Will Barack Obama be the Democratic Nominee? That seems like a strange question. It’s natural to assume that a first term President is the automatic nominee of his party in the next go-round.
But the odds are surprisingly high that Barack Obama will NOT be the Democratic nominee. And, the odds are even higher that the Republicans will choose a candidate who would be overwhelmingly favored to win Florida, and that person’s name isn’t Romney, Huckabee, or Palin.
Most of this speculative forecast focuses on Obama’s situation, but the name of the Republican emerges before we finish.
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” – Mark Twain
The year was 1968. There was a Democrat sitting in the White House. Just four years earlier, Lyndon Johnson had been elected in what was then the fourth-most lopsided election in U.S. history. In March ’68, Johnson did what was inconceivable only months before. He dropped out of the race.
He did so because, just a few weeks earlier, Senator Eugene McCarthy shocked the political establishment with 42% of the New Hampshire Primary vote, compared to Johnson’s 49% (McCarthy also secured 20 of the 24 primary votes available in the New Hampshire primary).
Eugene McCarthy ran the first modern media primary campaign, thanks to the support of five rich liberals including Stewart Mott. And he had a celebrity entourage helping build his name recognition, starting with Paul Newman.
McCarthy’s base and his support came because he was the anti-Vietnam War candidate. Several months before the New Hampshire primary, anti-war politicians and leaders, McCarthy among them, had tried to persuade New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy to run. Kennedy wanted to be President someday, but thought it would be political suicide to merely wound The Prince. But just four days after McCarthy’s New Hampshire success, the opportunistic Kennedy got in the race.
By June 5, 1968, McCarthy was in third place in the delegate count. The candidate in second place, Robert Kennedy, was dead — the victim of an assassin’s bullet. Vice President Hubert Humphrey was in the lead, and would win the nomination, but lose the general election.
So what does that story have to do with 2012? We’ll get to that in a moment.
But remember, first, that history rhymes, and flash back to the year, 1998. After those mid-term elections, Speaker Newt Gingrich was forced to resign his seat. Just four years earlier he was the Moses of a party that had been in the minority, in the House of Representatives, for 40 consecutive years. What dramatically terrible thing would cause the party to turn on the man who had led them out of the minority desert?
Sure, the GOP lost some seats, but they didn’t lose the majority. This was a case of, “What have you done for me lately?”
Political coalitions are brittle things. Political loyalty is mythical. It’s always a matter of, “What have you done for me lately?”
Barack Obama cannot count on the Democrats to continue to support him if things go badly in the upcoming, mid-term elections this November. And as it stands now, it appears they will go very badly. (As you can already see, my projection differs from Mr. Hanley’s.)
Consider that the Democrats hold a ten seat (swing) majority, in the Senate. Republican wins in any of these Democratic seats, individually speaking, would be unsurprising — California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin. In other words, the Democrat majority could be narrowed to two or three seats. Filibusters of the President’s agenda will increase by roughly a multiplier of the number of these seats won by Republicans.
In the House, Republicans need to gain 39 seats to win a majority. This now appears within the realm of possibility. The Cook Political Report labels 71 districts as possible challenger upsets, 64 of which are Democratic-controlled at the moment. 40 of these were picked up by Democrats, during their surge, in either 2006 or 2008. The majority of these districts voted for Bush in 2004, and many of them went to McCain in 2008. But incumbency is a very powerful force, and it’s probably more reasonable to believe that the Republicans will pick up 20-25 seats. (I’m not making a prediction about the House, just reporting the details.)
Like ’98, the Republicans probably won’t reclaim majorities, but they will deplete the overwhelming margins Democrats now enjoy.
Who will be the scapegoat? My nominee, obviously, is Barack Obama. And this will be the only nomination he gets in this story.
Here’s some advanced political science for you. Because the Democrats have held a solid majority, Barack Obama has largely gotten his way. When he doesn’t, which is rare, it is because his own party said, “No.” The amount of time it took to pass the healthcare bill, for example, was because they couldn’t get enough Democrat votes. You’d never know that if you relied on mainstream political reporting — especially from television. Right now, Republicans could vote with near unanimity, consistently, and still lose, routinely.
Obama’s inability to “keep his troops in-line” on Capitol Hill will be the first real sign that Democratic insiders believe he’s a 2012 liability.
