President Barack Obama has not earned a second term. His presidency has failed, and the weaknesses he has exhibited since taking office – surrendering to Tea Party economics, refusing to fight for what he says he believes, scorning input from his base, to name just a few – have gotten worse. Obama has reversed the once bright hopes for his presidency, and lost the nation’s confidence in his leadership. This creates a great opportunity for Republicans to win the presidency in 2012 – if they nominate Mitt Romney.
Fortunately for Obama, this is unlikely. While Romney’s candidacy would make the 2012 campaign about Obama’s failures rather than his own, he faces an uphill struggle against both Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann. Neither can beat Obama, but both are more in tune with Republican voters than the former Massachusetts Governor who backed a health care law similar to what the Tea Party derides as “Obamacare.” Expect a Perry-Bachmann ticket in 2012.
Denying Romney’s Nomination
It was widely reported last week that Obama’s campaign team is trying to identify Mitt Romney as “weird,” with David Axelrod taking political hi-jinks to a new level by responding to the controversy by threatening to “fire” any staffer who makes such a comment. Which, of course, ensures that the juxtaposition of “Romney” and “weird” further echoes through the news cycle.
Obama is borrowing from the 2002 playbook of California Governor Gray Davis, who ran attacks against Republican Richard Riordan (then mayor of Los Angeles) during the GOP’s primary campaign for Governor. Davis (correctly) feared he would lose to Riordan in the general election, and his strategy successfully led to Riordan’s primary loss to conservative Bill Simon, who Davis beat to win re-election.
The Obama camp knows that it cannot win with a sagging economy and disillusioned electorate unless it scares people about the President’s opponent. And for all of his alleged “weirdness,” Mitt Romney is just not scary enough to sway voters to Obama in 2012.
Fortunately for Obama, his campaign will not have to invest much to undermine Romney’s candidacy. Republican voters will do that on their own.
A Perry-Bachmann “Dream” Ticket
I wrote in June that you could tell Republicans were “giving a pass” to Obama in 2012 because none of their presidential candidates were from a large state. In fact, no Republican has been first elected President from a small state since Indiana’s Benjamin Harrison in 1888.
Obama’s bungling of the debt-ceiling negotiations brought Texas Governor Rick Perry into the race, and he is now the favorite. If I had to bet today on the 2012 GOP ticket, it would be Perry-Bachmann – achieving the unique goal of representing a Dream Ticket for both parties.
Perry makes Romney look like a paragon of normality. But if Axelrod hears any Obama staffer calling the Texas Governor “weird,” they won’t simply be fired – they’ll be forever barred from Democratic Party politics.
With Perry the nominee, the race is about him, not Barack Obama. Which is a godsend for a President still avoiding action on creating jobs, and whose senior advisors were described in the August 14 New York Times as preferring “a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they do not have much economic impact.” (emphasis added).
That’s right. Despite the growing economic crisis and steep unemployment, Barack Obama will stay the course – even if this ignores the needs of millions of his core supporters.
And if Mitt Romney were the nominee, he would be seen as the candidate for change against Obama’s defense of the status quo. As absurd as this sounds, that’s the position Obama has created after less than three years in office.
Romney’s Nomination Problem
Romney’s problem getting the presidential nomination goes beyond his stuffed shirt image, fabled car trip with a dog strapped to the roof, or the many other reported stories that bolster depictions of him as “weird.” He’s not trusted by movement conservatives, and even the moderate Republican pundit class is down on him.
For example, Ross Douhat’s August 15 Times column agrees with my view of Obama’s vulnerability, calling him the “weakest incumbent since Jimmy Carter.” But Douhat criticizes Romney as a “born compromiser” whose “phoniness” would quickly be uncovered if elected. Douhat’s winnable choice is New Jersey’s Chris Christie, who is not in the race and who has too much political baggage to win.
Further, Christie could only defeat Romney in primaries by taking conservative votes from Perry or Bachmann. That’s not going to happen.
For the Tea Party, nominating Perry and Bachmann would be like the Democrats nominating Populist William Jennings Bryan in 1896. The ticket won’t win, but it will be a fun ride that true believers will cherish regardless of the outcome.
Randy Shaw’s most recent book is Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century.