What if, 2012?

The circus of the Republican nomination process aside--six strange people competing to be a schizophrenic footstool--there are some interesting questions arising from the current American scene that I think it would be diverting, on a Saturday morning, to explore.

One is that Obama should not win. I don't mean that from any partisan point of view, since I rather like his calm intelligence and demeanour, which I presume he picked up in Asia. No winning candidate in 2008 should really have expected to win in 2012, because for an increasing number of Americans, regardless of rigged unemployment and inflation figures, an income squeeze is turning ineluctably into a depression. Vast scandals that were tolerated during the long boom have mired that country in mortgage fraud, overleveraged banks, and a sort of financial dementia which an alienated political and media class can only contribute to. Anyone in charge would be in trouble.

From a more prosaic point of view, if Obama ran against one reasonably strong generic Republican candidate, he would have a difficult path to victory in the electoral college that has decided the presidency for most of it's existence. Across the republic, Obama 2012 would run into problems, if present trends continue, which might not be offset by his strengths.

In Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin, the GOP has shown great strength that is belied by opinion polls; Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina are probably territories of serious difficulty for the president; and Texas may well be a toss-up. In a very good year for any Democrat, 2008, Obama pulled 365 electoral votes, 95 over those he needed, and won all the states which I have identified bar Texas. The States that I have just identified, if combined, are worth 159 in combination, and 121 without Texas.

It may be that Obama can rely on strength with hispanic groups to bring him back into play in the West, but that means that he must win all the Mexican cession bar the Indian reservations and the Lone Star State. Frankly, I think that it can't be done, especially given how to work, Obama would have to stoke a virtual civil war by coralling hispanics to vote against some very antagonised armed and legal citizens in the south-west. Arizona for O?

So the first prediction for the 2012 election is that, if Obama does not lose, he may well face a very very close election. He may improve his chances if the Vice-President were to choose to retire and, for instance, Mrs Clinton or Mrs Napolitano to run with him, but not much. I don't see the utility of going for another Democratic man, and Andrew Cuomo wouldn't deliver hispanics, or New Englanders, in any unique way. He could potentially bring Wisconsin and Pennsylvania back, though, which would change the odds, but Joe Biden's abilities amongst white working class voters (the group of whom we must dare not speak in the Atlantic economy) should not be underestimated. I can't see much of an alternative to Joe, but then, well, I like Joe.

I suppose that I should also place another prejudice of mine on the table, which is that, as I get older, the president whom I most admire is Gerald Ford. I said this once to an aspirant American politician when discussing Malcolm X in Oxford (and I liked him too, at the end) and noticed that it isn't the sort of thing one is meant to say. Jerry was intelligent, understood the rule of law, and most of all understood the value sometimes of doing nothing in a way that others, including Reagan, did not. He was amiable and not super-clever, which is a combination that I deeply admire in a presidential leader. He should have won in '76, and if he had not ballsed up his Vice-presidential choice, or had won in the debates, he could well have. The eighties would have been different. It's an odd and logically unmerited comparison I know, but Barry could do himself no real harm by swapping the Marlboros he gets past Michelle for a pipe and a more reassuring air.

Much of the above analysis depends upon Obama running against a 'generic republican' candidate. There was a time when Jerry was generic, but there are few Fords or Lincolns in the Republican car yard at the moment, and plenty of junkyard dogs.

The Republican 'A-team'--people like David Petraeus and Jeb Bush--are staying well clear of the nominating process. That does not mean that they may fail a fleeting appearance hereafter. US politics is very much due a 'brokered convention' of the sort narrowly avoided in 1976 where no candidate has won before nomination day. Romney is highly organised and has deep pockets; Governor Perry has real support amongst the Republican base; and, whilst they probably cannot win, Bachmann, Huntsman, and Ron Paul have the capacity to remove the margin of victory from other players and to win a state or two themselves. If Sarah Palin entered the race, she would poll low but deny victory to others on a random basis.

Therefore, to win the nomination, and avoid a call from Tampa to some A-list kidnap team, Republicans are going to have to run against significant sections of their own party and in personal ways against each other. One interesting feature of all of this is that most of them are not going to go through to 2016, so there is an incentive to recklessness as well. Perry steals Paul and Bachmann's clothes; Paul's supporters and Bachmann herself attack Perry; Romney slithers and is attacked by everyone; and Huntsman declares everyone else mad. The outcome of that, it would seem to me, is a flawed Perry or Romney coronation, followed by a third party bid by either Palin or Paul. This one could easily turn into A Clockwork Orange.

