I have suggested that the sum of all the pre-primary/caucus debates
this year has constituted, in real terms, the first virtual primary of the
2012 presidential campaign cycle. I realize no actual votes have been
cast, but the "debates primary" has, in effect, reduced the relatively
large field of major candidates (including 10 announced and a half
dozen unannounced hopefuls to two or three. I suspect that, by the time
Iowans vote in their caucus on January 3 (only a few weeks away),
the field will only be 3-5 active candidates, and only two finalists. The
race may be over following the Florida primary in February (or sooner).
The most recent debate (in South Carolina) only reinforced my view,
as frontrunner Mitt Romney and emerging final challenger Newt
Gingrich performed the best, and strengthened their positions. To be
fair, Rick Perry, after a series of poor and finally disastrous debate
performances, did the best he has so far, but, like Tim Pawlenty (now
withdrawn), Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, Mr. Perry's
moment in the political sun has likely set, at least for this cycle.
The odds for the eventual nominee in Tampa next year still greatly
favor Mr. Romney who has run a cautiously flawless campaign so
far. Mr. Gingrich, as I and many others observed, has staged a
remarkable comeback, thanks primarily to his debate performances,
but he will have to demonstrate extraordinary self-discipline and
skill from here on to have even a chance to pull an upset.
One of the signs that the Republican nomination is settling into a
climactic stage before the voting has begun is that the liberal Old
Media institutions have begun a drumbeat of personal attacks on
Romney and Gingrich. These attacks, immediately previously
directed at Herman Cain, appear to be concentrated, in Mr.
Romney's case, on his management of the companies he ran in
the private business world; and, in Mr. Gingrich's case, on his
personal life more than 15 years ago. In the latter instance, many
of the old "scandals" have proven to be myths (most notably his
divorce confrontation with his first wife on her "cancer deathbed."
Not only is that first wife still alive, but her daughter, an eyewitness,
says the confrontation never happened.) Mr Romney's "scandals," it
would appear, are based on his successful management decisions
that included firing employees and consolidating operations.
Following the Cain allegations, and the fact that the Old Media have
virtually ignored serious allegations made about Senator Obama
before the election, and the increasing number of scandals tied to
him as President (the Solyndra case being only one of these), it has
been suggested that the voting public, particularly the all-important
independent and centrist voting public will pay less and less
attention to media attempts to stir up sensational gossip and
allegations against only one side.
It is an interesting irony that most of the many GOP presidential
debates so far this year have been broadcast and managed by Old
Media outlets, producers and media stars acting as moderators.
Overwhelmingly, they are liberals who make no attempt to hide their
preference for the Democrats and Mr Obama. Much of their efforts
have thus been perceived, especially by Republicans and more
neutral observers, as biased and unfair. Yet the debates' frequency
has drawn increasingly large audiences, and their impact has been
to give the underfunded candidates and their underfunded party an
enormous amount of free "advertising" and publicity. Mr. Gingrich,
particularly, had no money after his early flub over Paul Ryan, and
yet he was able to regroup until the debates have now brought in a
flood of campaign funds (reportedly $1 million last week alone) just
in time to finance serious efforts in Iowa, New Hampshire and South
In spite of all of this, it is critically important to remember that the
presidential election of 2012 will not be about nominee Mitt Romney,
nominee Newt Gingrich, or if by an unexpected turn of events, any
other Republican nominee. A second-term election of a first-term
president is almost always about the incumbent, that is, the voters'
evaluation of whether or not the incumbent president merits another
four years in office. We can turn out endless analyses of the candidates
in an election, but the journalists who do this are really writing for their
own small community. It won't just be the economy alone, but the
whole condition of American life, including unemployment levels,
degrees of inflation, pension fund stability, affordability of health
care, Obamacare, interest rates, the stock market, crises in Europe
Asia and the Middle East, and the reputation of the U.S. as a world
leader that will determine how Americans feel about Barack Obama
and his presidency.
That is where the ball is in play. The rest is diversion on the sidelines.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.