Why He Will (Again)

July 21, 2011
The President

President Obama on 20 January 2009 - certainly here to stay beyond 2012

When President Barack Obama announced the death of the country’s foremost enemy, terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, to America and the rest of the world, there were many interesting observations. Young people gathered in front of the White House gates to celebrate the fatal blow dealt to the nation’s nemesis. Political commentators spoke of a “defining moment” in Obama’s presidency. Predictably, the President’s approval ratings rose substantially – especially on the foreign policy front. In fact, political Washington was so much obsessed with talk of Obama having secured a “lock” on the Electoral College as a result of bin Laden’s death that Jon Stewart deadpanned and announced “Yes, he sealed it. It’s over”.

But what started in jest seems to develop into the reality of the day. Some of you reading this may be absolutely incredulous and accuse me of being presumptuous, naive or – worst of all – a partisan ignoring the realities of runaway debt, controversial healthcare debates, high unemployment and partisan gridlock in the District. Like any good attorney with a case theory, I felt I should share mine with you. I believe that whilst Election 2012 will be a fairly close affair, President Obama will get re-elected on the basis of a number of factors. None of these factors are of the President’s making at all. On the contrary, the President will win due to external factors. The only question, in my eyes, will be the closeness and (thus) strength of the mandate conferred upon him by the American people.

So, why do I see 2012 as another Obama year?

1.) Voter Turnout 

Democratic voters outstrip Republicans in most states. Most voters frequently identify themselves as “Independent” or “Democrat”. Additionally, and that’s something that is being forgotten all the time, the mid-term Congressional elections had a dramatically lower turnout than the 2008 or 2004 elections. The 2012 election, with the White House at stake and control of both houses of Congress at stake, turnout will be well above 65% – thus reducing the influence of the Tea Party movement as a real numerical factor in the presidential election.

2.) Split Republicans 

Don’t believe the Republican self-motivation talk. The party is split, veering between compromise and satisfying the demands of a vociferous, radical right wing that makes Pat Buchanan look like a benign centrist in comparison. The current debate on raising the debt ceiling is a perfect exposition of this: Speaker Boehner showing signs of compromise, Mitch McConnell’s convoluted (and obviously partisan) ploy to confer authority to President Obama, the quirky (but nonetheless unrealistic and economically irresponsible) “Cut, Cap & Balance” plan. The GOP is torn, split and a house divided.

3.) In a Mirror, Darkly

This election feels like a slightly darker version of the 1996 election. Just think of it: Republicans had a virulent dislike of Bill Clinton then, just like they do of Barack Obama today. Like Clinton then, Obama is a gifted speaker and highly effective communicator who knows how to use the bully pulpit of the presidency. Like Clinton in 1996, Obama faces an opposition Republican caucus that is in the process of overreaching and picking the wrong fights (1995/96: the budget impasse, 2011: the fight on debt ceiling). Most importantly, like Clinton, Obama is beginning to write the narrative of his election. In a recent poll, the majority of respondents placed the fault for the current economic crisis in America flatly on the feet of Wall Street bankers and the Bush Administration. The country does not believe the narrative of the President being a carbon copy of Jimmy Carter or an out-of-touch elitist far removed from the people.

4.) Lack of real opponents

Looking at the current field of presidential prospects requires the suspension of disbelief. Don’t get me wrong – there are some impressive candidates: Jon Huntsman comes to mind, as does Gary Johnson (the impressively consistent libertarian former two-term governor of New Mexico). The problem is simple: Barring a radical shift in Republican Party strategy, they just won’t win. Why? Because today’s activist, extremely ideological caucus attendees in Iowa are not concerned with rationalism or such a trivial thing as actually wanting to win an election. Like many opposition parties in their first years after a massive defeat (2008), the Republican activists are imposing a purity test on their candidates. Hence, the massive proliferation of special interest group pledges in this election cycle. The GOP today is comparable to the British Conservatives, 1997 to 2005 – that was before David Cameron became party leader and steered the party towards the centre. Republicans would rather lose than actually make compromises to win back the White House. It is that simple – and that big.

A look at the candidates will show why this is a problem:

ROMNEY: Good experience on paper, knows the primary process, but inspires McCain-style grumblings – almost contempt. And – he finished behind Huckabee last time. Even if he makes it to the general election, Obama has enough time to demolish him as an Massachusetts flip-flopper (think John Kerry, circa 2004) and as more of the same. Here is a Ted Kennedy campaign ad that provides the perfect script for the unraveling of Candidate Romney, then and in 2012.

