Sarah Palin, despite her attempts to become the leader of the hard-line-conservative Tea Party Movement, recently endorsed John McCain for reelection over his opponent, J.D. Hayworth. Mitt Romney, despite similar efforts to attract more Conservatives to his camp, and despite being passed over for the 2012 Vice Presidential nomination by McCain, just did the exact same thing. This has Rush Limbaugh, the king of Conservative media, shaking his head:
“I like Mitt Romney, but I think he’s risking his career over a guy, endorsing McCain, who is so out of step with what’s going on right now. McCain’s always conservative when he’s running for reelection in Arizona. The tea parties have produced a wave of conservatism that have swept Republicans-in-name-only aside. I understand Palin endorsing McCain. She’s got no choice. Loyalty, plus if she doesn’t the media will cream her, “Oh, he’s good enough to be president but you won’t endorse him to be Senator?” And it’s understandable Romney would endorse Brown, but I don’t understand Romney endorsing McCain. I just don’t think it’s going to fly. These endorsements are unnecessary. What is there to gain by this?”
Rush is actually right on Palin – she doesn’t have much choice unless she wants to face a firestorm of criticism for jumping ship against the man who made her what she is today. Yet Romney, despite Rush’s view, may not have much choice either; certainly both potential 2012 candidates have much to gain by supporting McCain.
In the end, it’s about votes – the millions and millions of votes and dozens that McCain won in the 2008 primaries, over which he likely still has significant influence. By all accounts, the 2012 race is exceptionally close right now, with the top three candidates trading the lead back and forth, with each one claiming leads in different states. What will no doubt influence the result heavily is the high percentage of voters, in some cases, who backed candidates who will not be running this season – with McCain at the top of the list.
As we discussed earlier on this site, Sarah Palin is not doing much to take away from Mike Huckabee, and almost nothing at all to take away from Romney. Thus far, most of her support seems to be coming directly out of the McCain camp – that would make a 2012 endorsement critical. Although Palin has a debt of loyalty to McCain, it does not run in the opposite direction, in fact, McCain is free to make whatever kind of statement he wants about her in 2012 – although an endorsement of Romney or another candidate, who he opposed so strongly, would be particularly damaging.
Romney, on the other hand, would greatly benefit from a McCain endorsement. Although already known to be doing well among moderates as well as Conservatives, the McCain nod would permit Romney to unify those voters to the left of him, while focusing more on those to the right – those who are important in early states like Iowa, as well as the numerous straw polls which will be held in the coming months and years.
I’ve always considered the ability to offer projections and insight into ongoing elections one of the most important elements of political commentary. Current events will always be covered by the news media, and most people following political websites are already fairly set on where they stand on the major issues – for all the attention they get, websites specializing in political debate are often little more than echo boxes for one side or the other. Not everyone, however, has the time or analytical skills to put together accurate projections. So, from now until the results actually start coming in, you can expect occasional looks at how the election is shaping up.
Before I reveal the actual analysis and explanation, I must offer some caution: there is very little hard evidence available to us at this time, and most of what is available has to be taken, for various reasons, with a considerable grain of salt. Although I will not hide the fact that I have a history of making good calls about how things will unfold, predicting the results of a multi-month election still more than 18 months away is difficult business. These projections may and most likely will change as time goes on.
In case you haven’t been following the situation in Europe, you might want to start paying attention. Greece is in crisis. Although we are generally consumed by our own economic problems, those in Greece are far worse. Like the rest of the world, virtually all of Europe is suffering through the same recession that we are, with many places facing very similar symptoms – such as a real estate crash. In any event, Greece is no longer able to pay its bills; although partially out of the control of the Greek Government, the deficits have nonetheless run afoul of Eurozone regulations. And while Greece will survive this crisis one way or the other, the Euro may not.
The common currency was introduced a decade ago as a way to foster even better economic relationships across the continent and move it further towards a European Superstate which many dubbed the “United States of Europe” – a new global superpower with the potential to surpass the USA as the globe’s most important economy. The problem, however, was the economic unification of strong and shaky economies alike with only minimal political unification. Despite recent treaties and the existence of a “European Government”, the fact remains that England, France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Greece, and all the other Euro nations are governed largely independently – a fact which isn’t going to change anytime soon.
So, in the end, you are left with different countries, different economic policies, all trying to operate under a currency they have limited influence on. Perhaps the best example I found to explain why this is so problematic is one I cannot track down again, so I’ll have to describe it to the best of my memory:
Think about the 50 US states, all of which operate under the US dollar, as independent nations, without shared tax revenue or a common federal government. Now think about the terrible condition of some state economies like Michigan, Florida, or California. Thats about the picture Europe has right now. But unlike in the United States, where the federal government or other states could step in to fill the gaps when crisis hits, Greece is largely on its own. Worse, it cannot devalue its currency or take other actions which are generally used in times of economic crisis to right the ship.
