Barack Obama has been the presumptive President-elect for three weeks now (he won’t actually be President-elect until the Electoral College votes in December) so I figured it was time to make my predictions for the 2012 campaign. I want to get on record early so no one claims I plagiarized their ideas and I can claim to be the first to accurately predict events. On the other hand, if my predictions turn out to be inaccurate, it will be the fault of my “Magic 8-ball”
On the Democratic side the predicting is easy. It’s 99% certain that Obama will be the nominee. No one (Hillary) will be allowed by the party establishment to even consider challenging him in the primaries. if anyone does, it will be someone like Mike Gravel who will not be considered a serious candidate by the media or the voters.
It would require more than just low poll ratings for a challenge to be permitted, such as a juicy scandal that was almost but not enough to justify impeachment. And the challenger would have to begin raising money and seeking endorsements in early 2011 (right after the mid-term elections) hoping that Obama’s poll numbers didn’t recover. I doubt anyone will dare challenge him because of the consequences to their political career. Ted Kennedy’s political career survived his 1980 challenge of Jimmy Carter because Carter was unpopular AND an outsider to the party establishment (and Teddy is a Kennedy.)
The GOP side is far less certain. The first factor will be how Obama is doing around the 2010 midterm elections. If he is struggling in the polls and the economy doesn’t look to recover before 2012 then the GOP will mount a serious challenge to his reelection and you can expect the GOP establishment to unify behind one candidate before any votes are cast, as they did in 1999-2000. They won’t want a real competition for the nomination at the ballot box.
If Obama looks unbeatable in 2010-2011, expect the GOP establishment to run someone like Bob Dole or John McCain as a token candidate, but don’t expect any big names with real ambitions to agree to be the sacrificial lamb. But if the party bosses don’t commit to a “heavy-weight contender” that means that a long-shot candidate could take the nomination just like Clinton did in 1992. In 1990 George H. W. Bush was very popular so the Democratic frontrunners like Mario Cuomo decided to skip 1992 and wait for 1996, which allowed the Big Dawg to get the nomination and win when Poppy’s popularity went bye-bye. If Obama’s poll numbers tank in 2012 (this scenario assumes they were relatively high through 2011) then we could see an unexpected 45th President.
Right now the four GOP names getting the most attention are Palin, Huckabee, Romney and Jindal. Let’s start with Bobby Jindal. He is the governor of Lousiana and was previously a Congressman from LA-1. He is believed to be a favorite of the GOP establishment who is being groomed for the future. He is of Punjabi descent (his parents were immigrants) but is a practicing Catholic. Despite the buzz in the media he is currently polling in single digits. I predict he will be no more than a VP nominee in 2012 but may contend in 2016 or 2020. However he may run in 2012 just for practice and to gain name recognition.
Mitt Romney is the former Governor of Massachusetts and gained fame for his job organizing and running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He is independently wealthy and is a favorite of some of the GOP fat cats but he is not popular with the hard core conservatives. His biggest weakness is that he is a Mormon, which is anathema to many religious fundamentalitsts, i.e. a big chunk of the GOP base. The fallout from Propostion 8 in California has made Mormons unpopular with progressives and the LGBT community, which techically won’t matter in the GOP primaries but could affect his support if it is percieved he can’t win in the general. (Troll prophylactic: I have nothing against Mormons, I am just recognizing that some people do. I oppose bigotry in all forms)
Mike Huckabee is the former governor of Arkansas and currently has a show on FOX News. He is also a former Baptist minister. He was a favorite of the religious fundamentalists in the 2008 GOP primaries but has not shown he can win the votes of the rank and file or the support of the GOP establishment. Although he comes across as warm, funny and non-threatening in interviews, he has made some statements that might come back to haunt him. He could be a “long-shot” candidate if the GOP establishment doesn’t back a candidate and there is no one else to challenge him for the fundie votes.
That leaves Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the current presumptive front-runner. The rank and file GOP loves her, as do non-establishment conservatives and the fundies. The fact that the media hates her would be a definite advantage for her in the primaries. There are two main caveats – will she run in 2012 and what will the GOP establishment do if she does? If she runs she is the early favorite to win the nomination, but she would be crazy to run if Obama looks likely to be reelected, since losing in the general will probably kill any chance of ever running again.
Palin is a Goldwater-type conservative and a fundie Christian. Her ability to discuss politics, cooking or moose hunting with equal ease is a part of a unique persona in politics. She is intelligent, funny, telegenic and female. The latter quality would give the GOP that chance to win a majority of the votes of women for the first time in decades. If the media and the progressive blogosphere continue to make hysterical, misogynistic attacks on her that will help her win the votes of many former Hillary supporters.
By 2012 she will have had the chance to deal with her two main weaknesses, which are her lack of experience on the national stage (doing hostile interviews and comfortably discussing national rather than state issues) and her lack of political support in the Republican establishment. She is rapidly gaining experience with hostile interviews and she will doubtlessly be studying up on the issues.
She does not currently have the support of the GOP establishment, which does not want a genuine reformer in the White House, but if she can get their backing (or at least eliminate their oppostion) she will be likely the nominee in either 2012 or 2016 if she chooses to run. But if Obama looks beatable and the GOP backs someone besides Palin, she will probably not run or will drop out early and bide her time. The GOP will not hesitate to ride Palin back into the White House if they think she can win and that they can control her once she is in office. That has nothing to do with sexism, they did the same thing with George W. Bush.
But if they back someone else and she challenges them, they will be merciless in destroying her, and though it might look like misogyny it won’t be. Misogyny is low on the priority list for the GOP establishment. Like racism, it is a tactic, not part of their ideology. Their ideology is money and power, which are basically the same thing.
The GOP establishment will back Palin if the alternative is Huckabee, or if they split over backing Jindal and Romney but those two fail to gain traction with voters and Palin remains popular. Their backing will probably be with the condition that they can exercise some control over her appointments. She will have little choice because she has few political connections in Washington right now anyway, so she will be dependent on party insiders..
If Palin looks to be the GOP nominee and Obama is struggling in the polls, look for him to dump Biden and nominate Hillary as his running mate in 2012 in order to neutralize Palin’s attraction with women. If Palin is the nominee, I predict a traditional GOP candidate (white-male-conservative-Christian) will be her running mate, perhaps someone like Governor Tim Pawlenty but more likely a Washington insider.
If Obama is popular and looks likely to be reelected, my favorites for his token opposition would be Rudy Giuliani, Rick Perry of Texas, or Mike Huckabee (the GOP establishment would let him run only if he has no chance of winning.) Pawlenty or Jindal are likely VP candidates because the GOP wants to groom them for 2016 or later. Jeb Bush is a non-starter, as is Newt Gingrich. Jeb has the Bush brand name which is political kryptonite, and even Newt’s friends can’t stand him.
If Palin does not run in 2012, my prediction for 2016 is Sarah vs. Hillary.
Just so you can gauge my ability to predict the politcal future four-eight years hence, in 2007 I was sure Al Gore would run (and win) this year.