Leviathan's Reach? the Impact of Political Consultants on the Outcomes of the 2012 Republican Presidential Primaries and Caucuses

By Cain, Sean A. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Leviathan's Reach? the Impact of Political Consultants on the Outcomes of the 2012 Republican Presidential Primaries and Caucuses


Cain, Sean A., Presidential Studies Quarterly


Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's presidential campaign spent $37.5 million (1) between January 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, on the services of professional political consulting firms to help win the Republican Party's presidential nomination. Eleven of his GOP opponents also hired consulting firms during that time period, but their combined spending to consultants amounted to only $1 million more than that. But he was not the front-runner in political consultant use. That distinction went to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who made payments to 31 consulting firms during the primary season, compared to Romney's 20. Yet Gingrich spent a mere $4 million on the services of his consultants. If Gingrich hoped to win the nomination with the help of his consultants, it would be on the cheap. Gingrich contracted with six consulting firms that had been employed by the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 2008 or 2010, the same number as Romney did. If Gingrich, out of elected office for more than a dozen years before running for president, hoped by doing so to demonstrate the organizational strength of a viable, party-approved candidate, he had, at best, modest success and won only two states' primaries.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum had also been out of office for several years, but he spent $9-5 million on the services of consultants, and while only three of his firms had recently worked for the party, he paid them 80% of that sum, compared to Gingrich, who spent 11% of his budget for outside consultants on those with recent party contracts. Did Santorum have his consultants to thank as he finished in second place with 11 popular vote victories? Or was his or any other of the field's consultants irrelevant to their relative success or failure? Would they have been better or worse off to hire firms who had worked for the party in order to be their party's presidential standard bearer? In short, does the use of political consultants by presidential candidates increase political party influence over the outcomes of primaries and caucuses to the extent that candidates' consultants are beneficiaries of party largesse?

The nomination of candidates has long been considered vital to understanding the extent of American political party power, and answers to these questions help explain whether political consultants serve and enhance such power. According to Schattschneider (1942), "[t]he nature of the nomination procedure determines the nature of the party; he who can make nomination is the owner of the party" (quoted in Ranney 1971, 151). Yet presidential primaries and caucuses, as means for the party-in-the- electorate to nominate candidates, diminish party power to the extent they encourage candidates to self-select to run, develop personal campaign organizations, and actively campaign on themes not vetted by the party organization (Aldrich 1995; Crotty and Jacobson 1980; Wattenberg 1991, 1996). The political consultants upon whom candidates rely to provide strategic advice to target and persuade voters have been thought to heighten candidate-centered campaigning by exploiting these incentives to distance the candidate from her party (Sabato 1981; Shea 1996).

However, consultants who works for a presidential candidate seeking nomination may not necessarily resist the will of party leaders and insiders in their selection of and labor for candidate clients. Most consultants maintain professional relationships with one party's (and rarely the other's) organization as well as its candidates (Luntz 1988), often having prior employment as staff of party committees and offices (Kolodny and Logan 1998) or as providers of electioneering services as contract workers for party campaign committees (Kolodny and Dulio 2003). Consultants, in this regard, are informal actors within a mutually beneficial network of party elites (Grossmann 2009; Herrnson 2009; Nyhan and Montgomery 2011). To the extent that presidential candidates rely on consultants for their services, and those consultants have professional ties to party committees, the political consultant may be less mercenary than loyal partisan foot soldier. …

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