There are several ways to look at the next presidential election in 2012, especially since the current and new president, Barack Obama, appears unuusually vulnerable to being limited to one term.
This early vulnerability, after only about one year in office, could, following the 2010 mid-term elections this year, provoke an intraparty challenge to the president, as happened in 1980 when then-Senator Ted Kennedy took on incumbent President Jimmy Carter. Kennedy ultimately failed in that effort, but a politically wounded Carter went on to defeat by Ronald Reagan in the November election that followed.
Although it would take a huge wave reversal this year in the congressional elections, the Republicans might take control of one or both houses of Congress as early as this year.
All of this remains speculative, at this point, since so many events and conditions can intervene in an eight-month and thirty-two month interval. Political fortunes rarely go very long in a straight line either up or down.
But if all this predictive caution isn’t enough, I suggest that an even much longer period of time may be in order for political and policy planning for candidates and their political parties if they are not only to win the next political cycles, but govern successfully as well.
Barack Obama has been a political phenomenon. In 2008, the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination was Hillary Clinton, then a U.S. senator from New York.
But it was the novice US.senator from Illinois, Mr. Obama, who survived a long, closely fought battle up to the Democratic convention, and then went on to defeat Republican nominee John McCain in November. Although the latter was in the end a decisive victory for the first black U.S. president, it should not be forgotten that following their own convention and just before the mortgage banking crisis, the McCain-Palin ticket had pulled ahead in the race. The financial meltdown effectively ended the presidential race, but without it, it is not dispositively clear who wins.
In any event, Barack Obama did win, and did have a reasonably good idea for some time before election day that he would become the next president. While there is some evidence that Mr. Obama and his advisers, and certainly Democratic congressional leaders, had some idea of “what” they wanted to do if they won, there is now little evidence that any of them, especially in the executive branch, had thought out “how” they would accomplish their goals.
The “what” of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid political team has turned out to be a radical series of public policies which are mostly quite unpopular with U.S. voters. Even with huge majorities in both houses of Congress, they have been unable to pass very much legislation. In an historically brief time, in fact, they have squandered their decisive 2006 and 2008 victories, and appear headed for major losses in the national elections eight months away.
But if those losses do indeed materialize, if they reach such proportions that control of one or both houses of Congress are lost, then what?
What would be the “what” of a re-empowered Republican party in the Congress, and then if Mr. Obama would subsequently be replaced in 2012, what would be the “what” of a new Republican president?
Recent major off-year and special elections, all of which have so far gone to the Republicans, combined with the so-called Tea Party conservative movement and pronouncements of various other Republican leaders and groups, indicate a strong economically conservative trend for many if not most new Republican candidates this year and in 2012. But no major nationalpolitical party, especially a successful one, is monolithic. As the recent elections in New Jersey and Massachusetts demonstrated, only moderately conservative Republicans can win in the northeast region of the country, Even in Virginia, a traditionally southern state, the new conservative governor campaigned in thepolitical center in order to win. Perhaps more conservative candidates can win in the deep south, the far west and some midwestern states, but if the GOP truly wants to win control of the Congress and the presidency, too, it will have to accept some range of conservativepolitical attitudes among its candidates and officeholders (although it has every right to expect general agreement on basic principles).
It can be argued, I think, that a pure conservative wave might be all that is needed to win many elections in 2010 because of the negative reaction to Obama-Pelosi-Reid policies which are so radical and unpopular. But I suspect that if candidates and party leaders don’t accompany the “what “ of their policies with a “how” they will enact their program and maintain popular support over the next decade (the minimal period, in my opinion, in which their efforts will be required to bring about meaningful reform and change in the nation, and to restore sustained free market economic growth), their moments of control and power will be as brief as that enjoyed by the Democrats they replace.
Obviously, this has direct and immediate bearing on the mid-term elections of 2010, but in some ways, these considerations are more important for the presidential election of 2012. Most speculation about this election so far is personality-oriented. There is already a nominal frontrunner (Mitt Romney), a number of dark horses (Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels, John Thune, Jeb Bush, et al), at least two major figures from 2008 who may or may not run (Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee) and probably one important gray eminence who may or may not run (Newt Gingrich).
I have every reason to believe that Mr. Gingrich, the Republican Party’s most significant fount of new ideas and politicl strategies, is thinking along these long-term lines. But, short of an even greater crisis than we have now, he may not be able to be nominated for president by hisparty in 2012. Is Mr Romney thinking about the “how” as well as the “what” of a new GOP administration? How about Governor Pawlenty, a very attractive dark horse? Or Governor Mitch Daniels (who has the most impressive resume of all). Or Jeb Bush (in spite of his surname)?
It may be too early to make meaningful predictions about the presidential election of 2012, especially on the Republican side. And it may not be clear (until after the 2010 elections) to formulate the precise “what” of future public policies.
But I do suggest and contend that it is not too early for those with ambitions for the highest office in the nation, a country which still holds the leadership of the free world, to think about and plan for the “how” to govern should they also, incidentally, figure out the “how” to be elected.