Do you remember in high school when someone was running for class president or student council president there was that shockingly ambitious battle of campaign promises? “I’m gonna get us a new snack machine” “I would plan prom at the Plaza in midtown Manhattan” “I’ll get the Principal fired” One after the next, each more outrageous and unlikely than the last. I get the sense that the 2012 Republican primaries are taking on the character of a high school student government election. I’m not trying to be rude or cynical but when Mitt Romney admits to the human impact on climate change and Rush Limbaugh uses that to declare Romney’s candidacy over – there’s a big problem. I’m already of the mindset that 80% (made up figure) of the problems in today’s campaigns can be attributed to primaries and the control extreme elements of the political parties have over choosing the nominee. The 2012 campaign season is still in its infancy and yet it seems that the extreme elements are once again cannibalizing the more reasonable candidates. Romney and Pawlenty have been moved farther and farther Right to make the likes of Palin, Bachmann and Limbaugh happy. At the same time ruining their chances of being taken seriously in a general election (see McCain 2008). Voters can see when a candidate is being disingenuous simply to coddle voters in some cases or completely misunderstands them in others (see Romney 2008, it’s all over YouTube).
Why candidates ignore the power of consistency is beyond me? (for an example of where consistency alone won an election, see Bush 2004). As such, this year’s crop of GOP presidential candidates can be isolated in two groups – consistently unreasonable and reasonably inconsistent. The consistent candidates all seem to be espousing risky and extreme proposals that either involved starving the government “down to size” or re-engineering the social contract. The more moderate candidates from states like Massachusetts (also elected Kennedy and Kerry) and Minnesota (also elected Al Franken) are either shown to be “too liberal” or awkwardly try to reinvent themselves. As Bill Mahar said last night on his show, it’s interesting from a political observation perspective that “the Mormon is the most reasonable candidate in the race.”
And yes, that will be the first and last time (hopefully) I quote Bill Mahar or generally acknowledge his presence in the political conversation. But he has a point. In some respects, the GOP has come a long way with several women, a Morman and an African American businessman as candidates.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to celebrate these facts because the messages coming out of these debates and campaign speeches are overly dramatic and fatalistic. Just like the high school kid who promises a soda machine in the cafeteria without knowing whether or not that’s within the student council’s power, GOP candidates simultaneously criticize President Obama for “doing nothing” and “destorying America.” Then on top of that conundrum, they claim to be able to reverse everything in one budget cycle by cutting taxes and slashing government services. It’s really hard to take seriously. (And a topic for another post – the media isn’t helping by implying or outright claiming that Obama is in trouble. Really? I find that hard to believe when there is no one candidate that could even win the support of all Republicans at this point. But I digress.)
So, what’s the point?
Two fold – I don’t see any reason to take any of these candidates seriously at this point and the worst thing a GOP candidate could do this year is advocate extreme or dramatic changes. Ironically, the budget/debt crisis screams for dramatic attention and yet I don’t think voters are in the mood for experimenting with the economy or uncertain tax policies. Based on the political culture, difficult job market, slowing of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and even the floods, tornadoes and wildfires, voters want leadership and stability. Instead, Bachmann is offering a total repeal of Obamacare and the possibility of driving the healthcare industry further into uncertainty. Romney is unable to articulate a consistent position on his experience in Massachusetts and any other topic beyond his interest in being the nominee (for example, why back away from his healthcare success? He brought together a bipartisan bill in a difficult state for that type of deal. That’s just the kinda of middle-of-the-road compromise that could get moderates, Independents and conservative Democrats to vote for him). Anyway. It seems that he’s backing away from things that could be strengths but does not seem believable on his current proposals (see Kerry 2004). Pawlenty, at least, has the advantage of being new to the game, so to speak. He’s fairly unknown to most voters outside his state and has a history of being successful in a politically unique state (see Ventura, Franken and Bachmann, over the last several years). On the other hand, he promised to be the straight-forward, honest candidate and to speak the truth to the voters. Yet, given the opportunity to criticize his opponents, he’s already backing away from his most interesting and provocative statements (see “Obamneycare” from Sunday).
Having only been “politically conscious” for the last 4 Presidential elections, I don’t have a ton of history behind my observations. Yet, I see Republican candidates making some classic mistakes, not trusting voters (especially moderate voters to show up), and thinking that attacking Obama is the best strategy. Obama might have a controversial reputation with the auto bailouts, Obamacare and a slower than expected economic recovery, but he was incredibly ambitious, consistent and active. In the end, the voters seem to always trend toward the candidate that most easily articulates his or her case for why they should be President and what can be expected over the next four years. In some cases, voters seem to vote for four predictable years over four unpredictable years even if their policy preferences do not match perfectly (see Bush 2004 and McCain/Palin 2008, emphasis on the Palin). Voters like to know what they are going to get.
Today, it is clear that no Republican has stepped up to articulate why they or the GOP should win in 2012 and as always, President Obama has the power of incumbency on his side. I haven’t seen anything, yet, to convince me that we’re being promised anything other than a soda machine in the cafeteria and a lop-sided election.