In other words, Greece is essentially the economy of a state with the government of a nation. None of the options now are attractive; Greece could be ejected from the EU or the Eurozone, Greece could be bailed out by the other nations, Greece could give up control of its own economic and fiscal policies, or Greece could be allowed to fail as its doing. In any case, the economic power of the Euro decreases substantially.
There is now a broad consensus that the Euro as a continent-wide currency is dead: that, at best, it will become restricted to stronger economies like France and Germany, and, at worst, may be abolished.
Its February in the American political scene: which means its time for the Conservative Political Action Conference, better known as CPAC. Its been around since the days of Reagan, and generally serves as a kind of yearly national convention where rising stars begin to shine, and where we get a fairly good look at how the next Presidential election is shaping up. Not so this year. Unfortunately, the cultish by tiny segment of the party which falls into the Ron Paul camp has managed to infiltrate the sacred ground that was once place for only serious discussion. After three years of wins by Mitt Romney, and decades of respect as a moderately reliable indicator of how the grassroots were falling, this conference has, essentially, been rendered useless.
The results were about 30% for Paul, 22% for Romney, 7% for Palin, with the others in similar single-digit positions. Clearly, it’s not accurate, but that is perhaps just as worrying as if it were. At this time in a Presidential election cycle, there is only minimal evidence available to help political watchers determine where the race is headed. For a variety of reasons, nationwide polls are unreliable, and only a few polls have been taken of the early states. It’s unlikely either situation will improve prior to next january, when candidates begin to declare their intentions. That forces the rest of us to try to predict the outcome of the race on the basis of other criteria: particularly fundraising, and straw polling. Among these, CPAC has historically been one of the most reliable indicators by attracting an audience generally representative of the base of the party, and allowing them to select their favored candidate.
As for exactly why this happened, well, there are likely a few reasons. Obviously, the Ron Paul cult showed up in force – a sad, true, but ultimately meaningless phenomenon as Paul (well into his seventies) is showing his age and has even conceded he is highly unlikely to run again. There may also have been other factors – neither Sarah Palin nor Mike Huckabee showed up, a fact which likely left many supporters of the “big 3” too apathetic to vote, either believing they had no hope of winning, or that a win was guaranteed.
In any event, and despite the meaningless nature of the results, this leaves anyone concerned about 2012 without much to go on. The SRLC (Southern Republican Leadership Conference) might normally have taken the place of CPAC as a reliable indicator, yet that event in New Orleans in April will similarly be short a top contender as Mitt Romney will be halfway through his book tour, and seems unlikely to attend.
Republicans may very well be stuck waiting until early next year for serious insight into the 2012 election.
Slowly but surely, laws restricting participation in our political system are being struck down. For decades, politicians from both sides of the aisle have come together to restrict the influence of money in our political process, specifically in the form of contribution limits for individuals and a blanket ban on political donations or advocacy from the general funds of unions of corporations. Intentions varied, of course, with some supporters honestly believing that a political process involving less “green” would benefit the American Public, while others simply hoped to silence the richest advocates of the other side to gain an edge for themselves.
Two days ago, the Supreme Court struck down the blanket ban on unions and corporations, surprisingly (or maybe not), attracting criticism from both sides of the divide; Republicans fearing unions will now be left to invest untold sums on liberal causes, Democrats afraid corporations will throw millions into trampling workers rights and environmental standards, and populist-wannabes from both sides whacking away at the ever-available “lobbyist” piñata. All sides are well advised to take a breath and realize that this disaster is not the doomsday scenario many have proclaimed it as. To prove it, we first need to discard a few notions that seem to exist among the doomsayers.
Most easily discarded is the notion that these restrictions have somehow kept unions or corporations out of our political process – they haven’t. Both are still active in the political process, even if their efforts have been forced underground to some extent. Unions still endorse candidates, still direct members to campaign, and still support a variety of political causes through decades of connections to Democratic officials. Corporations, similarly, have connections, funds, etc that allow them to influence our Democratic system.
Next comes the concern that this would somehow upset the balance of power that we have in Washington, with the two parties being relatively equal over time. Although this ruling has the potential to increase the amount of money in the political system, it doesn’t do much to destroy the balance. Unions and Corporations are relatively equal in their resources for political action (corporations have more money, but only a small amount is actually available for such purposes). The result might be more political material in sight of American voters, but probably not an overwhelming advantage for one side or the other.
