Pray for Mittens

As this enormous yawn that was September draws to a close—anybody catch that God-awful season premiere of The Office?—it has become nearly impossible to deny the teabaggers are on the cusp on something big in the November elections. Despite their public protestations to the opposite effect, I am quite certain the apparatchiks in the White House (i.e. the ones that haven’t already saluted the president before pole-vaulting to freedom), the courtiers in the speaker’s office, and the logo designers at the Democratic National Committee have already procured their spirits and Bicycle playing cards for the long night that awaits them on November 2.

For those of us who inhabit the out crowd—they have so many names: we’re everything but children of God—we must continue to lead the way whether the Democratic establishment appreciates it or not. In terms of electoral politics, 2010 is a lost cause and 2012 is the most relevant consideration—specifically the two people most likely to challenge our hopefully post-Obama nominee: Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.

Let’s do Sarahcuda first. While I was never convinced Sarah Palin hurt John McCain’s electoral prospects in the final analysis, I do believe the erratic, poorly-considered decision spoke to McCain’s lack of judgment which is an entirely different matter. (Barack Obama was always most fortunate in the opponents he faced.) Having established that, I have always maintained that Sarah Palin is essentially Barack Obama without the benefit of an Ivy League pedigree, a reasonably high IQ, and more talented ghostwriters. They possess the same sort of charisma—markedly different from recent smooth operators like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. These were self-effacing politicians who were sharp on their feet and could genuinely make you crack up. Dick Morris says he faced a recurring challenge in that Bubba was far more impressive extemporaneously than on the script. In those tumultuous 80s, Reagan’s foremost task was to spout killer witticisms in East Room press conferences while his minions ran wild. While W. had the ridiculous bit of business on the deck of that aircraft carrier, he also had the Bullhorn Speech under his Texas belt. Whatever one’s opinion of his miserable policies, incompetence, and larger stupidity, the Bullhorn Speech was an iconic moment in presidential rhetoric.  

Sarah Palin and Barack Obama are charismatic only because of the attractive exuberance they possess. Their cults of personality are products of modern identity politics. These are tabula rasas whose appeal transcend the normal workings of Politics for the cultural niches they represent. She is the hot, fecund Christian warrior woman; he the postracial black man on a fascinating journey of self-discovery.

As she stood beside colossal loser McCain and husband Todd on Election Night ’08, we had every reason to assume the Fargo Tom Eagleton would slink back into her more suitable role of ruling “twelve people and a Polar bear” (Imus). Eight months later she made the shock Fourth of July decision to hand the keys to the Governor’s Mansion to her lieutenant, Sean Parnell. Her breathless resignation “speech” was difficult for even some supporters to decipher.

Reading James Fallows’ “The Passionless Presidency,” which appeared in the May 1979 issue of The Atlantic, in December 2008 before his inauguration convinced me the hopeful president-elect was essentially the second coming of Jimmy Carter. Chocolate Carter, if you will. Americans familiar with the tale know that, absent a successful primary challenge, a Reagan must emerge. I was reminded of this after the Palin resignation. I suspected she knew what I knew which explained why she quit Alaska. The reason her speech was so terrible had nothing to do with her mental instability. It was because: a) She didn’t have the luxury of Matt Scully, who wrote her gangbusters convention address in St. Paul; and b) She couldn’t candidly admit her true motives. She stepped down because she wanted to be president of the United States in 2012. In order to accomplish this, she had earn that big-time paper so that she could afford all the Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus her Caribou Barbie heart desired without charging it to the Republican National Committee. Her pursuit of the Reagan path to the White House necessitated storming the Lower 48 and endorsing candidates for the 2010 midterms. Supervision of her campaign books required more attention than the mundane, but still demanding, duties of the governorship permitted.