BACHMANN: Attractive, engaging, flamboyant – those are advantages not to be underestimated. Michele Bachmann would make a great VP pick (no, seriously). But in the unlikely event that she actually gets nominated to step into the shoes of Republican giants like Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and (yes) Bush, the Minnesota Republican is just not ready for prime time. She is the GOP version of Howard Dean, whose campaign collapsed due to its internal contradictions and overhyped media presence. Ditto for Bachmann. She is likely to fold after the South Carolina primary. If she gets nominated, Obama can run like a modern-day version of LBJ against Goldwater. Electoral College and popular vote landslide virtually guaranteed for the President.

PAWLENTY: Boring, artificial and bland. That’s the impression that you get when you hear him speak. Unfortunately, that does matter. Bachmann has also sapped out the “Minnesota” oxygen in the race. Pawlenty is desperately making a push for relevance, be it through pop culture references, over-the-top (but extremely well-produced) videos (courtesy of video guru Lucas Baiano) or thinly veiled attacks on Bachmann. His working class biography is very stellar and provides an excellent narrative – however, given his flip-flops on vital issues, Pawlenty has buried his general election candidacy. He would make an election close for the President, but would still lose. He just is no Chris Christie.

CAIN: Quirky, the funniest candidate on the list, charismatic. Whether it’s his colourful bio as a pizza magnate, the fact that he produced his own album of gospel songs or his humble roots, Herman Cain is intriguing. Well, that is until you start hearing him speak – especially his rants against Islam make him a no-go candidate for the traditional Republican crowd (foreign policy and economic conservatives). He is also not turning heads positively with statements appearing to endorse three-page bills. Also, I just can’t see a path towards nomination for him. He has no executive experience and it is unclear whether he could go head-to-head in a debate against the President. Even the somewhat nutty Alan Keyes had some debate experience when he went up against a certain Senator Obama in 2004.

GINGRICH: A has-been, tainted by Tiffanygate, lack of presidential gravitas. Additionally, Herman Cain steals his presence in Georgia (which may have served as something of a base). Also, his speakership was wholly unremarkable – especially as he allowed President Clinton to win the narrative on the budget shutdown and effectively win re-election against Bob Dole in 1996. No way he can win the primary – and even if he does go on to secure the nomination due to a miraculous set of circumstances, President Obama can demolish him as “Yesterday’s Man” and the epitome of the “Washington Insider”. Given his recent erratic behaviour, it seems as if Newt is only looking for a favourable speaking spot at the convention.

SANTORUM: Out of public life since his defeat. Patently running on the wrong issue. With the economy in turmoil, he has no plan for the economy. There are enough statements of his to scare the living daylights of any pro-choicer and memories in Pennsylvania of Senator Santorum are still fresh. No way he wins nomination or election.

HUNTSMAN: Intelligent, thoughtful, personable. Right mixture of conservative signature issues, executive experience, corporate CV and foreign policy gravitas. If the Republicans wanted to win – and win big – , they would nominate Jon Huntsman in a heartbeat. He could run a tough-on-the-issues campaign against the President, without the invective and vitriol that turns off independents. Would likely secure many newspaper endorsements, stand up to the likes of Grover Norquist and decisively advocate a return to common sense conservatism. His problem? Republicans don’t want to win – they want to be right.

JOHNSON: The second truly qualified candidate in the race. Executive experience, a very independent streak, principled fight against earmarks in his state (which he underlined by vetoing thousands of bills). Wants a retreat of the state in line with libertarian beliefs. Balanced the budget and got re-elected in a swing state. His problem? The media don’t care about any of that. In an ideal world, Johnson would be a finalist for the nomination.

PAUL: Ron Paul is the crusty old relic of the race. A bit like the cranky uncle who tells you to be careful with your pennies, he is the father of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and a darling of the new libertarian wing of the Republican Party. Unfortunately, he also supports ideas like banning abortion and abolishing the Fed. Not flying at all – Obama could denounce him as naive, inexperienced (he has no executive experience), a symbolic legislator (did any Paul legislation get passed?) and an ideologue. Would win big parts of the South, but would lose the Northeast, Midwest and the coastal West.

5.) The President 

Barack Obama should not be underestimated. He had a meteoric rise from state senator to United States Senator to President within 4 years. He has a formidable organisation, financially and in terms of personnel. He is expected to raise more than 1 billion USD for the campaign and carpet the swing states with ads. Enough time to define his opponents, while they still slug it out in the primaries. He is the man who killed Osama bin Laden. He passed a healthcare reform act that not even Clinton managed. He repealed “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and he will win this debt ceiling fight. And more than that, he wants to win – whatever the price or cost.

Mark my words: Election 2012 will be another Obama victory. He has it locked, sealed – it’s over.

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