There are only about two months until the first voting in the presidential
election campaign, and the preliminaries are coming to a close. Here are
some thoughts about the campaign so far:
Former Governor Mitt Romney continues, as he has been since the 2012
campaign began, to be what has come to be called "the frontrunner." He has
not always led all the polls, but his numbers in most polls have been
strong and steady. One by one, many of his challengers have experienced
a surge (also known as a "bubble") in the polls. First, it was Donald Trump,
then Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and most recently, Herman Cain. All
of these candidates, except for Mr. Cain, have faded in the polls, and there
are signs that Mr. Cain too has peaked. Although Newt Gingrich did not lead
in any early polls, he was considered a "first tier" candidate until some
political mishaps derailed his campaign over most of the summer. There are
signs, including higher poll numbers and increased fundraising, which
signal that Mr. Gingrich may have the next (and perhaps last) "bubble"
before the voting begins.
The latest "non-Romney" surge has been for Mr. Cain who, as soon as he
emerged as a serious candidate, has been subjected to what can only be
fairly described as a "smear campaign" in the media. The "smear" amounted
to anonymous, vague and unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harrassment
by Mr. Cain that are almost twenty years old, and amount to flimsy hearsay.
Rumors abound that the story originated from either a Republican opponent
or the Obama campaign, but these are far less important than the fact that
supposedly major and responsible media outlets gave them wide circulation.
Some have criticized Mr. Cain and his campaign for an ambiguous and weak
initial response, but considering his inexperience in national politics and
the flimsiness of the allegations, this criticism seems unfair. On the other
hand, if Mr. Cain continues to be a major candidate, other "smears" and
attacks on him are inevitable, and he and his campaign will need to handle
them more effectively. The real culprit is this whole story are those in the
media who think they are supposed to act like schools of piranha in the
Amazon River. These allegations, as now constituted, should not have ever
seen the light of day in major print or broadcast media. Furthermore, the
story stands as powerful evidence of aggressive liberal media bias that has
existed and grown over the past few decades in the U.S.
Sarah Palin, Mitch Daniels, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and other major
Republicans chose not to run in 2012, but they remain widely known
leaders in their party. Tim Pawlenty withdrew after the Iowa Straw Poll,
and he also is a major contemporary GOP figure. All of them, and other
top Republicans may yet play a role in determining the party's nominee.
Mr. Christie and Mr. Pawlenty have already endorsed Mr. Romney for
Speculation about the eventual nominee's vice presidential choice will
become a media pastime. The final choice, however, will be determined
with a hard-nosed evaluation by the nominee and his staff that will focus
on who contributes most electoral votes to the ticket, and who fits the
nominee's personal sentiments about who he or she wants as a working
companion in the White House. In recent years, vice presidential
nominees seem to contribute less to the electoral total, and more, if their
ticket is elected, to the work of an administration.
Mitt Romney is, so far, showing a lot of self-discipline and calculation in
his presidential campaign. It would seem that he and his staff have applied
the lessons learned from the mistakes of the Romney campaign in 2008.
Evidence of this includes the Romney campaign decision not to compete
in the Iowa Straw Poll, not to appear on Sunday network interview
programs, to be exceedingly well prepared for direct attacks during the
debates so far, and a general caution about getting involved in controversial
local issues. A decision not to campaign too overtly in the Iowa caucuses in
early January seems to be under revision as it has become clear that Mr.
Romney could win this important event, and combined with his expected
big victory in the New Hampshire primary immediately after it, could create
an unstoppable momentum for the former Massachusetts governor.
Just as John McCain's presidential campaign seemed prematurely over
in 2007, former Speaker Newt Gingrich was considered by almost everyone
to be finished after he made a series of blunders, most of his campaign staff
quit, and his fundraising dried up earlier this year. His poll numbers fell
to low single digits, he ran up a sizable campaign debt, and the media
continued to single out personal incidents for ridicule. Unlike Tim
Pawlenty who quit after similar circumstances, Gingrich persisted, recreated
a bare-bones campaign, and waited for the candidate debates to re-emerge.
Somehow, he has begun to do so, with rising poll numbers and increased
fundraising. Whether he can duplicate Mr. McCain's phoenix-like win for
the GOP nomination remains to be seen, but it should be remembered
that Mr. Gingrich's ideas, if not his personality, are acceptable to most voters
in the Republican Party, including the most conservative voters. Mr. Romney
is still heavily favored, but if there is a genuine coalition against him, it might
be Mr. Gingrich who could best put it together.
Anything can still happen. This is not just a pro forma caveat. Presidential
election years bring out all kinds of surprises, at home and from abroad.
Frontrunners sometimes do fade. The most spectacular example of this was
as recent as 2008 when Hillary Clinton had all but seemed to have clinched
the Democratic nomination as the voting began in Iowa.
It is no small irony that, in a recent poll, she would defeat any Republican
challenger in 2012, and enjoys much more popularity and voter respect than
the man who defeated her, and then became president.
Copyright (c) 2011 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.