Sarah is now America’s most influential Republican politician. Politically, she has proven herself. Even her fiercest critics in the Republican tent must tread lightly. (Exploiting Sarah’s stupidity will smack of elitism and will be received precisely the same way Bill Clinton’s perceived race-baiting was in the 2008 primaries.) Her next task is to persuade the broad center she possesses a base level of competence necessary to carry out the duties of the modern American president: daily speechifying from behind the Blue Goose; delegating authority; and appearing firmly in command during photographed Cabinet and Situation room meetings.

Charging political opponents with extremism is a doomed tactic when the nation is rocked with an unshakeable aura of decline. I wish it were impossible for candidates like Gov. Palin to gain high office, but it is imminently possible. As they nervously observed the 1980 Republican primary contests, the Carter White House reportedly rejoiced as Ronald Reagan inched closer and closer to the GOP nod. Miserable as his record was, Carter and Reagan ran neck-and-neck until after the debate. That’s an incredible stretch in a presidential campaign. End result: “I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear…”

I believe a successful primary challenge to President Obama is critical and possible. If we’re able to pull this off, the best possible outcome for us in the GOP primaries would be the nomination of the unprincipled, uncharismatic, patrician politician called Mitt Romney.

In one of my favorite moments on The West Wing, Jed Bartlet is confronted by the retiring Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crouch. Justice Crouch is deeply disappointed by President Bartlet’s apparent decision to nominate a moderate jurist over a Latino firebrand, Crouch’s preferred choice. Mr. Crouch cuts the president down to size with this withering admonition: “American voters like guts. And Republicans have got them. In three years, one of them is gonna beat you.” (Spoiler alert: Bartlet does the right thing.)

Mitt Romney is one of the few Republicans in the country for whom this isn’t true. Mittens makes Sen. John Kerry look like Lt. John Kerry.  

A Romney nomination would represent a unilateral disarmament—particularly if the Democratic nominee is someone other than the president to whom blame has been assigned. Gov. Romney would helpfully neutralize the otherwise galvanizing issue of ObamaCare in a general election contest. In times of economic uncertainty, the American people are predictably susceptible to right-wing cultural populism. To this extent Romney is a self-righteous hypocrite with an easily verifiable past as a social liberal. Unlike his bosom buddy Scott Brown—who drives a truck!—Mittens can hardly even fake his way as a bonafide cultural warrior. This is crucial. Unless the economy improves appreciably, the 2012 contest will be an epic struggle between cultural populism and economic populism. For his part Mitt Romney hasn’t a leg to stand on either way. He is the unalloyed embodiment of both a manipulative politician and a Wall Street oligarch.

Mitt Romney may be remembered as one of the most ambitious and qualified men never to be president. President Palin will simply be the latest in a long line of awful reactionaries we were certain could never—ever!—be president.

Tags: Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, 2012 election, cultural populism, Ronald Reagan, Economic populism (all tags)

Comments

12 Comments

Pray for Sarah

First off, let's get this out of the way: Mitt Romney will not win the GOP nomination; or, if he does, he will be their strongest candidate.

You made a pretty good case for why Mitt isn't exactly a very strong candidate, but those reasons are much, much, stronger evidence for why he would never win the GOP nomination. The GOP base, aka, the Tea Party, will likely choose the next candidate, and there's no way they will choose Romney. Just take "ObamaCare" (by the way, using right-wing framing never helps make your case among Dems). Believe it or not (I'm guessing you choose 'not'), most Americans either support the health care bill or wish it was more progressive. This is not an issue that the GOP will win the 2012 election on. This is much more likely to be an issue in the Republican primaries.

If Romney somehow emerges the victor, it will mean that he won despite all of his weaknesses. He will have found a way to win over the Republican base, and in doing so, he will have to have emerged a strong candidate. I find this a very, very, unlikely scenario, but if it does happen, Romney is not who I would choose to face.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, will be a gift to the Democrats, even if we renominate satan himself. 

While I was never convinced Sarah Palin hurt John McCain’s electoral prospects in the final analysis

This says it all. Just like you never thought Obama would win (or at least I think you said that in your last post) and he did, by a big margin. Your analysis of Sarah Palin is completely off. 