The Obama campaign was premised on an almost messianic Change — particularly in foreign policy and civil liberties — as well as Hope, in civil rights. Instead, Change is, largely, a continuation of the unpopular policies, against which Obama campaigned, along with the NEW expansion of ANOTHER war, that seems to historically rhyme with Vietnam. And, to pick just one example of dissapointment, there’s no Hope coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave on ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Who will be the next Eugene McCarthy? It’s too soon to tell. But many Democrats, including Speaker Pelosi, who will have her own job to save, will blame Barack Obama for not being sufficiently “progressive.” If you read left-leaning websites now, you’ll start to see lots of comments like . . .
“…Obama’s handlers deserve blame… They are caught in a defensive posture trying to find a middle ground that will barely get Obama re-elected in 2012. In the process, they are abandoning Progressives on multiple issues and not taking strong ACTION…. Obama needs to grow a pair.”
And the Congressional races, especially Colorado and Nevada, will cause lots of Democrats to take a hard look at the Electoral Map. Some opportunistic, progressive politician will do the analysis you’re about to read and realize he or she can make a case for why Barack Obama cannot be the standard-bearer of their party in 2012.
Barack Obama had 365 electoral votes in 2008, winning some unlikely states with high levels of turnout. 270 votes are needed to win. Looking at Obama, 2012 . . .
1) Eight states that went Democrat in 2000, 2004, and 2008, are expected to yield a census-adjusted loss of 6 net votes.
Adjusted total = 359.
2) Six states that went Republican in those same three elections are projected to deliver a census-adjusted loss of 7 more net votes.
Adjusted total = 352.
3) Three states that provided 39 electoral votes to Obama were GOP states that he won narrowly. He won’t win them again.
Adjusted total = 313.
4) Three more states are toss-up, or “bubble” states (New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado). These states account for 20 electoral votes. If Democrats lose Colorado and Nevada Senate races in 2010, that would seem to indicated that Obama’s bubble is about to be burst. (BTW, Iowa is also considered a toss-up state, and the census is expected to make it a 6 vote state, but it leans Democratic in my opinion, and I have not counted it in favor of the GOP in this analysis).
Adjusted total = 293.
5) That leaves the bell-weather states. These two states determine who will be the next President. The winner of them wins the White House. Since 1996, they’ve both gone to the winner. In fact, historically, with only two exceptions since 1896, the winner of Ohio wins the election. But Florida has emerged, since 2000, as the biggest prize of all. (Unless the Republicans gain Iowa) Ohio cannot secure a Republican victory without Florida coming too. The Buckeye State is likely to be reduced to 18 electoral votes in ’12, and that would still leave the Democrat with 275 votes — enough to win. Still, Democrats are projected to lose ground in Ohio in 2010, where their governor’s seat is up for grabs. But Florida, which is projected to have 28 votes, could become Obama’s undoing, all by itself. Adjusted total = 247.
If you want to boil this analysis down and see it in action soon, watch the Senate races in Nevada, Colorado, and Florida, and the statewide races in Ohio, on election night, 2010. The handwriting will be on the wall if the Democrats lose these.
Still, all of this remains speculative until a relatively unknown, but still respected progressive Democrat (Dennis Kucinich won’t count, because he lacks stature), starts making the rounds to Iowa and New Hampshire. Or, perhaps he could be known. Can Howard Dean be motivated to make another run?
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a strong Republican, who would be heavily favored to win Florida, start visiting Iowa and New Hampshire. I think his name is Jeb Bush, the former Governor of the Sunshine State.
But the Democratic Party mainstream won’t want the progressive candidate to be their nominee. In fact, Obama would probably still be able to defeat the upstart to his Left. The role for this uber-liberal will be to weaken Obama.
Then, just like 1968, party leaders will turn to a New York Senator (albeit former), who is reluctant to run against the sitting Democrat, until she sees that his weakness is clearly evident. That Democrat is Hillary Clinton, and she is every bit as opportunistic as Robert Kennedy was. Yet Hillary also plays the role of Hubert Humphrey in this tale, since she’d be the establishment shield against a progressive upstart. And she is, perhaps, the best candidate the Democrats could choose in the fight for Florida.
Thus, if Hillary Clinton resigns her post as Secretary of State and visits Iowa, that will be the third real sign that Democratic insiders believe Barack Obama is no longer the winning horse in the 2012 race — that it’s time to find a new politician to ride to victory.
And if she enters the race, it is a matter of time before Barack Obama either drops out or loses. Sticking it out and fighting with her doesn’t bode well for the sitting President. Not only did Humphrey end up losing in 1968, but then-President Jimmy Carter, who stayed and defeated Kennedy in the battle for the 1980 nomination, lost his electoral battle to Ronald Reagan.
The first two signs — Capitol Hill troops out of line and a progressive opportunist making waves — will be visible to all of us, no later than April, 2011. Stay tuned.