Replace Han? Probably not.

There is lots of speculation flying around the political sphere that the KMT might replace Han Kuo-yu as its presidential nominee. After all, they did it four years ago, so they could do it again. Also, recent polls haven’t been great for Han, so there is a motive. Let me explain why I think there isn’t much chance of this happening.

 

Four years ago, Hung Hsiu-chu was named the KMT nominee after not winning a competitive primary. None of the main contenders (Chu, Hau, Wu, Wang) formally registered for the nomination, as they preferred to wait for the party to engage in backroom negotiations and offer them the nomination. Hung registered, and to everyone’s surprise, she passed the 30% threshold of approval in the polling primary. Since she had fulfilled the minimum requirements, the flummoxed party leaders went ahead and nominated her. Her polling numbers were always bad, and after she received the nomination, they got worse. She routinely lost to Tsai Ing-wen by 30% or more. Then James Soong jumped in the race, and his support threatened to overtake hers and push the KMT into third place. Finally, there were rumors that the native Taiwanese faction of the KMT was so upset that it was considering quitting the party. In short, the KMT was in crisis. Everyone could see it, and it was so obvious that it was impossible to ignore.

None of that describes the current situation. Han won a competitive primary, and he won it convincingly. Moreover, he beat the very people (Gou, Chu, Wang, Wu) who might replace him on the ticket. They all had a shot, and he crushed them all. Han won the primary because of his Han Fans. Hung didn’t have anything like the huge numbers of KMT sympathizers who have fallen head over heels in love with Han. If the KMT tried to remove him, these Han Fans would go into open revolt.

Han’s polling numbers in the last couple weeks aren’t great, but this is nothing like four years ago. Even in the worst polls, he isn’t losing by 30%. Most polls show the race as close, and there are still polls coming out every now and then that show him winning one or more matchups. The news hasn’t been great recently, but that could easily change. If the news shifts, it could be his turn for a series of good polls. In short, there simply isn’t the same obvious and overwhelming message coming from polls that the KMT is heading for a disaster. Many KMT supporters are still quite confident and expect to win.

Finally, it looks to me like most of the KMT is reluctantly getting on board. His recently announced roster of policy advisors is a who’s who of technocratic elites from the Ma administration. The suggestion that the “intellectual blues” will hold out en masse simply doesn’t seem to be backed up by actions.

I think the chance that Han will be replaced is miniscule. There would have to be some major new development that shattered his popularity both with the general public but, more importantly, with his loyal Han Fans. Right now, trying to replace him would be the best way to ensure an all-out civil war within the KMT. For better or worse, I’m pretty confident that he will be representing the KMT on January 11.

 

I think these rumors are stoked mostly by the green talkosphere in order to give the impression that Han is weak. The rumors also have the benefit of egging on Terry Gou’s campaign. Gou and people around him keep hearing how weak Han is and how the party might need a white knight to save them. This keeps Gou actively involved in politics, but it paradoxically prevents him from jumping headlong into his independent big. He can’t announce his independent challenge or start the petition drive to get on the ballot because he wants to hang back in case the KMT nomination becomes viable. The longer he hangs back, the further behind he gets in putting together a robust campaign organization. It’s strange, but I am starting to wonder if we will end up with neither Ko nor Gou running. Is it possible that, after all these machinations, we will end up with a simple Tsai v Han head-to-head matchup?

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