You are browsing the archive for 2012 Presidential election.

by inoljt

Watching Herman Cain

9:42 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

Presidential candidate Herman Cain has enlivened the Republican field. Known for running a pizza company and his catchy 9-9-9 tax plan, Cain has caught much attention. He briefly held a polling lead, only to see some support lost amidst accusations of sexual harassment.

Herman Cain is widely referred to as one of the better and more polished candidates in front of the camera; when Cain does an interview, he comes out as supposedly more likeable.

Several weeks ago, I had my first opportunity to watch Cain actually speak (on the television, of course). It wasn’t a very special speech, merely another normal interview. This one was on the Hannity Show.

Indeed, Cain did seem well-spoken in the interview. The media often refers to him as folksy but lacking seriousness; to me, however, he seemed very serious (a lot more serious and less prone to joking than I’d previously anticipated given his media image). Nothing, in fact, differentiated him from any other serious Republican candidate. He didn’t make a joke.

The media also states that Cain is very prone to talking about his 9-9-9 tax plan; every time Cain answers a question, he supposedly is able to magically switch the topic to 9-9-9. However, I didn’t hear Cain mention 9-9-9 once in the interview.

Finally, the media states that Cain has a talent for dodging questions, or rather a skill in transforming a ridiculous assertion into a perfectly reasonable-sounding point. I got to see Cain do this in action when Hannity questioned him about why he was visiting Tennessee rather than another more important early primary state. The implication was that Cain wasn’t really campaigning seriously for president. In response, Cain went on a very convincing deflection about the importance of southern states in the early primaries. I would have been perfectly convinced myself if I had known less about the primary process.

All-in-all, watching Cain was a very interesting experience. Seeing him talk on television for the first time was a lot different from the expectation of what he’d be like that I’d  created from the media.


by inoljt

Don’t Overrate Barack Obama’s Campaign

8:18 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

In the 2008 presidential election, Senator John McCain ran the better campaign.

This statement goes strongly against conventional wisdom. After all, President Barack Obama’s campaign is widely praised by the media for its masterful turn-out operation and other achievements. This is, of course, because Mr. Obama won the election. Winning candidates, by definition, are almost always considered to have run the better campaign. (Quick: name a losing politician who ran a better campaign than his opponent.)

In fact there were two things that propelled Mr. Obama to victory in 2008, and neither of them had to do with his campaign apparatus. The first was the political environment. Mr. Obama had the fortune of running after a two-term unpopular Republican administration. He did this, moreover, in the midst of a financial meltdown for which blame went to said administration. It’s hard to lose an election under those circumstances.

Secondly, Mr. Obama was a more attractive candidate than Mr. McCain. He was younger, he looked better on camera, he gave much better speeches. Mr. Obama had a magnetism that could attract crowds numbering greater than 100,000. His opponent simply didn’t have that.

But Mr. Obama’s campaign itself wasn’t actually that amazing. It was a fairly conservative operation that took things very safe. The campaign tried to be very cautious, avoiding any risky and exciting maneuvers. This happened under the principle that the senator probably was going to win anyways – so a boring, conventional campaign was much safer than a risky, unconventional one. It’s hard to fault his operation for this conclusion, because Mr. Obama did in fact win.

It was Senator John McCain’s campaign that took risks and made headlines. In many ways his campaign was better than Mr. Obama’s. It won more of the daily media battles until the financial crisis – and there was nothing it could really do about that. It ran better ads. How many Obama ads do you remember, for instance? What about McCain ads? I bet a lot of people remember this one.

Mr. McCain’s campaign also made the more memorable moves. It selected an unforgettable Vice Presidential nominee (in contrast, Mr. Obama once again took the safe route in picking Senator Joe Biden). It famously promised to suspend its campaign in the midst of the financial meltdown. Some of these moves worked; some of them didn’t. But they were very rational moves to take; there was simply no way Mr. McCain could have won in 2008 without taking enormous, risky gambles.

