Bush Pollster Assesses GOP Presidential Campaign

Jan van LouhizenJan van Lohuizen

Jan van Lohuizen earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from Rice University in 1978. He has been in the polling business ever since.In the 1980s, he worked for two of the leading Republican polling firms and spent two years as the opinion research director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

In 1991, he founded his own firm, Voter/Consumer Research. He served as President George W. Bush’s pollster in both of his presidential election campaigns. He is highly regarded by political professionals in both parties.

We asked him (by e-mail) to help us get a sense of where the 2012 GOP presidential nomination campaign stood at this juncture of the race.  His answers to our five questions are below.

1.  What’s your sense of the GOP presidential race? Who’s in the first tier of likely nominees and who makes up the second tier?

JVL: Romney and Bachmann are the current front runners. The jury is out on Bachmann’s staying power.  However, Christie and Perry would join the first tier candidates if they decided to get in the race. If you look at support for Christie among the most engaged caucus goers it is clear that the overall numbers underestimate his potential support. I would add Perry to the top tier as well. His actual accomplishments are debatable, but he will claim credit for the strong Texas economy. In doing so he will combine the strongest points of Bachmann and Romney; Perry’s appeal to tea party voters will match Bachmann’s as will his communications skills; his achievements regarding the Texas economy will match Romney’s claimed credentials. Actually they may trump Romney’s credentials, since the Texas economy now puts to shame the Massachusetts economy when Romney left. What is more, Romney’s current rhetoric on the economy is pretty hollow, and I think Perry’s record will trump Romney’s rhetoric.   

2. You just did a survey in Iowa.  What’s behind the surge for Michele Bachmann there?

JVL: Her debate performance in the 2nd debate. Look at the Herman Cain phenomenon. After the 1st debate in South Carolina his numbers took off into the mid-teens in national primary polls. After the 2nd debate they quickly came back to earth. I think the same may happen to Bachmann, but more slowly: her numbers really took off following the 2nd debate. 

But there is more to it than that: I think she is a skilled communicator who has more durability than Cain does; also she gets on Fox a lot more than he did, and as a result of the Iowa Caucus survey we did you’ll see her more; if she does well in the straw poll she will prove to be a lot more durable than I think she is at this point. 

This, of course, also paints a target on her back; she’ll come in for more criticism, a lot more, then she has to date. In my view there is a lot to criticise. One other thing to point out is that the caucus participants really want someone who can beat the President; this is probably the major reason for the weak Palin numbers we showed. The same may happen to Bachmann; Iowa caucus goers may decide they like her but not vote for her if they come to the conclusion that she can’t win in November.

3. You know Texas as well as anyone.  What’s your sense of Rick Perry?  Is he going to run?  If he does, what are his strengths and weaknesses as a national candidate?

JVL: See above.  I don’t know if he will run  but my sense of it is that he will — quite a few of the issues he pushed in the legislative session and in the follow-up special session were clearly designed to seed a run for President. 

His assets are that he is a good communicator, appeals to tea party types, and he can point to the strength of the Texas economy. On the liabilities side, however, he did not get the things he introduced for that purpose, and the criticism of the balanced budget he passed is getting rougher and rougher: it is basically as flimsy as Gerry Brown’s balanced budget. Add to that that he never really has done all that well in Texas. He got a 2nd full term with less than 40% of the vote in a 4 way race, and barely avoided a runoff in his own primary against a weakened Senator and an unknown.  

Add as well that some of the issues he is associated with are deeply problematic to conservatives, including his record on property rights, increasing taxes, ‘pay to play’ fundraising and any amount of other raw material for opposition researchers that 10 years as Governor generates.  

4. Everyone’s sort of surprised by the inability of Tim Pawlenty to get traction — so far — with GOP primary voters and caucus attenders?  Why isn’t he connecting?

JVL: He is utterly lacking in charisma. I usually avoid these, but I agreed to speak at a regional organising meeting for the party in Minnesota just to see him speak: he was utterly boring and I decided not to pitch his campaign. At a cocktail reception for the event, attended by 125+ activists, he and his wife were standing by themselves – no one was interested in talking to him and he made no effort to work the crowd.  The first presidential campaign, I worked for John Connally’s; at an event like this one 120 of 125 attendees would have been all over him and he would have found the remaining 5.  And Connally got 1 delegate, but in fairness he was running against Ronald Reagan.

5. Everyone says that Mitt Romney is the front-runner, but no one (in their heart of hearts) thinks he “fits” as a GOP presidential nominee.  What’s your take on Romney?  Can he win?  What are his strengths and weaknesses as we head into the primary season?

JVL: I worked for the Romney campaign 4 years ago and it was one of the worst if not the worst campaign experiences I’ve had. I personally liked (and like) Romney, and he’s clearly very bright, but I came to the conclusion that to be a successful venture capitalist you mostly have to be a great pitchman, much more so than a great manager.  

Romney clearly is a good pitchman, and I think that in ’08 this was more a liability than an asset: he sounded as convincing telling people he was pro-choice (on tape in his campaign for Senate against Kennedy) as he sounded telling people he was pro-life 4 years ago.  That made a lot of people very nervous.  It might have been survivable if he switched on just one issue, but he switched on so many that he lost his credibility.  I think the damage has proven to be lasting. 

In his current campaign he made the right decision to try to become the leading economic expert in the field.   However, if you read what he actually says it sound very hollow and mostly consists of safe conservative dogma;  if he has said something original on the economy I missed it.  I do think he will be a strong candidate against the President if he manages to get out of the primaries, but whether he does remains to be seen.


Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.