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April 25, 2012 12:17 PM Remember Pawlenty

By Jonathan Bernstein

Jim Newell had a column over at Salon yesterday bashing people (himself included, so he’s trying to be fair) for bad prognostications during the nomination battle — and I get a nice featured spot:

Pawlenty dropped out of the race about 10 days after Bernstein’s post, which, again, because of science, informed readers, “It’s time to buy Pawlenty stock.” Don’t dump your shares in Lehman Brothers, either!

I’m still going to defend myself on this one. I said, with one debate to go before Ames, that I thought Pawlenty’s chances of winning the nomination seemed to me closer to 1 in 7 than 1 in 20. That someone I pegged as a 1 in 7 chance didn’t win just doesn’t strike me as a bad call, just a reasonable bet that didn’t pan out.

I think what I said about Pawlenty at the time holds up pretty well now. The idea is that anyone can catch fire, short-term; who does well in the next debate, or the next news cycle, is essentially unpredictable. However, what happens next is much more predictable. If the candidate who catches fire is Michele Bachmann, or Herman Cain, or Newt Gingrich, then that candidate will have a brief surge followed by a collapse. If it’s a candidate with conventional credentials and mainstream views within the party, then that candidate may be able to capitalize on the surge.

As it happens, Pawlenty never had the surge he needed. I still see no reason to believe he could not have had a surge; it’s just that he didn’t. Which is why, at the end of the day, I suspect that Pawlenty and Rick Perry were the real runners-up to Mitt Romney in the 2012 cycle, and not Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul.

I did get some stuff wrong, or at least not as right as I’d like to be, during the nomination battle; if I recall correctly, all of them (pretty much) were Santorum related. But I don’t feel bad about this one at all. More, if you’re interested, here.

By the way, whatever I deserved for my “buy Pawlenty” post, I’m certain that Newell is massively off base in bashing Brendan Nyhan for saying that early nomination polls don’t tell us much. If there’s one thing that was abundantly clear during this particular election cycle, it’s that Brendan was absolutely correct about that. Granted, he wasn’t right about Pawlenty, but it was a throwaway comment at the end of a long, substantive post, as opposed to what I did — and, at any rate, “bet on” is just different than “predict.”

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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