Thursday, March 1, 2012

Time To Clear Up Some Dusty 2012 Commonplaces

As the 2012 presidential campaign cycle enters a more decisive stage just before Super Tuesday, it might be useful to get out the Campaign Commonplace Liberation Broom before some popular but mistaken political notions fill up the rooms of discussion.

The first of these commonplaces is:

The longer the Republican nominating process goes on, the less likely the eventual
nominee will win in November. A stalemate is possible before the convention in
Tampa. The attacks between the GOP candidates also hurts the Republican brand,
and gives the Democrats fodder to use against the Republicans in the November

This nonsense has been advanced by some, including partisans of a certain front-running candidate, who wanted the GOP nomination settled early to avoid airing conflicts between the candidates and to avoid using up too much campaign cash before the general election. In fact, likelihood of a stalemate before the convention in Tampa is remote, and ignores the pattern of modern nomination contests in which the original field is quickly winnowed down, and one candidate before the end of the primary season accumulates enough delegates to make his or her nomination a foregone conclusion. Beginning with about 10 major candidates, the 2012 campaign so far has done this, and only 2 or 3 nominatable candidates remain in the field BEFORE Super Tuesday. It seems clear that by April, May or June there will be a presumptive nominee. Moreover, an overly short nomination season would have failed adequately to vet the most serious candidates, and would have failed to air the vulnerable issues the eventual nominee would have to face in the final contest against President Obama. Finally, Republicans are the beneficiary of the fact that the Democrats have no contest for their party's nomination. The Democrats do have the White House, and all the natural publicity and attention that goes with incumbency. As long as the Republican contest is in doubt, and there are dramatic debates and confrontations between the GOP hopefuls, however, this party-out-of-power has the nation's attention and dominates the political news. This "free" publicity dwarfs the costs of the nomination campaigns, and helps the challenging party recover some of their natural disadvantage.

A second commonplace is:

President Obama may not be a very good president, but he is a great campaigner, and will likely win re-election no matter who the Republicans put up against him.

This notion is based on Mr. Obama's successful campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2008, and on the fact that he won that election in November in spite of vague slogans and promises. In fact, successful presidential candidates of either party ALWAYS in their first election with vague slogan and promises. Think Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton and Bush 43. In reality, Mr. Obama was trailing Mr. McCain just before the mortgage banking meltdown in 2008, and after that nothing could have altered the outcome. Moreover, the re-election of a first-term president is almost always a referendum on the incumbent's performance in his or her first term. Lyndon Johnson adroitly made Barry Goldwater's "extremism" the issue in 1964. Gerald Ford had pardoned the disgraced Nixon, Carter ran with historic inflation and interest rates (plus the Iranian hostage standoff), Bush 41 had raised taxes and was facing a recession. First-termer Nixon was able to survive, in spite of having having failed to extricate the U.S. from Vietnam before 1972, by making George McGovern's "extremism" the issue in that campaign. If Mr. Obama would face a Republican opponent whose policies and views could be made the focus of the campaign (and not the very high unemployment, the true costs of Obamacare and his foreign policy flubs), he could indeed win in November. Otherwise, he will have to stand on his (so far unsuccessful) record.

The third commonplace is:

Only a "true" conservative can win against Mr. Obama in November. A GOP
candidate who might appeal to the political center is chasing a chimera because
the center is a political illusion.

This notion defies more than 100 years of U.S. presidential politics. First of all, A Republican who is not sufficiently "conservative" cannot be nominated in 2012. No candidate who is pro-choice, wants to raise taxes, or increase government spending, for example, could make it through the nomination process. Those who continue to call for a "pure" conservative are the ones chasing a chimera. They have an abstract agenda. Since more than a third of American voters routinely identify themselves in polls as belonging to neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party, the critical nature of the American political center is undeniable. Centrist-deniers also like to portray centrist voters as "moderates." There are moderates in each party, or at least there used to be, but the term centrist is less about ideology and more about where the majority of voters, especially unaffiliated voters, are.

The fourth commonplace is:

The GOP contest will go to a "brokered" convention where one of several major
Republican figures who did not choose to run until now will ultimately be
drafted to be the Republican nominee.

This completely misunderstands the American major party nomination process. As I have suggested above, one candidate will likely acquire enough delegates and momentum some time after Super Tuesday to clinch the nomination. If the party convention did turn to someone else, it would be an invitation to an electoral disaster. The purpose of the nomination process is to present and vet the strongest candidates. Someone new chosen in early September would be unvetted, no matter how well known, and open to easy attack on their unexamined vulnerabilities by President Obama and his campaign with almost no time to adequately respond.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Barry Casselman
All rights reserved.


  1. A few blemishes aside, all in all a clean, clear review. Well done!

  2. You are 100 percent correct on all counts. It's impossible to know conditions in November, and Obama's reelection depends on important future events well beyond his control.