have a – well, a properly functioning machinery?
MR. LICHTMAN: Yeah. Your first question: You hit on a huge issue. And that is lots of states have been passing barriers to registration and voting – limiting times for registration, controlling so-called registration drives, eliminating same-day registration, and even more significantly, making it more difficult for people to vote by adopting rules for photo identification at the polls, even in some cases for citizenship proof at the polls. And this has an enormous partisan impact. What kinds of people are least likely to have photo IDs in America?
MR. LICHTMAN: Blacks, Latinos, relatively poor people. And how do those people vote?
MR. LICHTMAN: Overwhelmingly Democratic. And if you look at who's passed these laws, places like Texas and Florida, they are states controlled by Republican legislatures and Republican governors. Obviously, Texas is not – if Texas goes democratic, the whole world will. But Florida's a swing state. (Laughter.) And these new restrictive laws in a place like Florida could make a real difference. How many votes did George W. Bush win Florida by in 2000? Anyone remember? 537. And so if you're – these could stop tens of thousands of peoples from going to the polls, and in a close election, could make a difference.
So that – those new laws are really important and very controversial, and they are a major issue in this country. And they're on the pretext of stopping voter fraud, but there isn't any voter fraud. No one's ever proven any voter fraud.
You had another question?
QUESTION: If the party – the Republican Party's hesitance –
MR. LICHTMAN: Oh, yeah. I got it.
QUESTION: -- going again for a guy without a proper –
MR. LICHTMAN: Well, here's the great myth: That there's some Republican Party out there that picks nominees. That's not the way it works. It's these primary voters who are very fervent primary voters. They're not thinking about who's going to develop the best organization in the – the Republican strategists might be, but that's not something that's going to be first on the minds of your average Republican voter.
QUESTION: Ruediger Paulert, German Radio. Could you please compare the – this primary season with all the others when we talk about the influence of TV on this election process? Is it different than it was before or is it just quite the same?
MR. LICHTMAN: Oh, I think it's quite the same. TV has been around as a major force in politics ever since the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960. And I don't think TV is a whole lot different. What is different in recent years is not so much TV as the social media. Many, many more people are now getting information through the social media, which is very different from television because anything goes in the social media. And I think certainly, Barack Obama four years ago benefitted greatly from the fact that he was a master of the social media and Hillary Clinton wasn't. I'm not sure yet how that's going to play out for the Republicans.
QUESTION: I'm Marc Basset from La Vanguardia Spain. How do you explain that in the age of the Tea Party, the two frontrunners, Gingrich and Romney, are the most establishment candidates in the GOP field?
MR. LICHTMAN: Yeah. The GOP always nominates establishment candidates, at least since Barry Goldwater in '64. Look who the GOP has nominated: Richard Nixon, sitting President Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Vice President George H.W. Bush, Senate Leader Bob Dole. Governor of Texas, son of a president, George W. Bush, long-time Senator John McCain. It's the Democrats who nominate these unknown, particularly small-time Southern governors who come out of nowhere – Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton. No one had heard of those people before they started to run for president. So somehow, despite all the insurgencies within the Republican Party, they do tend to go to the well-established figures.
And as I – the Tea Party now is no longer much of an independent movement. It really has been folded into the Republican Party, and they like Gingrich. Because even though he's an establishment figure, they think he's kind of a conservative bomb-thrower, and they like that.
QUESTION: NOS Dutch media also.
MODERATOR: Can you --
QUESTION: Jacqueline. How – can anyone just register? Even – say if I would be a Democrat, could I register as a Republican and then vote in the primaries? Or do you really –
MR. LICHTMAN: There's usually time limits. You can't just, right before the primary, change your registration. But depending on the individual states, you can certainly do so, say, three months before the primary. You have an absolute right to change your registration and vote in the Republican primary. Not too many people do that because it's a big bother.
