Juen 20, 2012


The 2008 presidential election was about "change." The 2012 presidential election is about blame, failure, collapsing bases and the avoidance of humiliation.

Can we still plausibly blame the "failed economic policies" of the Bush Administration for the country's seemingly intractable economic doldrums? Or do we blame the "failed economic policies" of the Obama Administration, reliant on stimulus and spending, for failing to rectify the "failed economic policies" of his predecessor?

With the election slightly more than four months away, this much is clear: Barack Obama will do and say whatever it takes to win. He is impelled by the "humiliation factor" -- if he loses re-election he will be deemed a "failure" as president, consigned to the dustbin of history with other such one-term rejectees as John Adams, John Quincy Adams, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. That is not the company that Obama wants to keep.

To be a credible and historically sanctioned "success" as president, an incumbent must at least win a second term. If the electorate rejects you, so, too, will historians. None of the 43 men who have served as president are rated great, near great or even good if they failed to get re-elected. A loss signifies ineptitude and incompetence.

Contrary to the presumptions and suppositions of the national media, Obama's defeat is not only possible, but increasingly probable. The Obama campaign is an exercise in confusion and futility.

First, he has not yet demonized Mitt Romney, and he may have lost his opportunity. A non-incumbent's campaign for the presidency evolves through several stages. There is the introduction. Then the fund-raising: Obama will raise close to $1 billion for the 2012 campaign, and Romney will raise only slightly less. Then the media begin digging, unearthing negative tidbits. Then the polling: if the aspirant is not at or near the front of the pack, money evaporates. Then the primaries: if you don't win where expected or finish a close second elsewhere, money dries up. Then comes the negativity: the opposition's attacks on character, competence and past performance.

Obama ran that gauntlet in 2008, beating Hillary Clinton. In this campaign, Romney was excoriated by his foes for being an out-of-touch rich guy, a job outsourcer, a flip-flopper, the architect of Massachusetts' health-care law and a sometime conservative who was vague on the issues. He was not "committed" to the Republican agenda and was untrustworthy, they said.

After stumbling to unimpressive primary victories over a field that included such lightweights as Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, the media opined that Romney would be a flawed and tarnished contender, unable to unite the Republican base and unable to appeal to non-conservative independents. Given a choice between Obama and Romney, pundits concluded, America would stick with the president. But it hasn't evolved that way.

The 2012 contest is now, and will continue to be, a "referendum" on Obama. In 2008 it was a "choice" between Obama and "change" from the Bush regime and John McCain and four more years of Bush Republicanism. The standard was: Who is the "best" choice? This year it's quite different: keep Obama or get rid of Obama. Romney is simply a means to that end. The 2012 standard: Is Romney an acceptable alternative? His task is to avoid any word or act which would render him unacceptable.

Romney has run a stellar campaign, devoid of mistakes and stupidities. Having run in 2008 and lost the nomination, Romney's handlers understand the fundamentals of candidate progression. Step one is to be serious, articulate and credible. Have a background in some elective office. Don't have any distractions, like a messy divorce, unpaid taxes, a draft deferment or zany ideas. In short, don't be an object of ridicule on late-night TV. That earns a threshold level of public tolerability and initial acceptability.

Step two is to develop a likeability quotient, which does not mean the lovability level evidenced in Obama's 2008 campaign. Are voters comfortable with Romney in the White House for four years? Step Three is the competence factor. Is Romney a serious, thoughtful and qualified alternative? Romney is now at Step Four -- he's viewed as presidential material.

Second, Obama has yet to unsheathe his theme: Will it be "getting better"? Or "better than Bush"? Or "better than before"? Or "Give me four more years and I'll fix everything"? Or "I'm really trying but it's Bush's fault"? The point is: Despite $6 trillion more in debt and vast stimulus spending, the economy is only marginally better than it was under Bush.

Obama, incredibly, doesn't have a "fix-it" plan. He doesn't boast about his successes because he has none, he doesn't promise that his plans are working because they aren't, and he doesn't promise any new or different approach in a second term because that would confess that his 2009-12 policies have been egregiously misguided and wrong.

The latest polls show that roughly 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the "wrong track," and that Obama's approve/disapprove rating hovers around 48/48 percent. That's dangerous territory.

