Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Now What?

This presidential campaign season is showing more and more signs that
it is going to be a watershed event. It is breaking certain patterns from
recent elections while at the same time confirming other patterns associated
with past electoral turning points. Moreover, in its calendar journey through
the primaries and caucuses, the Republican side is becoming less like a
prearranged political soap opera, and more like the complicated society it is
supposed to reflect.

If you are a Democrat and a partisan for the re-election of President Obama,
there are numerous short-term pleasures to be obtained from the week-to-week,
state-to-state antics of the Republicans as they take turns throwing water
balloons at their own frontrunner and probable nominee Mitt Romney while
dunking him routinely in a pool of water as if he were the target at a booth
in a carnival midway.

Many of these same Democrats believe that the delay in the Republicans
coalescing around Mr Romney also greatly enhances Mr. Obama’s chances to
win in November. The problem for that view is that Mr. Romney keeps
surfacing out of the pool, white sideburns intact, always a bit stronger than
before, all the while continuing to accumulate delegates.

These Democrats also forget their own extended nomination battle, perhaps
even more bitter, in 2008 when the final determination of Mr. Obama came very
late in primary season, even as the Republicans had settled on Mr. McCain much
earlier. There was some disappointment in, and resentment of, newcomer Obama
after he had finally defeated Hillary Clinton, and many of Mrs. Clinton’s women
supporters were thought by some Republicans not to be willing to vote for him only
a few months later. But this did not happen.

If you are a supporter of Mitt Romney, and impatient for the Republican Party to
rally around him as their standard bearer, the Alabama and Mississippi primaries
may have been frustrating events. No matter that he virtually tied two opponents
with much more natural appeal in the region, and that he walked out of the day's
voting with more delegates than those opponents (when the night’s full counts
from Hawaii and American Samoa were tallied). You have also done the simple
math, and know, clever anti-Romney posited tallies aside, that your candidate
will almost certainly go into Tampa with about 1200 committed delegates (60
more than the necessary majority to win).

If you are a social or religious conservative who supports Rick Santorum, you feel
warm and toasty all over, having thwarted one more time the schedule of the party
“establishment“ and upset the celebration of those who think your concerns are not
as important as you think they are. The fact that your candidate is an electoral
disaster waiting to happen in November (should he be nominated) is of much less
consequence to you than feeling warm and toasty.

If you are a supporter of Newt Gingrich, you feel that your candidate just missed
a clear opportunity to make another political comeback. But two second-place
finishes, both ahead of the despised Mr. Romney, were no small prize for the
evening, especially with potentially fertile territory in Texas and California ahead.
You greet the predictable calls for your candidate to withdraw with appropriate
disdain. “Why should the smartest candidate, the most experienced in government
and the best debater withdraw?” you ask with your best incredulous face at what
you perceive as obviously self-serving gambits of Mr. Santorum and his supporters.
(Of course, it was not so long ago, after South Carolina, that Mr. Gingrich was
asking the same of Mr. Santorum.) No matter, you know that Mr. Gingrich is
going to Tampa.

If you are a supporter of Ron Paul, all of this posturing leaves you feeling it is so
much about nothing, since your candidate is the only one making any political
sense this year, notwithstanding his relatively tiny percentage of support in primary
after primary, and his even lower percentage of support in the polls. YOUR
candidate is also going to Tampa, and that’s all there is to it.

As noted, then, partisans of all stripes and colors are making recent developments
fit their personal expectations and desired outcomes.

But what of the voters, perhaps at least one-third of all those who will cast a ballot
in November, who do not yet have a favorite horse in this race? What of those who
belong to neither major political party, nor even to a third party. What of those
who feel they are so far only uninvited spectators to a sporting event which neither
excites them nor overwhelms them with dread?

In my view, these are the true beneficiaries of the “protracted” contest for the
Republican nomination for president. Neither Mr. Obama nor any of his
Republican rivals have yet put forward to this critical group of voters a coherent
plan for getting the nation out of its long-lasting slump that is frankly attributable
to actions of both parties, their recent presidents, as well as both houses of
Congress. Mr. Gingrich has come the closest to presenting such a plan, but he
has had to turn away from this recently to restore a positive relationship with the
voters. Mr. Romney has been so busy attempting to convince GOP voters he is
truly a conservative that he has not yet presented a persuasive overall plan. Mr.
Santorum has been preoccupied with social and religious issues in spite of many
years in Congress., and has no plan at all. Mr. Obama’s presentation so far is that
he will offer more of the same (of 2009 to the present), including fairly radical
changes in the economic system that have very little appeal to the political center.

Having exhausted themselves contriving to make themselves loved and adored by
voters in their respective political bases, the nominees will now have to turn their
attention to the large number of uncommitted voters, and that will mean their
hardest work lies ahead.

So what was changed by Alabama, Mississippi and Hawaii? Very little. The
delegate trajectory remains the same. The media, both the liberal Old Media
and many in the conservative New Media have a self interest in trying to suggest
that their preferred candidates have new hopes and dreams to be fulfilled. But the
true innovation of this campaign season, yesterday notwithstanding, is that 2012
will not merely be about political personalities, nor about parochial ideologies of
one flavor or another. It seems to me, that 2012 is increasingly about transforming
the model of the presidency and the legislative branch through an historic election.

More about all this later. Much more.

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

1 comment:

  1. Barry, as much as I- we- would like to see this election as being transformative, the scramble to get the requisite electoral votes will limit what candidates- and those ultimately elected- are willing and able to do about governing.
    I wish it were otherwise. Meanwhile, the one third or so of the electorate who are independent- or unaffiliated in a partisan sense- may or may not feel they are beneficiaries of of the pre-nomination wrangling but they will have months of rhetoric and images to sift through in deciding the outcome in November even if they have little to say about who their choices will be.