Blogging over at the Plumline, Jonathan Bernstein brings up a very interesting question:
As Pema Levy reports in a nice item, the message among neutral Republicans over the weekend was simple: It’s time to shut down GOP WH 2012 before somebody gets hurt – in particular, the “somebody” being the very likely but ever-vulnerable Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. As she notes, this replaces a previous Republican case of Obama-Clinton envy, in which many GOP insiders decided that Barack Obama helped himself in 2008 by fighting a long nomination battle.
There’s inconclusive political science literature about the effects of divisive primaries. Those studying the problem have recognized two competing effects. On the one hand, a hard-fought primary may energize the party and the winning campaign may have been forced to build an effective electioneering operation; on the other, the losing side may defect or stay home in the general election, and attacks made by same-party candidates may lend credibility to general election attacks from the other party.
There’s no particular reason to believe going in which of these effects are strong; it’s an empirical question, and one that’s proved difficult to answer. What’s more, most studies have been in statewide or House races. It’s not clear how any of this translates into presidential elections, and it’s harder to assess presidential races effectively because there just aren’t that many of them.
What we have happening in the primary this year is nothing like the Obama/Clinton battle of 2008. In 2008 people chose a candidate they liked and supported them. This year Republicans are picking a candidate they don't like then choosing an alternative, with the only real exception being the Ron Paul supporters.
That is a big problem.