I have always maintained that Sarah Palin is essentially Barack Obama without the benefit of an Ivy League pedigree, a reasonably high IQ, and more talented ghostwriters.

This makes sense. Sarah Palin is Barack Obama except for the incredibly important and consequential differences. Is this actually a serious argument? Leave aside their very different political beliefs and worldview, their gender, race, background, etc., the fact that one is very intelligent and received a good education (by his own merits, this isn't GWB we're talking about), is not enough of a distinguishing factor that you can still conclude that they are essentially the same? You identified one singular similarity- charisma- and that is enough for them to be the same person?

Sarah Palin and Barack Obama are charismatic only because of the attractive exuberance they possess. Their cults of personalities are products of modern identity politics. These are tabula rasas whose appeal transcends the normal workings of Politics for the cultural niches they represent. She is the hot, fecund Christian warrior woman; he the postracial black man on a fascinating journey of self-discovery.

I'm sorry, but throwing out flowery phrases like "attractive exuberance" is not enough to cover the fact that you are saying exactly nothing. What they both have is charisma, a certain charm or magnetism, that drives people to listen to them. You can't break down 'charisma' and make some argument that their charisma isn't real or something. Charisma is the reason why this "hot, fecund Christian warrior woman" is famous and the other one's are not. Charisma is also (part) of the reason why Obama is the "postracial black man on a fascinating journey of self-discovery" who became famous. Filling a certain niche doesn't give someone charisma.

Anyway, putting all that aside, Sarah Palin is an extremely influence figure in Republican politics. But that's where it stops. She has never cast her spell on the rest of the country, and there's just no reason to believe she could. Republicans have never really care so much for intelligent, logical politicians as much as they have gravitated toward firebrand, cultural warriors like Palin. She stands for positions and policies that are not popular in this country, even in this climate.

Sarah Palin, if she decides to run, may very well be the GOP nominee. But she will be no different than she was in 2008. Maybe a little more polished, maybe a little more knowledgeable on her pet issues. But she will be destroyed in a debate by Obama. Her campaign will internally struggle with the same issues it did in 2008. She will never tailor her beliefs to the mainstream. And she will continue to mouth off about issues she has no grasp on, only furthering the view most have of her that she is unqualified for high office.

The electorate has not changed significantly since 2008. Voters are pissed at Democrats because they haven't seen the results they wanted. On certain issues, they may be willing to look for a new idea. But they aren't going to vote for a woman who they find wholly unfit to be president of the united states.

by BlueGAinDC 2010-09-25 05:31PM | 0 recs
RE: Pray for Sarah

First off, let's get this out of the way: Mitt Romney will not win the GOP nomination; or, if he does, he will be their strongest candidate.

You made a pretty good case for why Mitt isn't exactly a very strong candidate, but those reasons are much, much, stronger evidence for why he would never win the GOP nomination. The GOP base, aka, the Tea Party, will likely choose the next candidate, and there's no way they will choose Romney. Just take "ObamaCare" (by the way, using right-wing framing never helps make your case among Dems). Believe it or not (I'm guessing you choose 'not'), most Americans either support the health care bill or wish it was more progressive. This is not an issue that the GOP will win the 2012 election on. This is much more likely to be an issue in the Republican primaries.

If Romney somehow emerges the victor, it will mean that he won despite all of his weaknesses. He will have found a way to win over the Republican base, and in doing so, he will have to have emerged a strong candidate. I find this a very, very, unlikely scenario, but if it does happen, Romney is not who I would choose to face.

ObamaCare remains unpopular with the American people. This is why no Democrats are running on the issue. I don’t even know how you could make such a counterfactual assertion. For the record, I belonged to the Kill the Bill crowd. I thought its binding element—the individual mandate—would be politically toxic. I laughed loud and often at the notion that the bill would automatically grow more popular before the midterm because the American people would be so taken with an august signing ceremony (which is what Bill Clinton seemed to suggest).

