What We’ve Learned in the Presidential Campaign So Far
HOBBS, N.M. — You learn something new every day. In driving around the country, I’ve learned that oil companies reserve large numbers of motel rooms in this city and others so that oil rig workers have places to stay. In some cities it’s almost impossible to get a hotel room. You have to carefully plan in advance.
That’s also the story of the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election: we’re learning something new every day. Here’s a partial list of what we’ve learned so far:
Ignore media hype about candidates who’ll enter the race and obliterate all competition. Texas Governor Rick Perry would supposedly enter the race, zoom in the polls and prevent former Massachusetts’ Gov. Mitt Romney from getting the Republican nomination. Perry turned out to be as smart as a Texas pinto bean and will be forever remembered as “Mr. Oops!” The press suggested former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was a shoo-in and that Team Obama feared him but Huntsman should have stayed Ambassador to China. Considered by GOPers a traitor for having served in the Obama administration, Huntsman was patrician and mistakenly assumed that that being reasonable and thoughtful were virtues in today’s Republican Party. He was the perfect Republican Presidential candidate — for the 1980s. No bomb Iran produces could EVER be as big as these two.
Perry and Huntsman joined history’s ranks of Presidential wannabe failures overhyped by the media: Republican John Connally (1980), Democrat Edmund Muskie (1972), Republican Fred Thompson (2008), and Republican Rudy Giuliani (2008). Talking heads and scribes predicted all these guys would bust the town wide open but they couldn’t bust a city block.
Plentiful debates are a double-edged sword. The many Republican debates were criticized by some as hurting the GOP brand. But debates influenced candidates’ poll numbers. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich got a second political lease on life due to solid debate performances. The shockingly ill-prepared Perry deflated due to them. The well-prepared Romney is slowly making his “sale” to the general electorate partially due to them: a Gallup poll now has Romney up 23 points over his closest competitor.
PAC money always works — well, almost. Romney destroyed Gingrich in Iowa with PAC-funded ads. But Gingrich’s PAC funded ads going after Romney for his Bain Capital days sparked Republican backlash.
A politician can get a second chance rebrand but he can ruin his rebrand. Gingrich convinced many Republicans there was a “new” older, wiser, not-as-much-a bomb-thrower Gingrich. Then he destroyed his rebranding by going after Romney with the Bain Capital issue and other verbal attacks. His polls tumbled.
The Republicans could have problems winning the center, independent voters and Hispanic voters. On Monday, some in the debate audience booed when it was noted that Romney’s father was born in Mexico. At a debate in September some booed when a soldier noted he was gay. A week before that Tea Party audience members cheered when Ron Paul talked about someone dying uninsured. Meanwhile, the word “moderate” is used as a contemptuous, defining adjective while candidates such as Romney insisted they were never moderate. Democrats will have fun with video clips of these moments in defining today’s increasingly smaller tent GOP.
Political team Obama is a B team. Forget comparing them to the ace political teams that helped elect FDR, JFK, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the two George Bushes. They defend and react more than define and control.
Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign had a huge impact. In her excellent, must-read book “The Hillary Effect,” Washington pundit and TMV Guest Voice Columnist Taylor Marsh notes that Clinton’s 2008 campaign had ripple effects: Sarah Palin’s becoming Republican John McCain’s running mate, Palin then embracing the Tea Party and helping it oust some GOPers in 2010 to put its own people in Congress, Tea Party influence in Congress and Michele Bachmann seeking the Republican nomination. To many Americans, given the misogynistic ordeal Clinton endured during her 2008 campaign and how she later resurfaced as a superb Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is not a bittersweet case of “could have been” — but “should have been.”
Copyright 2012 Joe Gandelman. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.