5 developments in the past week have left me strongly-suspecting that Barack Obama will be a 1-term President. None of them were within his control, and 4 of them were actually related incidents involving the Republican Presidential Primary.
1.) Texas Governor Rick Perry has fallen far in the Republican Primary polls, leaving Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney once again well in the lead. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released in the 1st week of October found that Governor Romney has again retaken a wide lead among Republicans as his party’s leading contender for President. Romney had the support of about 25% of Republicans, with Governor Perry tying Godfather’s Pizza founder and political neophyte Herman Cain for 2nd place, each with 16% of the vote. In early-September polling, Perry led the pack of Republican hopefuls at 29%, with Romney polling at 20%. While Perry has lost roughly 1/2 of his support coming out of 3 relatively-weak debate performances, along with doubts about his lack of an economic plan for the country and Republican objections to his George W. Bush-like tolerant attitude towards illegal immigration, Romney commands nearly as much support among likely Republican primary voters as he did at his pre-Perry height in the polling, demonstrating that his candidacy has the most staying power among Republicans.
More-troubling for Democrats is the fact that Governor Romney has the most staying power in general election matchups against the President as well. In RealClearPolitics’ aggregation of general election polls, the only 2 hypothetical Republican presidential candidates polling even with President Obama are Mitt Romney and “generic Republican.” This has actually been true pretty-much throughout the Republican primary season.
Incidentally, while ideological Conservatives have turned their hopes towards 1 Republican hopeful, then another, then another, always seemingly ending up disappointed either by their lack of strict commitment to Conservative principles or to a series of gaffes in the many Republican debates, Governor Romney has consistently retained support from roughly 20%-29% of the Republican electorate. While this obviously isn’t a lock on the nomination, it has put him consistently at the head of the Republican pack, with only Governor Perry (and in the latest Conservative flirtation, maybe Mr. Cain) rising to his level in the polls.
2.) Mayor Sarah Palin isn’t running for President. Sarah Palin, Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska and allegedly Governor of that State for a while, finally decisively declared last week that she is not running for President in 2012. (Instead, she resolved to do what she does best–snipe selectively from the sidelines.) Mayor Palin is a favorite of a certain subsets of the Tea Party movement–namely, those Tea Partiers with the most-developed sense of personal grievance and, inexplicably, some Conservative intellectuals who seem to be unable to see an obviously defective candidate for what she is. When Palin showed up at the Iowa Straw Poll as a not-yet-declared candidate, some referred to her lingering, have-it-both-ways presence not as unprofessional but actually as “immature.” An epithet-spewing narcissist who only talks in sound bytes, Mayor Palin’s presence in the Republican debates would have been a godsend for President Obama. She wouldn’t have had a chance, as with time the seams have shown more and more plainly with Palin. But her presence has a way of sapping serious discussion from the room, replacing policy and even politics with cosmetics. Less time would be spent by the various Republican candidates elaborating on their own taxation, regulatory, and entitlement plans–or attacking President Obama–and more time would be spent discussing something provocative that Palin had said, or dwelling on her painfully obvious lack of knowledge. This would have been a waking nightmare for the Republican establishment, a permanent insinuation by association that they aren’t serious and can’t discuss policy in detail. Once the dust settled, Romney would probably still be the nominee, but he would’ve had fewer opportunities to demonstrate his abundant knowledge and eagerness to be President, and the general public would have received a heaping dose of the worst flavor of Republican populism.
3.) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie isn’t running for President. Christie may be presidential material at some point; until then, he needs to focus on building a record as an administrator (and decide that this is really what he wants). Christie decided this himself, and in a telling act of earnestness and humility ruled himself out of the Republican Presidential Primary. Again, while a man whose entire political career to-date consists of his 2 years Governor of New Jersey would probably lose the Republican Presidential Primary to Mitt Romney, the fact that he seems to have the presence of mind and the Conservative credentials to be a viable Republican candidate means he could have slowed the nomination process down, again sowing confusion and muddying the waters for Governor Romney a bit. Christie’s brash but likely-substantive criticism of Romney itself could have posed a challenge to Romney’s inside track, not just for the Republican nomination but in maintaining his very-presidential preference to campaign by the high road.
