Recapping the Summer Campaign Season

Oh, what a difference a few months make.

At the end of May, loyal readers may recall that I gave you my sense of how the Republican field for president was shaping up.  At the time, I put four white guys – Romney, Huntsman, Pawlenty and Santorum – in the small category of candidates who could win their party’s nomination and could win in the general.

Turns out I was too generous by half.  Former Governor Pawlenty packed it in a day after a disappointing performance in the Ames straw poll and former Senator Santorum’s performance over the last couple of months suggests to me that he’s in it for the ideology not the office.  That leaves only former Governor Romney and former Governor Huntsman still in the sweet spot (with Huntsman there only out of courtesy as he hasn’t done much of anything since declaring in June).  Jeez, there’s a lot of former officeholders looking for work, isn’t there?

Overall, however, the dynamics of the Republican race haven’t changed much.  Romney is still considered to be the frontrunner by most pundits and many Republicans are still looking for someone else.  In just this year alone, we’ve seen flirtations with Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniel, Michelle Bachmann and – most recently – Rick Perry.  Even with the actual candidacies of the latter two, we’re still hearing wistful longing for more choices such as Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and others.

As a result of all of this churn, my graphic representations of who’s best positioned to win the nomination and who’s best positioned to win the general have changed a little bit:

Among the most noteworthy changes:

  • The rise and fall of Michele Bachmann.  I hope Ms. Bachmann has enjoyed her star turn because her best days on the campaign trail are behind her.  The entry of Rick Perry sucks away too much of her oxygen and her regularly scheduled lunatic ravings (“”I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’) are not playing well on the larger stage.  While she’s still in the consideration set, my perception is that she’s rapidly falling out of it.  If Michele Bachmann’s candidacy were something actually important – like, say, a nation’s AAA credit rating – we’d have it “under review with negative implications.”
  • The entry of Rick Perry.  Governor Perry is an actual current governor so he’s got that going for him, but it’s interesting to note that after about a week’s worth of infatuation, the GOP intelligentsia started showing signs yet again of restlessness.  It will be interesting to see how the Aggie from west Texas holds up.
  • The fall, fall, fall…fall of Newt Gingrich. Not since 1980 have I seen a major candidate as unprepared for a presidential run as Newt.  You have to go back to Ted Kennedy’s famous Roger Mudd interview in which he blew the softest softball question in presidential political history – “Why do you want to be president?” – to find a candidate screwing up so badly out of the gate.  Kennedy never recovered and Newt won’t either.
  • The thud of Jon Huntsman.  Is he actually running for president?  Damned if I can tell.  Most days he’s invisible and when he does appear most of what he says is unmemorable.  Between his – relative – moderateness and his hesitancy to attack Obama as aggressively as others are doing, he’s often drowned out.
  • The splitting of the field.  Discerning readers will note that the GOP field is bifurcating into a big mass of names around the pole marked “No Way” in terms of winning the GOP nomination.  This is a reflection less of ideology than of logistics.  If you ain’t in it now, the odds that you can get in it to win it are shrinking every day.  Running for president requires money, organization and strategy; if you don’t have a least 2 out of 3 by Labor Day you’re hosed.  Even Sara Palin though she may be crazy enough to think otherwise (that said, I’m about 90 percent sure she’s smart enough to stay out of this melee.

The weakness of the Republican field and the continued inability of its candidates to demonstrate how they can walk the whipsaw of the nomination and the general election continue to be the best thing President Obama has going for him as a re-election strategy. Usually, a sitting president with 9+ percent unemployment, sub-three percent economic growth, high gas prices and an unpopular war would be a one-term shoo-in.  The inability of the Republicans to come together around a viable candidate is the strongest reason he’s still in the game. Well, there’s the billion or so dollars he’s likely to raise, too.

Labor Day marks the unofficial start of the election season and the Iowa caucuses are just about five months away.  As Hank Williams Jr. might say, “Are you ready for some football?”

– Austin

28 thoughts on “Recapping the Summer Campaign Season

  1. Not a chance. Not even if you let only registered Republicans pick the winner in the general election. Not even if you let only Tea Party members pick the winner. Maybe if you only let Texas Libertarians vote in the general. Maybe.

  2. Jon: As JFK once said to Rowland Evans in a crowded elevator: “Rowlie, this morning’s piece was very readable and, as usual, very unreliable.” Seriously, hard to disagree with your conclusions, but I wouldn’t rule Perry out. Access to lots of big money, good looks, tough guy (v.s. O’s perceived weakness: see Regan vs Carter) and rather charismatic. Think Romney’s support is weak. I see O beating Perry rather handily (blacks, hispanics and liberals and Social Security recipients will salivate to vote against him. BUT, if Perry should win, I think the U S will see black uprisings, riots we’ve seen in UK and class warfare. U still owe me lunch. mcgrath.