The only reason I continue to give Mitt Romney the time of day is because he has a whole slew of 2010 primary races to drawn upon for teachable moments. He’s not going to give up his lifelong ambition and go quietly in the night. He will be well-funded and desperate as he knows this is last shot at the White House. I wouldn’t count him out just yet.

This says it all. Just like you never thought Obama would win (or at least I think you said that in your last post) and he did, by a big margin. Your analysis of Sarah Palin is completely off. 

This makes sense. Sarah Palin is Barack Obama except for the incredibly important and consequential differences. Is this actually a serious argument? Leave aside their very different political beliefs and worldview, their gender, race, background, etc., the fact that one is very intelligent and received a good education (by his own merits, this isn't GWB we're talking about), is not enough of a distinguishing factor that you can still conclude that they are essentially the same? You identified one singular similarity- charisma- and that is enough for them to be the same person?

What I previously said was that Shelby Steele’s book convinced me Obama couldn’t win the general election in the heat of the primary campaign. Once he secured the nomination, the skepticism went away. I’ve been prescient about everything else since.

As far as Obama and Sarah’s similarities, I don’t expect you to understand what I mean by this. I don’t think Obama’s substantive. I think he’s a slick lawyer who reads the teleprompter well. You disagree and I don’t expect you to cross that chasm anytime soon, if ever. To be sure, I don’t think most politicians are particularly bright people. The only reason why most of them sound halfway knowledgeable is because they spend almost every waking moment surrounded by chattering staffers, policy papers, and talking points. Bill Clinton is a rare exception.

Obviously, Obama and Palin’s disparate gender, race, and political views have nothing to do with it. I likened Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Reagan in terms of their charisma without noting the self-evident point that their politics are mostly different. I didn’t think that needed to be spelled out exactly.

Anyway, putting all that aside, Sarah Palin is an extremely influence figure in Republican politics. But that's where it stops. She has never cast her spell on the rest of the country, and there's just no reason to believe she could. Republicans have never really care so much for intelligent, logical politicians as much as they have gravitated toward firebrand, cultural warriors like Palin. She stands for positions and policies that are not popular in this country, even in this climate.

Sarah Palin, if she decides to run, may very well be the GOP nominee. But she will be no different than she was in 2008. Maybe a little more polished, maybe a little more knowledgeable on her pet issues. But she will be destroyed in a debate by Obama. Her campaign will internally struggle with the same issues it did in 2008. She will never tailor her beliefs to the mainstream. And she will continue to mouth off about issues she has no grasp on, only furthering the view most have of her that she is unqualified for high office.

The electorate has not changed significantly since 2008. Voters are pissed at Democrats because they haven't seen the results they wanted. On certain issues, they may be willing to look for a new idea. But they aren't going to vote for a woman who they find wholly unfit to be president of the united states.

We shall see. The only thing I would note is that all of this could have been said about Ronald Reagan. Every last bit. In the final analysis, it didn’t matter much because the election turned on the policies of President Carter.

by Jack Landsman 2010-09-25 06:04PM | 0 recs
Palin

Some thoughts:

1.  Palin has high unfavorables.  She isn't leading in any GOP priamry polls.  The nightmare scenario of her winning a debate near the end of the 2012 campaign will happen only if Obama is renominated. 

2.  The most dangerous GOP candidate is Mike Huckabee, as he could fuse the the cultural and economic populism.  The latest PPP poll had him ahead of Obama, with all the others trailing.  He'd pull a lot of Democrats away (esp. in PA and the Midwest).

3.  If Obama is to be primaried, who could run on an economically populist and culurally liberal platform?  And he/she needs to really take the cultural issue right to Palin or Huckabee.  I don't think Romney will be the GOP nominee.

by esconded 2010-09-25 05:40PM | 0 recs
RE: Palin

1. None of the eventually triumpant Tea Party primary contenders led in the polls at this point in the races. Once the campaign begins in earnest, then you will see a shift.

