Fast forward to two thousand and twelve (pt. 3 of 3)

December 29, 2008

(Hey guys, not dead!  End of semester sucked!)

So let’s say it’s December 2010, about the time when presidential candidates start announcing. At this point, Obama’s likely to still be in office, to have some problems with a lot of groups but not anything utterly crippling, and to still have large majorities in both chambers of Congress. There are three ways he can lose:

1) The Democratic Party does not renominate him.

2) A Republican gets 50% or better in all the crucial states.

3) A third-party candidate siphons off support and drags him under in at least a few crucial states.

The first probably is probably very difficult for young Americans to imagine.  Why even mention it?  Well, historically it’s been a serious concern.  Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, Chester Alan Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, Andrew Johnson, James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore, and John Tyler were all turned away by their own parties.  Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft, Benjamin Harrison, and Grover Cleveland had difficult renomination fights.  Bill Clinton, both Roosevelts, and Abraham Lincoln all had to deal with serious threats of primary challenges that never quite materialized.  So, historically, since the emergence of a hard-and-fast party system, only Jackson, Van Buren, Grant, Eisenhower, Reagan, and both Bushes have had completely worry-free renominations.  It’s not something to completely write off, especially given the current economic circumstances.  There’s likely to be a lot of disappointment going around among rank-and-file Democrats, two and a half or three years from now. 

What would such a candidate have to look like?  Well, Obama was least popular during the primary season this year with low-socioeconomic-status whites.  The challenger would have to have some appeal to them.  Obama’s top two opponents this year–Hillary Clinton and John Edwards–both had a lot of sway with this group.  But Hillary’s been tapped for the Cabinet, which severely cramps the possibilities for breaking ranks with Obama.  Unless she does the whole resign-in-disgust thing, which really doesn’t strike me as her style.  And John Edwards has been ridden out of town on a rail (pretty unfairly, IMHO).  So someone would really have to come out of the woodwork.  It’s hard to think of a Congressional Democrat, not being brought into the Obama administration, who has any real national renown.  By “renown” I mean more than fame–Harry Reid has a national profile, but hardly anyone thinks he’s doing a particularly good job as Senate Majority Leader or that he has any Presidential-level vision (not to mention that he’s pro-life).  And the crop of Governors isn’t that much more interesting.  Of people that are young enough to run for something in 2012, have strong electoral appeal in their home states, aren’t being brought into the Obama administration, and are pro-choice, there are only really two names to watch: Mike Beebe of Arkansas and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.  They’re both from fairly small, not especially rich states, and neither one of them has Congressional experience.  So it’s hard to seem them going up against Obama in terms of fundraising.  Barring some major failure or scandal, then, it looks like Barack Obama will coast to renomination. 

So what about third-party candidates?  Well, Ralph Nader’s still around, and he did better in 2008 than 2004.  But he’s turning 75 in a couple of months.  He may not be up for a fifth run.  After that, there’s a major name-recognition problem for the far left.  The Greens are hardly in good position–their nominee this year, former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, happens to have made some anti-Semitic remarks in public.  Not a great move if you want to run a left-of-center third-party campaign for the Presidency.  Below that there’s really nobody, unless someone like Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn can be talked into running.  Honestly, Jello Biafra might be the best candidate the Greens have.  (I’m completely ignoring the whole array of explicitly socialist parties, since they mostly can’t even get ballot access, and the last time a socialist candidate got so much as .1% of the vote was Lenora Fulani in 1988, whose organization has been defunct for fifteen years.)

So a Republican has to hit 50%, give or take a certain fudge margin for the Electoral College, in order for Barack Obama not to get a second term.  Happily, most of the names that are being talked about now make absolutely no sense.  Sarah Palin is a walking punchline, and even her stock as Alaske governor seems to be plummeting.  Tim Pawlenty is boring as hell, and barely won re-election in 2006.  Rick Perry got less than 40% of the vote in Texas in 2006, and might lose the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2010.  Bobby Jindal is a bit of a nut; at some point someone is going to make a bigger thing of that time he said that Protestants go to Hell.  Romney and Huckabee both have some decent openings if they decide to run again, but they also both have a lot of baggage to overcome.  Nevertheless, they’re both out of Congress and therefore away from having to cultivate relationships with Congressional Republican and define themselves in terms of support or opposition.  Both of them have fundraising bases from their 2008 campaigns, and polls show both with quite a bit of support from Republican primary voters.  They also both have obvious crossover appeals: Romney to upscale business and management types, Huckabee to working-class voters, especially in the South and Midwest.  Either of them could be an issue.

Then again, this time two years ago a lot of smart people thought RudyGiuliani was going to be the next President …

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