4.) Slovakia’s parliament vetoed the European Union’s latest bailout package for Greece. Here is the only news item among these 5 that doesn’t involve the Republican Presidential Primary. In fact, it involves macroeconomic conditions outside of the President’s control–a matter which could doom the Obama Presidency far more-decisively than any Republican candidacy or campaign. On Tuesday a small party in the ruling coalition of the Slovak Parliament ruled against the Eurozone’s latest bailout package for heavily-indebted, depressed and riotous Greece. This minority stakeholder in a government of one of the Eurozone’s smallest and newest members has precipitated the collapse of that country’s ruling parliamentary coalition, and may even have blocked the last chance to prevent a Greek default. In any event whatever steps come next in the Eurozone’s effort to prop up its weakest governments and banks will be harder, either politically or financially, to effect. If they fail, we might be facing a 2008-scale financial collapse in the World’s largest monetary system. To face that now, 3 years after the 1st as our economic recovery has already stalled-out, would depress the trans-Atlantic trade, hurting both imports and exports, shuttering businesses putting yet-more people out of work. This would have had nothing to do with President Obama, but it would totally obscure any good his policies have done in shoring up the economy. As Ruth Marcus recently argued in the Washington Post, we should expect even independent voters who don’t blame President Obama for poor economic conditions to be more-sympathetic to a challenger who proposes different policies to deal with them.
5.) Governor Romney dominated the Republican Presidential Primary debate on Tuesday. Tuesday was Governor Perry’s chance to redeem his weak showings in the 3 previous Republican presidential debates, and Mr. Cain’s chance to validate his contender status in the Republican Presidential Primary by demonstrating his ability to say something other than 9-9-9. Neither of these moments materialized. Relative to expectations, Governor Perry has proved to be inarticulate and defensive, prone to talking in terms so general that none of his opponents can be expected to disagree with him. Mr. Cain, on the other hand, after embarrassing himself with several bigoted comments directed towards Muslims and a telling lack of awareness of the Middle East Peace Process, has been very-specific, but only in promoting his proposal for a 9% income tax, 9% corporate tax, and 9% sales tax as a replacement for the current highly-complex Federal tax code, and in talking-up private investment accounts through Social Security. Instead of seeking to demonstrate himself as a serious presidential candidate who can address other issues, he actually attacked Governor Romney for having an economic plan that was complex. (Governor Romney, in return, unabashedly defended the complexity of his economic plan, insisting that the United States’ economic problems were various and couldn’t be waved-away with a radical change in tax policy.)
Mitt Romney has truly blossomed as a presidential candidate since 2008, and has admirably outgrown the inauthentic populism that foreshadowed the party’s virtual collapse in 2008 while not allowing himself to be intimidated by the authentic populism of the anti-tax “Tea Party” movement that granted Republicans massive gains in the States and in the House of Representatives (but made the latter unwieldy for them). He has consistently avoided Governor Perry’s talk of “treating (Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke) pretty ugly” or Newt Gingrich’s talk of jailing former Congressional colleagues Barney Frank (D-MA) and Chris Dodd (D-CT). Instead, he focuses on issues such as the ongoing recession and prevailing high unemployment, or our large Federal deficits. He seems almost to welcome attacks, both on the campaign trail and in debates, and he answers them extensively. President Obama has understandably struggled to explain the economic stagnation and political turbulence of this period, and appears to have concluded that making deals with stubborn House Republicans simply isn’t worth the effort. That it currently looks like he must confront a rehearsed and emboldened Governor Romney in the Presidential Debates a year from now is bad news for President Obama in itself.
To summarize: Though his victory in the primary nomination process isn’t assured, I no longer see how any other Republican presidential hopeful can realistically beat Governor Romney in the Republican Presidential Primary. Governor Romney has the most-detailed economic plan of any of the Republican presidential hopefuls, and polls the strongest of all of them. Likewise, with its several interconnected forms of stagnation and instability I see no reason to expect the economy to right itself significantly-enough so that President Obama will be able to take the credit for good economic stewardship. Voters will either turn the President out in the belief that he has managed the economy poorly, or at least elect Governor Romney in the belief that the time has come to try a different President implementing a different set of economic policies.
So while I will give my vote to President Obama, I will put my money on Mitt Romney becoming the 45th President of the United States. How’s that for Liberal irony?