It is clear that President Barack Obama can be defeated in 2012.
That, by itself, is a huge change from six months ago, or even three months ago after the Osama bin Laden takedown. In early May all the talk was how Obama had “guaranteed his re-election” by the successful killing of the 9/11 mastermind.
But a deteriorating economy will rot out any presidency — and even Obama, with his media love-fest — is not immune to this reality.
What is a worry is the GOP’s ability to blow elections that should be won. We may be seeing this sad phenomenon developing right before our eyes.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, long described in this space as George W. Bush on steroids, is already confirming that analysis. To call the actions of the chairman of the Federal Reserve “treasonous” and “treacherous” and then to threaten him with “ugly” Texas treatment should Ben Bernanke — a Bush appointee, by the way — visit the Lone Star State is really over the top.
Behavior like that — so unpresidential — is the exact type of thing that might rescue and re-elect Barack Obama.
Remember the 2010 mid-term congressional elections. There were two vulnerable Democratic Senate seats: Harry Reid in Nevada and the open seat in Delaware. In both cases the GOP — with a strong tea party primary showing — nominated bad candidates. Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell blew winnable races.
Back in 2004 the same thing happened in Illinois. When Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald chose not to run for re-election, the Democrats picked a state senator, Barack Obama, while the GOP fielded a series of fatally flawed candidates who each had to drop out of the race because of sex and financial scandals. Finally, out of desperation, the Republicans brought in Alan Keyes from Maryland to oppose Obama who won in a walkover.
So the pattern is clear: Obama has always had a free ride in general elections. Will that pattern hold for the last campaign of his career? Or does he go out as a failed, one-term reincarnation of Jimmy Carter?
The answer will be found in the quality of his Republican opponent or if there is a credible independent or third party candidate.
As of today, only Rick Perry or Mitt Romney can win the GOP nomination. No one else in the current field, including Michele Bachmann, can win the Republican nomination.
But both Perry and Romney are deeply flawed.
Perry tries so hard to court the hard right and the tea party that he is already making himself unacceptable to independent and non-tea party voters. That could still change over time, but the fight for the right in Iowa with Bachmann will pull Perry even harder away from the political center and may give Romney a chance to squeeze out an Iowa victory in next year’s caucuses.
Romney’s new strategy, with Perry and Bachmann now competing for the same bloc of votes, has to be to try for a surprise win in Iowa. Recall that in 2007/2008, he was leading until Mike Huckabee came out of nowhere and won by having the religious right united behind him.
This time, those voters could be split among Bachmann, who has to win Iowa to survive as a national candidate, Perry, and Santorum. That may allow Romney to win Iowa.
Then comes New Hampshire, where Romney has to win. He is a neighboring former governor who has a home in the Granite State. Another loss in that state would doom him. But if Romney can win both Iowa and New Hampshire, then he is the 2012 GOP nominee.
Perry knows this. He also knows he has to win somewhere — either Iowa or New Hampshire — if he is to win the GOP nomination. (All GOP presidential nominees have won one or the other; no one has won the nomination without winning one or both.)
Bachmann blocks Perry from consolidating the right/tea party vote, thus allowing Romney, an unpopular front-runner, to have a path to victory.
It still makes no sense. How can the originator of mandated healthcare be nominated by a Republican Party that loathes Obamacare?
Thus we have an unclear picture. This calls for more candidates to enter the race. And that may yet happen, especially as GOP voters begin to tire of the new guy, Perry, and yearn for someone better.
We still have plenty of time.
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