Mr. Obama’s campaign is widely credited for bringing many young and African-American voters to the polls who otherwise wouldn’t have shown up. But those voters came not because of the campaign, but because of Mr. Obama himself. If the entire campaign operation had remained the same, but Senator Barack Obama had been replaced by Senator John Kerry, how many of those people would have shown up?

The moral of this analysis is not to overrate the Obama campaign. There was a Democratic wave in 2008, and Mr. Obama’s campaign deserves credit for riding that wave with the help of a very gifted politician. But to say that ”Obama put together one of the most impressive campaign operations of all time” is a big exaggeration.



by inoljt

Mitt Romney’s Fundamental Problem

8:18 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

Mitt Romney has a big problem.

It’s not “Romneycare.”

It’s not his Mormonism.

It’s not his shifting positions on social issues, such as abortion.

All the above are merely symptoms of Mr. Romney’s big problem.

Mr. Romney, simply put, is just not a very good politician. Americans take a look at him, and they just don’t like him on a personal, instinctual level. They then find a reasonable – or perhaps not so reasonable – rationalization to explain why they don’t like him. He’s fake. He doesn’t have much in common with the average American. He’s a flip-flopper. He’s Mormon. Romneycare. Etc.

This is the same problem John Edwards had running for president. There was nothing specifically which Mr. Edwards did wrong; he said all the right things, he had all the right credentials. But voters just didn’t like Mr. Edwards; on some level they felt uncomfortable with him. Eventually the media came up with stories tapping into this gut discomfort: Edwards was insincere, Edwards got incredibly expensive hair cuts, etc.

Back in the 2008 presidential primaries, Republican analyst Jay Cost wrote a revealing post:

[Mitt Romney's] candidacy has been the most transparently strategic this cycle. McCain is up? Go after McCain. McCain is down? Leave McCain alone. Thompson enters the race and seems a threat? Take a cheap shot about Law and Order. Thompson fades? Ignore him. Rudy is up? Go after Rudy. Huckabee is up? Go after Huck. You need to win a Republican primary? Make yourself the most socially conservative candidate in the race. And on and on and on.

If somebody asked me which candidate on the Republican side has won just a single election (in a year that his party did very well nationwide) — I would answer Mitt Romney, even knowing nothing about anybody’s biography. This kind of transparency is, to me, a sign of political inexperience. He’s only won one election, and it shows.

…Romney’s campaign is, I must say, the least authentic seeming of any on the GOP side…Unlike Kerry-Edwards, the Romney campaign knows how to stay on script. That is not its problem. Its problem is that the script changes are obviously induced by its standing in the polls. There is little subtlety to the Romney campaign. Too much of what it does is obviously strategic.

Mr. Romney’s 2008 campaign went on underperform expectations significantly. Mr. Romney promised to win Iowa and then lost to Mike Huckabee. He went on to New Hampshire and then lost again, this time to John McCain. Mr. Romney’s sole victory came in Michigan. After that, his campaign lost yet another contest to John McCain in Florida. On Super Tuesday, Mr. Romney’s campaign promised to sweep the South and win states from California to Illinois to New York. As it turned out, Mr. Romney came in third place in many southern states, and lost badly in states like California, Illinois, and New York.

Were Mr. Romney to be a better politician, none of his current weaknesses would matter. Good politicians can and have overcome significantly more daunting obstacles than Mr. Romney currently faces. John F. Kennedy was a Catholic at a time of heavy anti-Catholic sentiment. Ronald Reagan was exceptionally old. Bill Clinton cheated on his wife – and got caught doing so. Barack Obama was a black liberal from the inner-city. Yet all still were successfully elected president.

If Mr. Romney were a good politician, he too would be able to overcome anti-Mormon sentiment and “Romneycare.” The problem is that he is not.


by inoljt

Can a Republican Nobody Win the Nomination?

8:27 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

It is the June, 2012. The Republican candidate, recent winner of the party’s presidential nomination, rises up to deliver a triumphant victory speech. He launches a full-throated defense of conservatism, inserts a few sly attacks on the Democratic president, and thanks his opponents for endorsing him.

