Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Obama's grand strategy

According to conventional political logic the President should be worried about his chances of re-election, very worried.

With an official unemployment rate of 9%, a massive deficit and a campaign finance system that is now officially completely broken, Axelrod and the president's other strategists must be nervous.

But there might might yet be a path to victory for the President. Besides having very good grassroots fundraising totals (I shelled out for my apron and beer koozie) and the promise to raise more than $1 billion for his campaign, there might be a few other reasons to be optimistic about the President's chances of securing a second term in the White House.

The path to victory I see relies on one fundamental assumption: voters are sick of the status quo and will vote for whichever candidate will bring change. In short, as with many elections in the past, whoever can run as an "outsider" and can credibly promise to "clean up Washington" and get things done will win.

Factor 1: The Super Committee

The Super Committee that was formed from the ashes of the debt ceiling debacle last summer is finally supposed to be releasing its budget balancing plan. Since the Republicans on this committee have sworn a blood oath to never raise taxes, this committee really doesn't have the capacity to balance the budget. The Republicans know that if they even allow old tax cuts to expire they will be crucified by a base who has been thoroughly convinced that raising taxes for any reason is treasonous.

So what is the likely outcome of the Super Committee's non-attempt to balance the budget? Huge cuts to both entitlements and defense. So who comes out on top when we cut both the military and social programs, the Republicans or the President? Well, since the Republicans have basically already come out in-favor of eliminating the programs that many of our seniors rely on with the Paul Ryan plan, I think President Obama will win this one. What about the defense cuts you ask? I think the liberal base would be excited about the prospect of cutting another $1 trillion over 10 years from the already bloated miliatry budget. And it is going to be hard to call the guy who killed Bin Laden "soft on defense."

So no matter what happens (unless there actually is some sort of compromise) the President will win this round and be able to promise to restore the entitlement program cuts while effectively endorsing the Pentagon cuts by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Factor 2: The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has immense power. From its ability to decide who the winner of elections will be (Bush vs. Gore) to shaping the history of the 20th century's greatest President (when FDR tried to pack the court and then ram through all of his new deal plans) the final fate of any President can be decided by the high court.

This year is no different. By agreeing to hear the challenges to the President's healthcare law, the 5-4 conservative majority has basically signaled their intention to invalidate at least some of the law, likely the insurance mandate.

At first glance this eventuality may seem like a serious set back for the President. But remember my assumption, whoever is the "outsider" will likely win this election. Paradoxically, if the Supreme Court strikes down the healthcare law the President might actually be in a better position. If Obama can convince the American people that he is the man of action and Congress and the Supreme Court are standing in his way, he could even return to the same campaign slogan for 2012 with a slight variation. "We tried, but in the second term, YES WE CAN!" And in the most optimistic scenario, repeal of the Affordable Care Act might actually energize the liberal base and lay the foundation for health CARE reform, instead of the health INSURANCE reform we got in 2009.

Winner? Despite the mainstream media who will undoubtedly spin the decision of an unaccountable and appointed group of wealthy elderly lawyers as a damaging blow to the President, I think giving Obama another enemy of progress for him to campaign against will help him more than it will hurt him.

Factor 3: The crazy Republican field and the potential for a third party candidate

By now we have experienced the Donald Trump fad, the Michelle Bachman fad, the Rick Perry fad, and the Herman Cain fad without the Republican primary voters being able to make up their minds. They just really don't like Mitt Romney even though they grudgingly know he is the best general election candidate, mainly because he doesn't openly advocate ending Social Security.

But as I have pointed out before, Romney is a Mormon and there is a large segment of the American public, in particular the Evangelical Christian right who will not vote for him because of his faith. This primary fight will likely last into the late spring forcing the candidates and their Super PACs to waste their valuable resources battling each other for the nomination. For the first time in living memory this nomination may come down to a convention floor fight which would obviously be the best possible scenario for the President.

There have also been rumblings that Ron Paul, the only real conservative libertarian in the race, might run as a third party candidate if he doesn't win the Republican nomination. Much like Ross Perot gave the 1992 election to Bill Clinton by splitting the conservative vote, a Ron Paul 3rd party bid would almost certainly guarantee a second term for the President.  

Romney will likely be the nominee. If he isn't, I think the Republicans will be in for a "Goldwatering" and President Obama will cruise to victory as the only remotely qualified candidate.

Factor 4: Foreign Policy (the total wild card)

Unbeknownst to most Americans, much of the world is pretty much falling apart. The European debt crisis is spiraling out of control and an Israeli attack on Iran seems increasingly likely. The geopolitical implications of a new war in the Middle East could change the race for President in ways I can't really predict.

Conventional wisdom would dictate that a sitting commander-in-chief would likely benefit from a war that doesn't see a large number of American causalities before election day. However, a wider war in the Middle East that might include both Turkey and Syria, not to mention the fact that the Iranians would likely move to close the straights of Hormuz would send world energy prices through the roof. Again, it is unclear but voters would almost certainly blame President Obama if gas prices doubled or tripled unless he somehow opened the eyes of Americans to our dependence on foreign oil and convinced us of the need to embark on a huge domestic clean energy infrastructure building project in the wake of a military disaster in the middle east.

In summary, the next year will provide the President with a slew of opportunities to position himself as the outsider and run against the dysfunction that is Washington D.C. and hopefully avoid a full scale war in the Middle East.

1 comment:

  1. I am with you in hoping one of the also-ran's believes they have enough of a grassroots following to make a go of it Strom Thurmond style.

    The fallout from the Super Committee failure is still to come, and surely that will taint President Obama in the MSM. Will the President be forced to veto anything regarding reallocation of DoD funding? These two issues will surface in addition to reauthorizing Long-Term Unemployment benefits. After 3 years of observing him try to CEO the job and keep the investors happy, I am having my doubts as to when he will show his liberal side in a negotiation.

    I however hope Obama sweeps to victory with a filibuster proof senate and safe hold over the house. Only then might we get the legislation we need, learning heavily from FDR.