You got to understand, and I'm not sure you folks do, from the various countries you're from. If you describe one word about the American voter, it's indifference. We barely get 50 percent of adults voting in presidential elections. We get a quarter voting in primaries. We get some 40 percent or less voting in midterm elections. I mean, you're all sort of approaching this as though you got this huge cadre of eager, engaged voters following this day to day; that's not true at all. Most of the American people at this poin, are pretty indifferent, pretty apathetic, pretty out of it when it comes to politics, and pretty disillusioned with politics.
QUESTION: If they do it, make a tactical vote as well, say I would vote for Gingrich because I think he'll make less chance to run for (inaudible) –
MR. LICHTMAN: You can do that. I mean, there's some of that, but --
QUESTION: Does that happen a lot?
MR. LICHTMAN: No. It's a very, very small phenomenon.
QUESTION: It's a Dutch thing.
MODERATOR: One more question.
MR. LICHTMAN: Way over-thinking, yeah. (Laughter.) I can stay as long as they want.
QUESTION: Hi, Betty Lin of the World Journal. Could you talk about the changes of the campaign finance, like differences of big donors and small donors make?
MR. LICHTMAN: Yeah, the biggest difference in the campaign finance laws was the Citizen United Decision of a couple of years ago, which now allows both unions and corporations – not to donate to candidates, by the way, unlimited – that's a big myth. But they can spend unlimited monies now directly in campaigns without setting up political action committees, which are controlled by various rules.
Now they can't directly say, "Vote for Newt Gingrich," but they can run ads showing how horrible Obama is and how wonderful Newt Gingrich is. And the other big innovation is the Super PAC, political action committees now under the Citizen United Decision that can spend unlimited amounts of money and don't have to disclose anything. You don't know who their donors are, you don't know who's behind them, and a lot of these Republican candidates do have Super PACs spending unlimited amounts of money. It used to be $100 million was a lot of money for a candidate to raise. Now, that won't even get you in the door. You've got to be approaching a billion dollars. It's just beyond belief how much money it costs to run a primary and a general election campaign. Nobody thought anyone would break a George W. Bush's fundraising records, and Obama shattered them in 2008.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for coming, and if you –
MR. LICHTMAN: 750 million. I'll take some more.
MODERATOR: I know, but our tape is running out, so – (laughter) – all right.
QUESTION: That doesn't matter.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the tape (inaudible).
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much. You're welcome to come and --
MR. LICHTMAN: I believe this gentleman really wants to get in. Why don't we let him in?
Go ahead. Ask your question.
QUESTION: Well, we don't have to wrap up, we just have to stop the tape.
MODERATOR: Yeah. Go ahead, if you –
MR. LICHTMAN: Ask your question.
QUESTION: Gingrich was known as kind of a Washington insider for most of his life. He's also had a college professor, which is out of the mold. And lastly, apparently he converted to Catholicism, partly, perhaps, because of his Polish American wife.
MR. LICHTMAN: Correct.
QUESTION: But even in light of that, he seems to be rising up, and the Manchester Union shifted away from someone like Romney.
MR. LICHTMAN: Yes.
QUESTION: But is this a kind of trend – sort of an exception for Gingrich, simply because he is who he is, or is this something that speaks to what's happening in the Republican Party, or --
MR. LICHTMAN: It's both. It obviously speaks to what's happening in the Republican Party. Of course before Gingrich, there was Cain, Bachmann, and Perry. And one – the lovely thing for Gingrich is he doesn't have that much time to fall. It takes a while after you've risen to fall, and Iowa's less than four weeks away.
And Gingrich is a unique figure. Yes, he is an establishment Republican, but he was the conservative bomb-thrower, back in the '90s. He called Bob Dole, the leader of the Senate, the tax collector for the welfare state. He was willing to go after other Republicans, and he was the guy who said, "We want to wage ideological warfare against the Democrats. We don't want to compromise, we don't want to work together; we want to obliterate them," which makes him not quite a Bob Dole or a Gerald Ford.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. LICHTMAN: Thank you. Sorry to be late again.