2. I have a feeling Mike Huckabee is not going to be president of the United States. I'll continue to watch him, but I can't see it. Forget establishment types--there are a lot of grassroots conservatives that hate him.

3. I don't think there's any Democrat who can mimic cultural populism (of the Glenn Beck variety, not a pro-life position here or a NRA endorsement there), nor should we want them to. I think a Democratic nominee who doesn't carry any cultural elitist baggage and articulates an economic populist message could go along way to diffuse the cultural populism which is ultimately a cover for either: a) corporate Republicanism, i.e. Bush; or b) honest-to-God libertarian economics. Both are ways to flay the American people alive in an economic depression.

by Jack Landsman 2010-09-25 06:13PM | 0 recs
RE: Palin

I think the strongest GOP candidates are Mitch Daniels and John Thune.  It's a matter of whether they can get their acts together in two years or not.  Obama did it, but there ain't too many Obamas in this world.  I think Romney would have a hard time in a gloves-off national campaign.  There are just too many versions of himself to play against besides the fact that he looks like something you would have to re-boot occasionally.  And then there's the whole creepy Mormon thing.  I just can't see Huckabee going national.  Foremost, the GOP big-business base just wouldn't have any of it.  Second, he strikes me as someone whose views aren't terribly well-developed and if he developed them any further he'd immediately see that what he believes just doesn't make any sense.  I think this would come across in a national forum.

Overall, Obama's fate in 2012 is going to rest with the unemployment rate more than anyone the GOP can nominate.  If we're looking at 9% UE in 2012, Sarah Palin could well be our next President.  If UE is 7 %, I think Obama has a good shot.  If it is <7 %, I think he's a lock.

by the mollusk 2010-09-27 10:44AM | 0 recs
RE: Palin

As far as I can see (fwiw), the three strongest contenders are the ones you mentioned--Daniels and Thune--in addition to Generalissimo Petraeus. I wanted to focus on the two candidates who were the most likely to emerge victorious; not necessarily the most qualified, or electable, or what have you. As credible as they are on the paper, John Thune and Mitch Daniels look like vice presidential material standing next to heavyweight brands like Romney Inc. and the Sarahcuda. If the two frontrunners were to implode then people like Daniels and Thune would be there to collect the pieces. Unlike Democrats in 2008, Republicans have got a pretty solid second-tier bench to select from.

Obama's pretty much doomed I believe. I can't see any substantive policy emerging from the political paralysis of 2011. If I'm wrong and Congressional Republicans are able to produce something well-received by the voting public, they aren't going to sit back and allow Barack Obama to claim an iota of credit. People who think the GOP takeover could redound positively for Obama because of the 1996 example are nuts (well not literally nuts, but you get it). Republicans nominated Bob Dole in '96, for Christ's sake. That election produced the lowest turnout since the 1920s. The conservative moment was utterly dispirited. 2012 is gonna be red-hot.

by Jack Landsman 2010-09-27 12:26PM | 0 recs
RE: Palin

If the Republicans take at least one House of Congress this year (very likely), they would actually have to come up with a few ideas.  What are those ideas going to be?  I mean, sure, they'll extend the Bush-era Tax Cuts.  And Obama, I'm almost certain, will sign them into law.  The deficit will grow, the economy will eventually get back on track and then 2012 comes along and the public will have to see how everybody did.  If the Republicans spend the next two years trying to determine Obama's citizenship or repealing Health Care Reform, they will not be re-elected in 2012.  On the other hand, if they get to work and do some meaningful things, Obama can very easily say "look what happens when we cooperate, why would you want to destroy that now?".  The flip side is that if they do NOT spend the next two years trying to repeal HCR and determine Obama's citizenship, the Tea Party could well run its own candidate in 2012. I also think you're underestimating the Obama factor.  When he gets out and campaigns, he can get younger voters, non-White voters, and disaffected hopey-changey types out to vote.