Just six months ago nobody had heard about him. Yet then he won the Iowa caucuses, shocking everybody in the political world. New Hampshire followed, then a string of victories that utterly defeated his remaining opposition. Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee never stood a chance.

How likely is this to happen?

Well, it is certainly within the bounds of conceivability – although admittedly somewhat unlikely. There are several factors that ought to be considered.

Firstly, there is the state of the current Republican field itself. This is a surprisingly weak selection. There are a number of potentially strong candidates out there. The problem is that none of them are running.

Unlike most previous contests, there is no obvious front-runner such as Governors George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. Former Governor Mitt Romney is the one who best fits the definition. But Mr. Romney’s political skills are uncommonly weak; there is something about him (and this is a personal characteristic, not his Mormonism) that just turns-off voters.

So, unlike previous nominations, there is still plenty of space for a surprise Republican candidate to enter.

What about historical precedent? Here the picture is still pretty good. History is full of surprise candidates taking the nomination by storm. The most recent instance is, of course, the president himself (although he was actually pretty well known amongst the Beltway before 2008).

Even more encouraging might be example of President Jimmy Carter. Nobody, not even those immersed in politics, had heard of the peanut farmer before he ran for president. As late as January 1976 – the equivalent of January 2012 today – only 4% of Democrats chose him as their candidate. But Mr. Carter won the Iowa primary through retail politics, and then a string of other small primaries to build momentum.

There are other examples: Senator John Kerry in 2004, Governor Bill Clinton in 1992, and arguably Governor Mike Dukakis in 1988. These should hearten an ambitious yet unknown Republican.

On the other hand, all these examples come on the Democratic side. For whatever reason, political unknowns haven’t been as successful in the Republican Party. The last time the Republican frontrunner lost was in 1964, when Senator Barry Goldwater won the nomination (probably not the most inspiring model). Perhaps there is something in the nature of conservatism that is less attracted to exciting, new candidates of change.

At the moment, however, the chances that an unknown Republican will win the nomination better than they have been since – well – 1964.


by inoljt

Three Suggestions For the Republican Party’s 2012 Candidate

1:49 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

The time has come for many in the Republican Party to begin seriously considering the 2012 presidential election. By this time last year, President Barack Obama had just announced his candidacy. The shadow campaign has begin in earnest, and then the real campaign several months after that, just before the Iowa primary.

Here are three of the strongest Republicans who could challenge Mr. Obama:

1) Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts

Mr. Brown may be the single most politically skilled individual in the entire Republican Party. He pulled a shocking upset over Democrat Martha Coakley, continues to retain extremely strong favorables, and looks likely to run a very competitive Senate race in 2012. All this while being many times more conservative than the average person in one of America’s most liberal states.

That takes skill.

Indeed, if this Republican ran for president, he’d probably have a decent chance of winning Massachusetts. Mr. Brown is a hero to Tea Partiers; at the same time there has been nothing so far that cuts against him negatively. And, in an era where looking good matters more than ever, Mr. Brown – as his Cosmopolitan photo shoot implies – certainly has the looks nailed down (he’s certainly going to need them, going against a man who can do this).

2) Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey

Mr. Christie is the popular governor of New Jersey, applauded by many Republicans for cutting spending and taking the fight full-hilt to the teacher’s unions. Media coverage of his agenda has been extremely positive so far, and his aggressive, blunt answers at town halls have draw much support on Youtube.

Compared to individuals such as Mr. Romney or Ms. Palin (or Mr. Brown, for that matter), the governor’s established record is far superior.

Mr. Christie’s weakness might lie in the realm of political skills. He was expected to win beat Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine in the gubernatorial race by double-digits; in the end Mr. Corzine made it quite close. While popular in New Jersey, the governor is hated by liberals and Democrats. And he doesn’t look presidential – or, to put it less nicely, he’s too fat.

3) Senator Marco Rubio of Florida

Mr. Rubio made an explosive rise in 2010. Starting out as a literal nobody, he succeeded in forcing out heavy favorite Charlie Crist in the Republican primary – and then winning a three-person senatorial race with ease.