Perry himself was a weak candidate in Texas, and ran behind his party. Ron Paul is a popular Texan congressman, so it is not hard to make the link and suggest that Paul (whom I admire as a man) could easily split the Texas GOP vote and hand the state to Obama if he ran as a spoiler having lost the Republican nomination. Of all the possible independent candidates, Ron Paul is the one with traction, and with the least reason to stay within the Republican Party. The Ron Paul campaign have already officially denied that their candidate--who ran as a libertarian once and endorsed a libertarian in 2000--could actually leave, so we have at least one indication that it is a real political possibility (on the old basis that you never believe anything political until it is denied).

He could gain money both from the internet and Ross Perot, who has not gone away, and could easily displace a comedy independent like Donald Trump or Sarah Palin. Since the political-media establishment is scared witless of him, I predict that if he even gets close to bolting, the major republican donors will start encouraging a Palin or Trump third-party candidacy, and Rick Perry will discover a longstanding hatred of the Federal reserve--just as the municpal bond crisis hits the states and they start calling effectively for Qe.

If you were a Republican, wouldn't you stay out? The GOP is probably going to win the engine room of Congress anyway, the Supreme Court will probably declare Obamacare unconstitutional after the election, and Obama himself, if you care about things, is an excellent foreign policy president--so why not keep him in and make his life worse?

There's an enigma here, or rather what is probably a silly end of summer question. What if Barack Obama, persuaded by a wife who clearly hates the Washington limelight and an analysis similar to mine, simply doesn't run? Perhaps he does not want to take Joe Biden down to defeat, or face four grinding years, or be locked up in those exotic mechanical coffins the Secret Service favours for much longer. What then?

Well, then the nomination and the election are Hillary Clinton's to lose, and this time she won't. Hillary will hang on for dear life until 2020, and then make darn sure that Andrew Cuomo is in until 2028. Followed by Chelsea.

I think that the Republican Party get that point too, and amongst their major strategists--the rich and relatively clearheaded men who give the chumps and grunts their orders--a close Obama victory, followed by four years of hanging, drawing and quartering of the entire Democratic brand, might seem like something appealing. All that I would suggest, were I ever to be listened to or read, is that people should be careful what they wish for, because, well, those verdammt contingencies have a way of messing plans up.


Martin...your last two posts are thought provoking and entertaining. As far as the 2012 race, I believe that Obama will win narrowly as you predict. A lot can happen in the next fifteen months. The economy is a basket case for sure and is his Achilles heel, but he does have 'control' of the mass media and pop culture leaders (MTV, etc). The 'dumbed down' generations can still be swayed by personality and media propaganda. His campaign is already using the refrain..."It's not my fault, look what I inherited from Bush and Cheney". The 'rich' and 'selfish' GOP will be his punching bag and for many they will vote against the GOP image rather than for Obama. All the best, Patrick
Martin Meenagh said…
Thank you Patrick. I think that George Bush and the neocons' legacy are going to be toxic for some time, but I've always thought that anyone running in 2008 would have a hard time by 2012. As James Carville noted last week, the coming year has the potential to be crazy, as delusion and denial are ripped away by economic reality.

All the best to your good self, and thanks for your comment
Anonymous said…
It'll be Perry or Romney, though that kinda feels like the entirety of the movie W. played out in the Republican primary (Dad vs Junior).

I didn't know Ford, anyone here who does tends to only speak of pardoning Nixon and Chevy Chase, which reminds me, did anyone ever do a really good Jimmy Carter impression?

Martin Meenagh said…
Did you know Romney was declared dead when a missionary in France but was then revived? I feel that old Calvin Coolidge line coming on... how could they tell?
Anonymous said…
I had met a few Mormon troops while in Afghanistan and they all had been missionaries in France (as per the LDS practice). When I asked why their church always sends people to France in particular they said: "Can you think of anyone in more need of salvation?" Always got a chuckle out of that.

Martin Meenagh said…
So do I, now. Good grief--I love France--but is there anyone that the French have not gloried in winding up?

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