I think the worst thing that could happen for Obama's Presidency is to have the Democrats control the Senate 51-49 and the House 219-217.  That would make the last two years look like patty-cakes and it would be under the banner of Democratic rule.  In this case, divided government could be a good thing.  The Republicans will have to begin taking some responsibility for the huge mess(es) they created.  If all they do is cut taxes, try to raid Social Security, and go on endless Obama-hunting expeditions, they will not survive the 2012 elections.  Conversely, if they do clean up the messes and the economy gets back on track, that will be a powerful argument to keep Obama in place.

by the mollusk 2010-09-27 12:44PM | 0 recs
RE: Palin

As I understand it, this perspective essentially draws upon the 1996 parallel. I think a suitable one would be 2007-8 environment. Democrats were given a slim majority in the Senate and a decent one in the House, but voters didn't hold them accountable for the Bush economy or the intractable mess in Iraq. And quite frankly, Obama is so weakened, and weak, I'm ambivalent as to whether the inquisitors will pay a political price for investigating him. They can always spin their obvious attempts to bring down the Obama administration in preparation for 2012 as much needed congressional oversight. And Heaven help us if they're able to unearth anything. Obama's citizenship is a moot issue; defunding ObamaCare isn't.

2012: The only way the Tea Party goes rogue is if the Republican establishment nukes Sarah Palin. This talk of an imminent schism in the Republican Party is probably overblown. As far as underestimating Obama, the magic of 2008 cannot be replicated unless Obama significantly improves the economy. Running against the legacy of George W. Bush and dangling the hope of the first black president is a lot more persuasive than begging (otherwise apathetic) voters to carry the first black president to a second term in the midst of stubbornly high unemployment. We're at a relatively early stage in the game and the dam is already cracking. These folk will indeed stay home, sulk, and watch Sarah Palin get elected.

by Jack Landsman 2010-09-27 01:09PM | 0 recs
RE: Palin

First of all, 1996 was well before my political awakening, so I have a hard time comparing.  But your scenario of the establishment nuking Sarah Palin is probably more likely than you're giving credit for.  If Sarah Palin is the nominee, Obama wins in a walk.  You would have a hard time finding a more dedicated liberal base under that scenario.  So either she loses to Daniels, Thune, Mitt, or Huckabee, or the establishment nukes her (or some combination).

Plus you still have the problem that the Republicans and their policies are still what got us into the economic mess.  People are tired of Obama blaming Bush for everything.  But if you have a Congress pushing to re-enact the Bush policies of 2000-2006, that dusts off the argument quite a bit -- "I refuse to return to the policies that got us into this mess in the first place....".

About Obama, I think people overestimate how much his race played into his overall victory.  Sure, it helped get out the black vote - and that can't be taken for granted.  But I think a lot of white folks liked the way he spoke and they sensed that he was sincere, earnest, very smart, and willing to try something different.  Plus Sarah Palin scared the beejeesus out of them.  So when Obama runs again, it won't necessarily be "I'm black, give me another chance!".  It'll be "I inherited a huge mess, I've worked very hard, change takes a long time to manifest itself, we're making great progress, let's do this again."  Again, it'll all come down to the unemployment rate.  I say <7 % and Obama is a two-termer.

by the mollusk 2010-09-27 01:38PM | 0 recs
RE: Palin

Cue the McCarthyism.  This will be the GOP's undoing for 2012, IMHO.

http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/09/darrell_issas_oversight_gameplan.php?ref=fpb

by the mollusk 2010-09-28 12:25PM | 0 recs
Is Palin worse than this?

I believe every single word President Carter wrote about Reagan in his diary.

by Jack Landsman 2010-09-25 06:22PM | 0 recs
RE: Is Palin worse than this?

I liked the link.  It's funny how the tone of the article tries to make Carter look bad, but everything that is said pretty much describes Reagan to a tee.

by the mollusk 2010-09-27 01:40PM | 0 recs

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