The senator’s Hispanic origins help in the diversity realm, and he tells a great story about his immigrant parents. Moreover, Mr. Rubio has the rare ability to make people on opposite sides of an issue believe that he is with them and against the other side. He would be a formidable candidate.


There is one similarity between each of these candidates: they bear a strong resemblance to Mr. Obama, whatever their political differences.

Many in the Republican Party look at their current field and do not see much. Each candidate – Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty – has serious weaknesses. None excites as Mr. Obama does.

But these Republicans are thinking too narrowly. The Republican Party has plenty of young, attractive, and politically savvy politicians. It’s just that most pundits haven’t imagined them running for president.

Perhaps Republicans ought to do a non-conservative thing: start looking outside the box.


by inoljt

The Biggest Threat to President Barack Obama’s Re-election Chances

10:34 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

Almost everybody agrees that President Barack Obama’s re-election chances depend almost exclusively on one thing: the state of the American economy. If, for instance, unemployment is below 7% by November 2012, Mr. Obama could very well win a Reagan-style blow-out. If, on the other hand, unemployment is still in double-digits by November 2012, Mr. Obama may as well kiss his re-election chances goodbye.

The second scenario would probably occur in the event of another recession. The greatest danger, therefore, to the president’s re-election chances would be something that would hurt the economy badly enough to knock it back into recession.

What could cause such an event?

There are a number of possibilities, ranging from the very unlikely to the frighteningly possible. The latter – “the frighteningly possible” – actually has occupied the front pages of newspapers for almost a year. This is the continuing European debt crisis, which started with Greece, moved to Ireland, defeated Portugal, and is currently searching for its next victim *cough* Spain *cough*.

The worst case scenario would involve a country such as Italy – the world’s seventh largest economy – going bankrupt, or a collapse of the euro (and with it, the European Union). Such scenarios are far-fetched, but quite within the realm of possible. They are what many analysts spend hours worrying about every day.

A bankruptcy of a major European country, such as Spain or Italy, would do major damage to the United States. As Paul Krugman writes:

Nor can the rest of the world look on smugly at Europe’s woes. Taken as a whole, the European Union, not the United States, is the world’s largest economy; the European Union is fully coequal with America in the running of the global trading system; Europe is the world’s most important source of foreign aid; and Europe is, whatever some Americans may think, a crucial partner in the fight against terrorism. A troubled Europe is bad for everyone else.

Indeed, the United States has already experienced the consequences of Europe’s debt troubles, minor as they may seem compared to the worst-case scenario. It is no coincidence that job growth, after increasing steadily in the spring of 2010, stalled right as Greece’s budget woes hit the front pages that summer.

The most troubling thing about all this, for Mr. Obama, is how little control he has over this event. It is Germany, not America, which holds the fate of the European Union in its hands; German decisions – or, more specifically, the decisions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel – will either save or destroy the European Union. Mr. Obama can successfully influence Germany; indeed, his behind-the-scenes lobbying was one factor behind the trillion-dollar European bail-out fund. But ultimately the fate of Europe, and with it the American economy, may lie in Germany’s hands.

And whither goes the American economy, so goes Mr. Obama’s re-election chances. In the end the president may lose re-election because of events thousands of miles away, over which he has precious little control, which seemingly have nothing to do with American politics.


by inoljt

Tampa and the 2012 Republican National Convention

8:54 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

By: Inoljt,

According to the Times, the Republican Party has just selected Tampa to host the 2012 Republican National Convention. Located in the vital swing state Florida, Republican intentions with this pick are fairly straightforward.

Not all national conventions take place in swing states. This impression may be due to 2008, when both parties held conventions in fairly competitive (or not, as it turned out) states. In 2004, however, Republicans held their convention in New York City; Democrats in Boston.

On the other hand, holding national conventions in swing states does constitute good strategy. After Democrats held their 2008 convention in Denver, Colorado ended up voting more Democratic than the nation for the first time since 1964. Likewise, the Minneapolis Republican convention helped Senator John McCain stay competitive in Minnesota weeks after Michigan and Wisconsin began moving Democratic. Choosing Tampa is another variation on this strategy.

