We pundits can't help ourselves when we try to make analogies between
current and past presidential election years. To some degree, the best
analogies usually do apply. But I am coming to the conclusion, that apart
from some obvious comparisons, the conventional rules of U.S. presidential
elections will be largely upturned in 2012.
My reasons center around some simple facts and conditions.
President Obama was the first black president. He will thus be the first black
incumbent president to run for re-election. Mr. Obama won the 2008 election
primarily for two reasons. First, there was considerable "fatigue" with
Republican President George W. Bush, then completing his second term.
Second, only weeks before the November election, there was a meltdown in
the mortgage banking sector causing an immediate economic crisis. In short,
there was a conflation of seemingly unconnected circumstance which enabled
Mr. Obama to win. The election was decisive, but it was no landslide.
Mitt Romney is not John McCain. Although Senator McCain was clearly a
much-admired figure for his Viet Nam war experiences as a soldier and
prisoner of war, and for his service in the U.S. senate, he lacked ironically the
combative nature to wage a tough election campaign against Mr. Obama,
There was also perhaps no viable strategy to overcome the mortgage banking
crisis that appeared so close to the election; Mr. McCain's strategy to suspend
his campaign might have been one of the worst alternatives available to him.
Mitt Romney is also not John Kerry, Al Gore, Bob Dole, Walter Mondale,
George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey or Barry Goldwater. Barack Obama is
not George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan
or Richard Nixon. Mr. Romney is the first Mormon to be nominated for president.
Although he was a governor, he is the first nominee for president since before
World War II to come from a successful self-made career in business.
Although the U.S. economy is always going through cycles of prosperity and
recession, the current downturn is unusual for its length and its chronic high
unemployment. Previously the world's dominant economy, the U.S. faces
historic ad unprecedented trade challenges from China, India, Brazil and the
European Union. There is also a growing global economic debt crisis facing
Europe and China that has made world fiscal conditions more important to
individual Americans than ever before.
Changing rules and new technologies are increasingly and more rapidly
altering U.S. presidential campaigns. This is especially so in the key aspect of
fundraising, public relations and in identifying voters in the often under-noticed
get-out-the-vote campaigns. The internet, even more than before, has changed
The congressional election cycles have gone through two unprecedented
(in terms of their quick reversal) "wave"elections. In 2006 and 2008, the "wave"
went to the Democrats. Abruptly, the 2010 "wave" went the other way, to the
Republicans. In 2012, Republicans control the U.S. house, and Democrats
control the U.S. senate. Not all candidates are known yet, and once-in-a-decade
redistricting has taken place, but given the national economic conditions, and the
fact that such a disproportionate number of vulnerable Democratic incumbent
senators are running, the relationship between the congressional elections and
the presidential campaign of the incumbent are extraordinarily, on their face,
The influence of non-traditional political forces on a presidential campaign has,
seemingly, not been greater. The Old Media, continuing its pattern from 2008,
has become a mostly uncritical cheerleader for Mr. Obama. This also includes
most of the figures of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. The New
Media, including radio talk show hosts, Fox News (its cable viewers total more
than all the other cable networks combined), and large-scale websites such as
Drudge and Breitbart, have become cheerleaders for the conservative movement.
Further complicating the 2012 elections are the new populist movements of
both the right (Tea Party) and the left (Occupy Movement) which have recently
emerged. As these pull against the natural gravity of the political center in
presidential election, they tend to upend traditional politic and politicking.
Finally, there is more political and ideological division in the nation since the
1930's. There was perhaps as intensive political emotion in the country in the
Viet Nam war period, or more, but the division was not so much between
conservative and liberal as it was about the specific war issue (and generational).
Of course, assuming what I am contending is true about the unprecedented
nature of the 2012 presidential election, the key and obvious question is: Who
does these circumstances help the most and hurt the most in their quest to be
elected, or re-elected, president this year?
The answer to that will become obvious right after election day, and no one
knows that answer for certain six months away, but we do have some
fascinating clues about this answer, and I will try to examine them in the weeks
Copyright (c) 2102 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.