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A strong field doesn't make for a strong nominee

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I wrote earlier on why I see the Republicans' nomination of Donald Trump as one of the most massive failures of a political party in generations. I won't revisit those comments here, although I did want to add a bit on what I see as a key stumbling block for party coordination.

One of the major problems for the Republican search for a presidential nominee in 2016 was the field of candidates. It was, as many noted, a strong field, with several well-qualified governors and senators. But strong fields don't necessarily make for strong candidates.

Instead, it just made it harder for party leaders to settle on a non-Trump favorite. There was no obvious coordination point. By sitting back and waiting to see whether Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, or Marco Rubio would prove the best candidate, party insiders just gave room for Trump's candidacy to metastasize.

One of the saddest but most telling failures of coordination was the April non-aggression pact between Ted Cruz and John Kasich. The collective action problem was pretty obvious: They had a common foe, but they also wanted to defeat each other, and thus they never really encouraged people to vote for the other person.

Party strategies that rely upon self-interested candidates to coordinate together really aren't very good strategies. If a party actually wants to see some candidates work together at the expense of another, it will need to do some of the coordination itself, possibly orchestrating some sort of long-term payoffs for the candidates. It did nothing of the sort in this instance.

We see the same sort of failure on display today as the #NeverTrump movement fizzles. In theory, this might be a time for some party leaders to hold out their support from Trump. They could threaten to back a third-party candidate in some swing states, or demand platform concessions at the convention, or in some other way hold out the unity that Trump wants. Yet one by one, they're falling in line. They couldn't coordinate against him back when he was more vulnerable; why should now be any different?

This post is part of a Mischiefs of Faction series on the Republican party. See the previous entry here.

This post is part of Mischiefs of Faction, an independent political science blog featuring reflections on the party system. See more Mischiefs of Faction posts here.

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