  3. PM. says:

    Jon, i agree completely with your main points here. What amazes me is that over the past 20+ years, the Republican Party has been ab;le to demonstrate a remarkable unity, finding candidates that they have been able to rally around, successfully papering over ideological differences for the sake of power. Look at the way Reagan and the Bush’s treated social conservatives–lots of lip service, very little action. It is like the Tea party has busted the Republican Party wide open, and everyone is willing to fight to the death. And the result appears to be that Obama will get another 4 years. Truly amazing.

    1. Erik Peterson says:

      PM, you can be assured he has an enormous possibiliy of losing. Moreso than his chance of winning.

      1. PM. says:

        It is always important not to let your desires overwhelm your judgement.

        Bottom line–you can’t beat somebody with nobody. The only potential somebody on the Republican side is Mitt Romney, and until there is some sign that the Republicans will rally around him, the Republicans have nobody. Right now the only thing that seems to be uniting Republicans is their hatred of Obama.

        Romney is running even with Obama in the head to head match-ups. even he is not a runaway winner.

      2. Erik Peterson says:

        That first sentence is cogent.

        There will not be a 3rd party run to split the Republicans. The teabaggers will support the R nominee, whoever that is.

  4. Newt says:

    ’12 has all the hallmarks of a Mondale-Ferraro disaster in the making.

    What’s baffling is that no Dems so far have announced a challenge to Obama. Liberals can’t even stand him.

    1. Gary Pettis says:

      Talk about the whimsical, mystical thinking on the part of our friends on the left. But then again, I am not one to deny the pleasure of fantasy-based instant gratification to someone who despises everything the Republicans stand for, yet want answers now, now, now to who’s going to be the presidential nominee representing the Party of Lincoln and Reagan in 2012.

      For those who want definitive answers now, I quote Master Kan from the Kung Fu television series, “patience young grasshopper.”

      As we travel this road together, no matter who that person will be getting the Republican nod, the ammo to beat Obama is already impressive and is building.

      Poll: Obama losing support from base
      July 26, 2011

      PICKET: AP Poll – Obama losing support from women and youth
      August 27, 2011

      And if anyone is staying up late tonight for a pre-bedtime glass of milk and a plate full of cookies, I suggest also reading the following link, written by David Frum.

      Obama’s three big mistakes
      August 30, 2011

      1. PM. says:

        I like Frum, and am in general agreement with his points. I should point out, however, Frum’s policy positions tend to more closely resemble those of Obama than any of the republican candidates*.

        *with the exception of the policy positions of Gov. Romney–as opposed to candidate Romney.

  5. I think the right wing of American politics is way more likely to fracture than the left at this point. Newt dreams of a replay of 1984 but I think the more relevant precedent is 1968 when George Wallace peeled off the conservative south and let Richard Nixon eke out an election win (though this graphic reminds me is WASN’T an electoral squeaker).

    1968 Election Results

    All it takes is one of the Tea Party darlings – Ms. Bachmann, Ms. Palin most easily come to mind – to decide to head out for the hills.

    Please, please, please.

    That said, I do think we’ve entered a period where there’s going to be a realignment of political parties in the next 5-10 years. I see both the right and the left eventually splintering into two parties each and governance will be determined by building coalitions – right/centrist and right/extremist, left/centrist and right/centrist, etc.

    – Austin

    1. Erik Peterson says:

      Forgive me…. I was some weeks from being born at the time…

      Curtis LeMay was Wallace’s running mate? That’s so awesome.

      1. General LeMay was indeed Governor Wallace’s running mate.

        Among those of us old enough to remember, I suspect many of us remember 1968 as a much scarier time than now. Things seemed badly awry in American society – the war, the assassinations, the riots, the generation gap. I was 9 at the time so the whole counterculture thing seemed both attractive and dangerous.

        – Austin

      2. PM. says:

        yeah, the “summer of love” sure seemed attractive for those of us too young to head off to SF on our own…..I think I was still crouching down under my desk learning how to avoid radioactive fallout at the time.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      Fascinating. The poll PM links finds: “Considered a positive political label by 29%, 43% now think Tea Party is a negative description for a candidate. That’s a net rating of negative 14, making it the worst thing you can call a candidate.”

      Yet the GOP front runners – Perry, Bachmann, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Romney — all are falling all over themselves to be identified as “the worst thing you can call a candidate.”

      1. PM. says:

        Also note that while the moniker “conservative” is still more popular then “liberal”, the popularity of “conservative” is falling, while “liberal” is becoming more positive.

    2. Gary Pettis says:

      There is a certain parallel between how the Left perceives today the Tea Party to be some sort of twisted, dark abomination in American politics and how some liberals (and fringe loonies) once thought Ronald Reagan was the antichrist. Ronald Wilson Reagan, six letters in each name = 666.