Tampa, highly populated and fairly diverse, is a good place to hold a political convention. While the city itself probably votes fairly Democratic, the larger surrounding suburbs lean Republican. The convergence of these forces creates a very competitive environment. Hillsborough County, which Tampa is located in, has gone within single digits for the past five straight presidential elections. Whoever wins the Tampa area stands a good chance of winning the state.

Florida itself constitutes a Republican-leaning swing state. This is somewhat surprising; at first glance, Florida looks like a typical Democratic-voting state. Diverse, urbanized, and heavily populated, Florida has more in common with blue California and New York than red Alabama or Kansas. The state, moreover, is becoming more minority-heavy as white retirees are replaced by Latino immigrants.

Yet a number of factors combine to make Florida a red-leaning swing state rather than a blue stronghold. Deeply conservative northern Florida, which is more like rural Georgia than Miami, gives Republicans an immediate base. Many white voters are elderly, conservative-leaning retirees. And – unlike most immigrants – the Cuban immigrant community votes strongly Republican, undercutting the Democratic stronghold in South Florida.

Florida has even been drifting right in presidential elections. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore performed respectably in the state, but Senator John Kerry lost by a sobering margin. Mr. McCain was particularly strong in Florida; he would have won the state by 4.4% given a tied electorate.

This is strange. By all rights, a place like Florida ought to be shifting Democratic, especially given its demographic changes (the opposite is true for much of the Rustbelt Midwest). Yet in the short-term the state has moving in the opposite direction.

When Republicans hold their convention in Tampa, they will attempt to keep Florida in this condition for another presidential election. It is a clever move by a clever party.

by inoljt

How Obama Can Win Utah (Without a 20% National Victory)

1:51 pm in Uncategorized by inoljt

Democratic candidates in Utah must feel as if they’re facing an impossible task. The state is often considered the most far-right Republican stronghold in the United States. Winning Utah is akin to slaying a mighty dragon with only a bow as one’s chosen weapon.

Like all dragons, however, Utah has a weak spot. The year 2012 may be a ripe time for Obama to shoot an arrow through it.

The majority of Utah’s voters are Mormon; the religion is a heavy influence on daily life in the state. The vast majority of Mormons are also conservative, because Mormonism is an inherently conservative beast. In every presidential election so far, Mormons have proved to be strongly Republican.

Mormons like to think of themselves as average, normal Americans. They’re good people. They help with the community. They love their children and teach them traditional values. Nobody cares if they have a different religion.

Except many people do care very much indeed, especially the type of person who tends to vote Republican. Many would never vote for a Mormon.

Imagine the following scenario.

Mitt Romney decides to runs for president in 2012 and starts as the front-runner. The race quickly narrows down to Romney and another Republican – perhaps a Huckabee-type figure. Romney’s Mormonism becomes a strong undercurrent and then explodes into the media spotlight, much like race did in the 2008 Democratic primary. It becomes clear that Romney is losing support because of his religion; eventually he loses the primary and ends up faintheartedly endorsing the Republican nominee. The good folk of Utah, angered by Romney’s treatment, turn out in drastically reduced numbers during the general election. Many vote for Obama – enough that, in an election he’s winning by 10% or so – he barely takes the state.

An unlikely scenario? Not really. First, Romney seems nearly certain to run in 2012; even now he is running a shadow campaign. In 2008, Mormonism was a strong undercurrent; Romney even gave a speech on his religion. There is no reason to think why it wouldn’t be in 2012. I doubt Mitt Romney will win the nomination in a competitive race; apart from his Mormonism, he is a terrible politician who lost all the important states in the 2008 primary (except for Michigan, which he won by promising to bring back jobs that will never come back).

On the other hand, its not certain that the media will pick up on the Mormon issue. And Republicans are strong enough in Utah that they might still win the state, even if all the above did occur.

Then again, Obama won Indiana when everybody said it couldn’t be done. Moreover, in 2008 he made strong gains in Utah, improving by 18% from John Kerry’s performance. Partly, this is probably because Obama is very popular in the West.

And maybe, just maybe, the Mormon factor had something to do with it.