To get re-elected, Obama must either give voters a reason for a second term or, failing that, give them a reason not to replace him with Romney. In 2004, Bush, coming off his 9/11 response and with a booming economy, was re-elected with 50.7 percent of the vote. In 1996, Bill Clinton, with a booming economy and a flawed Republican nominee in Bob Dole, was re-elected with 49.2 percent of the vote. In 1984, Ronald Reagan, having engineered an economic recovery after the Carter debacle, was re-elected with 58.8 percent of the vote. In 1972, despite economic doldrums, Richard Nixon was re-elected with 60.1 percent of the vote after demonizing Democrat George McGovern as a liberal wacko. In 1956, amidst Cold War tensions, Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected with 57.4 percent of the vote.

Obama does not have an indisputable, universally acclaimed record of accomplishment. He's like Nixon in 1972. He can win only if he goes negative on Romney. Unfortunately for Obama, Romney is not McGovern.

Third, how much of the 2008 Obama vote has hemorrhaged? How many fewer votes will he get in 2012?

In 2008 Obama got 69,498,215 votes in a turnout of 129,446,455 and won 27 states and the District of Columbia, getting 364 electoral votes. He got 10,470,106 more votes than Democrat John Kerry got in 2004 (in a turnout of 121,068,715) and 18,502,099 more votes than Al Gore got in 2000 (in a turnout of 101,454,341). Turnout increased by nearly 28 million, or 27.7 percent, from 2000 to 2008. This election will not be a replay of 2008; instead, it will resemble 2004, and the "Ten Percent-and-Out Rule" will apply, meaning that if Obama's 2012 vote is 10 percent less than it was in 2008, in the realm of 63 million, he will lose.

Here's a historical perspective:

1912: Republican Taft, who was elected in 1908 with 7,662,258 votes, got only 3,486,333 in 1912, a 54 percent drop-off. But that was because his predecessor, Republican Teddy Roosevelt, ran as a Progressive Party candidate. Their joint vote was 7,605,540, and Democratic winner Woodrow Wilson's total of 6,293,152 votes was less than the 6,406,801 that 1908 loser William Jennings Bryan got.

1932: Doomed by the Great Depression, Hoover had no bold answers or optimistic ideas. His 1928 vote of 21,411,911 plunged to 15,758,397, a 26 percent drop-off. Voters blamed Hoover for the horrific economy. Democrat Franklin Roosevelt won with 57 percent of the vote.

1980: Carter ran in 1976 as the anti-Watergate "change" candidate, promising openness and transparency. He delivered chaos and incompetence. His 1976 vote of 40,830,763 collapsed to 35,483,820 in 1980, a 13 percent drop-off. Reagan, asking voters "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?", combined with the Iranian hostage crisis, won a solid 50.7 percent of the vote, to 41 percent for Carter and 6.6 percent for John Anderson.

1992: The Reagan legacy got Bush elected in 1988 with 48,881,011 votes, which was less than Reagan's 54,450,603 in 1984. Despite the Gulf War victory, the economy tanked and Bush lost to Clinton, getting 39,102,282 votes, a drop-off of 20 percent. Clinton's vote of 44,908,233 was only slightly more than the total of 41,825,350 that loser Mike Dukakis got in 1988, but Ross Perot got 19,721,433 votes (18.9 percent).

Successful presidents have a "Ten Percent-Plus" uptick.  Eisenhower's 1952 vote of 33,936,137 spiked to 35,585,247 in 1956. Nixon's 1968 vote of 31,785,148 grew to 47,170,179 in 1972. Reagan's 1980 vote of 43,901,812 boomed to 54,450,603 in 1984. Clinton's 1992 vote of 44,908,233 climbed to 47,402,357 in 1996. Bush's 50,456,169 in 2000 increased to 62,040,608 in 2004.

Bush got 62,040,606 votes in 2004, and McCain got 59,948,240 votes in 2008. Romney's 2012 base is 63 million votes, equal to the likely Obama base. Obama won the 2008 electoral vote by 364-174. A total of 270 electoral votes are needed for election, so if Obama loses electoral votes in states he won in 2008, such as Ohio (18), North Carolina (15), Michigan (16), Virginia (13), Florida (29), Wisconsin (10) and Pennsylvania (20), he's the ex-president. Obama states such as Nevada, New Hampshire, Colorado, New Mexico and Minnesota also could flip.

My early prediction: Obama will get a huge black vote, but younger voters are unmotivated. Obama's re-election is, at best, a 50/50 proposition.