Lastly, there is the concern that union presidents and CEOs will direct millions from their general funds to pet political causes, regardless of what members or shareholders want or believe. The false belief here is that either position is somehow immune to any potential reaction from others. This is false. In general, funds will be used to support causes which directly benefit each group: where the responsible party will be able to show a return on the investment, and where unions and corporations already direct most of their political involvement.
If the only result is going to be a more open and involved debate over issues of economic regulation, trade, and other things with broad ramifications for the United States, then this is a ruling we should all be content with.
Imagine your best candidate still losing to the opposition party by at least 5%, then dropping out and leaving the race to a host of mid-level and unknown politicians. That’s exactly the situation for the Michigan Democratic Party, which faces the difficult prospect of holding the Governorship after eight years of the unpopular Jennifer Granholm, scandals which have plagued local Democratic families such as the Kilpatricks and Conyers, and an unimpressive year for Democratic President Barack Obama. Lt. Governor John Cherry had been expected to win the Democratic nomination, and was likely the strongest candidate available to Michigan Democrats. Cherry however, dropped out of the race earlier this month after polls continued to show him with at least a five point deficit against a Republican opponent, more often and not, the deficit was greater than 10%.
That move leaves the Michigan Democratic party without a leader in 2010, with only a handful of potential candidates showing even minimal interest in running. State Speaker Andy Dillon is now the frontrunner, yet he will need considerable resources to overcome a recognition gap against better-known Republican Candidates like Rep. Peter Hoekstra and Attorney General Mike Cox – resources Dillon may have a difficult time finding, as even the more popular Cherry cited a lack of money as a driving factor behind his decision to drop out.
Democrats were already facing a tough race, with much of the same anger with national politicians being directed at leaders in Lansing; Michigan has faced high unemployment and budget deficits for years – so bad is the crisis that the state was forced to break its “promise” to high school graduates to provide up to $4,000 in college assistance based on tests already taken. With the onset of the 2007 financial crisis and recession, Michigan took another bad hit and voters, fairly or not, appear to be blaming the incumbent Democrats for the mess.
Of course the nine months between now and election day are a lifetime in politics, yet with recent developments in New Jersey, Virginia, and even Massachusetts, its becoming very clear that it will take incredible good fortune for the Democrats to hold the Governorship this November.
As Republicans finally begin the process of getting over their political hangover from the 2008 election, the talk is slowly and inevitably turning to the next Presidential cycle. Although 2010 will offer a major opportunity to win a large number of seats in both the House and Senate, those races are largely local. That means the eyes of the major politicos have already shifted to the 2012 roster of Republican candidates. Unfortunately, a phenomenon is developing where far too many are trying to place what we might consider our bench players in the starting line up. Just today, Bill Schneider of the National Journal had this to say about the 2012 Republican primaries:
“New faces are exactly what the Republican Party needs for 2012. But will the party embrace them?
Democrats often go for new faces when they choose presidential nominees: Think Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. Republicans usually nominate candidates who have run before: Think Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain…
What Republicans need in 2012 is a conservative version of Obama.”
Its talk like this that has led to some of the most absurd speculation: Bob McDonnell (R-VA, who was just sworn in as Governor); Bobby Jindal (a likable, yet still inexperienced Gov. of Louisiana who will need to seek re-election next year); Scott Brown (who has yet to be sworn in as Ted Kennedy’s replacement); even Marco Rubio, who has yet to win the primary in the 2010 Florida Senate contest, has been pitched as a candidate on the national level. The logic, of course, is exactly what Schneider suggests: that we must find a “Conservative Obama” – presumably, a young, attractive, minority candidate who could theoretically excite a segment of the population usually more reserved about politics.
Yet there are several dangers to selecting such a young nominee. The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that voters will be less inclined to vote for an Obama-like candidate if they are no longer quite as impressed with the man himself. Youth is less appealing when it is a synonym for inexperience. Many of the problems which have dogged Obama over the past year spawn from the mistakes of an amateur politician, and I’d be willing to hazard a guess that many voters know that. Equally dangerous is the prospect of, well, depleting your prospects in a gamble to avoid using older, yet more seasoned, politicians. This is, in some sense, what happened in 2008 with Sarah Palin – although she may have had enormous potential in future races, unripe fruit does not go back on the vine, and Mrs. Palin is now struggling to gain even broad support among GOP voters, many of whom still view her as too inexperienced to hold national office. Of course, there is often little hope for a future in politics for defeated Presidential candidates, except perhaps for the first and second runners up in the Presidential primary.
All advice taken, the message for Republicans is simple: slow down, take a breath, and use the deep roster of highly experienced candidates at your disposal while allowing newcomers to gain experience in what remains a very challenging field.