      In 1980, a few of my friends were counting their number of sleepless nights because they worried that Reagan’s election signaled the end times. Reagan was just mortal like the rest of us and is buried on the grounds of the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, leaving us to worry about other antichrists showing up unannounced at our doors.

      Much of the hype and myth regarding the Tea Party is generated by the liberal-biased media. People who have a negative perception of the Tea Party can count on the media and a handful of democratic politicians to re-enforce their perceptions.

      Back then: Reagan is scary and wouldn’t hesitate pushing the button.

      Now: Tea Partiers are terrorists (Vice President Joe Biden)

      Reagan beat Carter, and as in Reagan’s case, negative perceptions about the Tea Party will mellow substantially.

      The general consensus could be: “Their not perfect by any means and I don’t agree with them 100 percent of the time, but gee, they could play a role in fixing things in the future because our current situation seems hopeless and we need a change.”

      The moral for liberals: Sometimes it’s okay to dance with the devil when you find out your angel can’t do the Texas Two Step.

      1. Mike Kennedy says:

        Good post, Gary. I couldn’t agree more. You and I were writing for the campus newspaper when Reagan was demonized by the left, as they did to Goldwater in the 1960s — but it didn’t work. The alternatives were clearly incompetent. We are now seeing, I believe, somewhat of a repeat of history. Unlike then, conservatives haven’t found their candidate, but I suspect they will and the party and its factions will rally behind him/her. It’s going to take someone with the smarts and balls to call Mr. Obama out on his vision of the role of government and serious reforms on entitlements and spending — yes, even defense — someone who can point out the demise and collapse of the nanny states of Europe under the weight of government programs and spending.

      2. Joe Loveland says:

        I get such a charge out of all of the right wing teasing about liberals treating Obama like a messiah. “The One,” and all that business.

        I really admire the job Obama has done in very tough times. I’m a fan. I have a bumper sticker. But at the same time, I, and the liberals I know, are very willing to also criticize Obama as often too emotionless, cautious, professorial, and quick-to-compromise. I look at his biggest accomplishments — health reform, financial industry reform, the stimulus, the financial and auto rescues — and can both a) give him due credit for them and b) admit that all of those policies also disappoint me in fundamental ways. In other words, I am a big Obama supporter who views Obama as an extremely imperfect human being and leader, who also happens to be much, much better than the available alternatives. That measured assessment hardly represents a messianic viewpoint.

        At the same time, Reagan’s followers are much more messianic in their approach to their guy. Many have convinced themselves that Reagan never raised taxes, never compromised/gave in to liberals, never deficit spent, and single handedly blew down the Berlin Wall and the USSR with his powerful rhetoric, none of which are remotely true. If you want to talk about worshiping a false god, THAT kind of delusional viewpoint looks more like worshiping a false god than anything I see out of liberals who support Obama.

        If Mitt walked into a Republican rally today and gave a speech saying Reagan was too much of a taxer and deficit spender and a weak negotiator with the liberals, the room would give him the heretic treatment, because in that crowd you don’t mess with the GOP messiah.

      3. Mike Kennedy says:

        Well, Joe, you have a point. Reagan was imperfect, though I think what happened in the world while he was president and the economic recovery under him, cannot be disputed. Liberals blame Bush for everything that went wrong under the sun, but then refuse to give hardly any credit for all that went right to Reagan. It’s a joke.

        As far as your comparison between how Reagan is viewed and how Obama is viewed, it is too early to tell how Obama will go down in history, whether one termer or two.

        Many people don’t see health care reform as an accomplishment. What exactly has financial reform done? Concrete examples, please. As far as auto bailouts, at what cost per job? Your idea of accomplishment differs than mine. I don’t despise Obama. I just think he was ill prepared for the job. As long as we have a slow economy and a high jobless rate, he’ll get blamed, as he should, as all presidents do. BTW, Obama and his own camp, in my opinion, were quite responsible for creating his super cool, super smart, superman image. It turns out he is something far less, so far.

  6. Newt says:

    Soros quite plainly doesn’t care that Target backed Emmer. This is hilarious.

    Are conservatives supposed to stop shopping at Target now?

    Billionaire George Soros bets bigger on Target Corp.

    * Article by: THOMAS LEE , Star Tribune
    * Updated: August 30, 2011 – 4:39 PM

    His New York-based investment firm acquired nearly 544,000 shares of Target, even as it sold other retail stocks.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      If it bothers you that a liberal owns 00.08% of Target stock, boycott. It’s your right to vote with your pocketbook.

      But as you know, I didn’t boycott because conservatives own large portions of Target. ‘Twas ever so, and I’m fine with that. I boycotted because they started using the money I spent there to play politics. I wasn’t willing to contribute to their senior executives’ politicking kitty.

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