I would like to highlight two common claims about presidential primaries that I see a lot:
- Having lots of candidates and a long race is a big problem. When the Republicans have finished beating each other up this year, the eventual winner will be too exhausted to win in November. All that Hillary Clinton will have to do is roll the tape of her opponent being slagged by fellow Republicans, and she’ll waltz into the White House.
- Having no competition is a big problem. Democrats would be much better off if Hillary Clinton had some serious challengers who sharpened her campaign skills and took a little bit of the spotlight off her.
As near as I can tell, there is zero evidence for either claim. Off the top of my head, I’d say you can very occasionally make the claim that a primary battle matters—the 1968 Democratic race comes obviously to mind—but most of the time the candidate who emerges at the end seems to be unhurt by either too much or too little competition.
Does anyone know of any backup for either of these claims? I’ve never seen any. Republicans are putting the first one to a kind of destruction test this year, but even so I’ll bet the eventual winner is in pretty normal shape by Labor Day.