Over the past few weeks some Republican strategists have already began to lower their party’s expectations for 2012. Todd Harris has been talking about how the birthers could derail the GOP, while Matthew Dowd has laid out a scenario that would require a virtual act of God for Republicans to beat Obama next year. When it’s all put together it looks like some Republicans are giving up already on 2012.
Today over at National Journal Republican strategist Matthew Dowd laid the three factors that Republicans need to break in their favor in order to defeat Obama in 2012:
First, the economy in 2012 has to be either stagnant or in decline in the 10 or so key electoral states (especially the ones in the Midwest) as he heads into the election. This would mean that the economy is creating very few net jobs in 2012 and that prices (including food and gas) are still rising.
Second, no new major international crisis arises that causes people to rally behind Obama because of his competent handling of it. And I emphasize the words “new,” “major,” and “competent.” Afghanistan and Iraq devolving again into a problem will not help Obama, and actually may hurt him because our country has basically moved on from the situation in both places.
Third, a Republican nominee has to emerge who is charismatic; is a very good communicator; is in touch with the country’s economic and social needs; and is a new brand of GOP leader whom many younger voters can connect with. Think of what it took in 1980 to defeat the Democratic incumbent—Ronald Reagan and crises galore.
All three factors must converge for Obama to lose, and two of them are needed to drive his job approval down to a place, as I have written before, that makes it difficult for him to win.
Point one is already in trouble as a new jobs report released today shows that unemployment has dropped to its lowest level in two years. (A bad economy can sink a president’s reelection bid. This happened most recently to George H.W. Bush in 1992).
Point two is relying on a terrorist attack or an international crisis to bring Obama down. (Jimmy Carter is the historic example for this point).
Point three is the only point that the Republican Party can sort of control. I wrote sort of due to the fact that several of factors that Dowd lists as a requirement emotional qualities and connections that either exists between a candidate and voters or they don’t.
It is a bit of mystery why some candidates strike a chord with the American electorate while others strike out. There are personal characteristics that all successful presidential candidates share including warmth, likability, empathy, and an ability to inspire trust and a sense of friendliness, but there is no distilled formula for candidate success in this area. At the end of the day, these traits are nothing more than a collective composite sketch of what individual Americans see in a candidate. There is no magic formula for success.
The great 2012 GOP candidate selection dilemma is this. Either their candidates have no personality e.g. Gingrich/Romney or their personalities are more Charles Manson than Ronald Reagan e.g. Palin/Bachmann. As Dowd wrote, Republicans need a Ronald Reagan, but the president that they are running against has more of the Reagan traits than anyone in their potential field.
Republican strategist Todd Harris was on MSNBC’s Hardball yesterday discussing the problem of the infestation of the birther issue into the 2012 GOP campaign.
Here is the video from MSNBC:
“It is a problem. It‘s not just a problem when he‘s talking about it. I frankly think it‘s a problem across the board. You know, we are in an economic environment right now where two-thirds of the country thinks that the president is doing a poor job handling the economy. His approval ratings are upside down among independents, and we‘re talking about birth certificates? We have real issues that we can—you know, lay real licks on the president with. And in the more oxygen that this birther issue sucks out of this debate, the better it is for Democrats because it makes Republicans look like nuts.”
Beyond the fact that Harris was cherry picking some sunny side up GOP poll numbers, newer numbers suggest the opposite of what he was saying, his concern about the birthers making all Republicans look nuts is being echoed by almost every Republican strategist.
Things are so bad that Rush Limbaugh complained that the GOP field might be the weakest ever, and when head cheerleader Rush Limbaugh complains about the slim 2012 pickings it is a safe bet that the Republicans have some huge issues heading into next year. As Limbaugh put it, the big GOP 2012 strategy is to raise Obama’s negatives. They have no idea how they are going to do this, but that’s the plan.
Here is the audio of Capt. GOP Sunshine getting bummed out by 2012 reality:
Modern era presidential campaign history tells us that the odds are heavily against the Republicans beating Obama in 2012. Since 1952 only two presidents have been elected to a first term, and not reelected to a second. Gerald Ford doesn’t count because he assumed office after Nixon resigned, and 1976 was his first run at a full term. Before 1952, one has to go back to Hoover in 1932 to find an incumbent president who lost his bid for reelection.
It’s rare to hear strategists from the opposition party who have their eyes on taking back the White House, so bluntly lay out the reality their party is likely facing. Dowd is correct. Republicans could win in 2012, but they would need a whole lot of help from factors that they can’t control. Republicans need more than one thing to break their way in order to defeat Obama.
Even if circumstances were to miraculously break their way, Republicans would still need a better candidate than anything that is lining up to face Obama in 2012. Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin aren’t going to get it done. The competent choices inspire no enthusiasm in the base, and the charismatic choices are incompetent and/or quite possibly insane.
We are more than a year out from the 2012 election, but Republicans are already lowering expectations. This is an admission that as things stand today, they can’t defeat Obama. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t going to try next year. It just means that even they don’t believe that they can win. (The reminds me of 1984 and 1996. Two other elections where the opposition party had a to face a personally popular incumbent president.)
The GOP is likely to be outgunned, outflanked, and out manned, not to mention outspent, by Obama and the Democrats in 2012, and it is starting to sound like Republicans are giving up before they ever get started.