Catching Barack Obama in a rare moment of candor, an open mic found the president confiding to his Russian counterpart that he expects to win this fall. "This is my last election," he told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Last, yes. But I wouldn't bet on Obama winning.
The corporate pundit class has largely conceded the general election to Obama, already looking ahead to 2016. The mainstreamers have their reasons. Their analysis is based on good, solid, reasonable (inside the box) logic. All things considered, however, I would (and have) put my money on Mitt Romney this fall.
This isn't wishful thinking. I voted for Obama last time and wanted him to succeed. He failed. His accomplishments have been few and have amounted to sellouts to the right. Even so, the prospect of watching Mitt Romney move into the White House fills me with as much joy as an appointment for a colonoscopy. And I think he's going to win.
For me, the D vs. R horserace is a parlor game with minor ramifications for our daily lives. Whichever corporate party wins, unemployment and underemployment will continue to worsen, income disparity will widen, and most of our taxes will fund the worst approach to international affairs since a former Austrian corporal blew out his brains out in a bunker under Berlin.
Thanks to the Occupy movement, real politics is back where it belongs -- in the streets. That's what I'll be watching and working. With a lot of luck (and even more pepper spray) this will be a year of revolution rather than more electoral devolution.
Revolution is inevitable. But we don't know when it's coming. So the 2012 campaign may still matter. Besides, handicapping elections is a game I enjoy and am good at. During 17 years of syndication my pick to win has only lost once (for the 2004 Democratic nomination). So, on the off chance that you're one of those who still cares about our husk of a democracy, who hangs on every meaningless development of a political process devoid of politics -- or you're just a betting person, here's my thinking.
Barring an assassination or a scandal, Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee.
Obama currently leads Romney by about four to five points. But that's not nearly enough of a lead to carry him to November. History shows that Republican nominees steadily increase in popularity throughout the summer and fall of an election year.
In April 2004, for example, John Kerry led George W. Bush by eight points. But Swift Boating erased that lead, and then some.
In order to win, a successful Democratic nominee has to begin with a big margin. That early lead must be large enough to wind up in the black, after months of being whittled away, when the votes get counted in November. I can't see Obama pulling far enough ahead soon.
By the time they head to the polls this fall, voters' brains will be drowning in months of hundreds of millions of dollars of slick, demographically targeted, pro-Romney attack ads. Republican campaigns are more effective at this sort of thing, and as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum can attest, Romney's consultants pull no punches. Obama's current lead will be a faded memory.
Every political campaign comes down to a contest of narratives. In 2008 Obama developed an effective sales pitch: Hope and Change for a nation exhausted by eight years of Bush, 9/11, war, taking off your shoes at the airport, and a full-fledged global economic crisis to boot. Obama's advisers turned his biggest weaknesses -- his inexperience, race, unusual name and foreign background -- into assets. Here was a new kind of president. Just the guy to lead us out of the Bad Old Days into something better. McCain-Palin's narrative -- a cranky old ex-POW paired with a zany housewife-gone-wild -- didn't stand a chance.
This year the narratives favor Romney.
Romney is already pointing to the biggest issue on people's minds, the economy, and claiming that his background as a turnaround artist qualifies him to fix what ails us. His prescriptions are Republican boilerplate, vague and counterproductive, but at least he's doing something Obama hasn't -- talking a lot about creating jobs. Voters prefer useless attentiveness to calm, steady golfing (Obama's approach). And -- despite its illogic -- they like the run-government-like-a-business narrative (c.f. Ross Perot, the Bushes).
Obama is boxed in by three-plus years of inaction on, well, pretty much everything. He'll argue that he'll be able to "finish the job" during a second term, but that's a tough sell when you haven't tried to start the job -- in 2009, when Democrats had huge majorities in both houses of Congress. His single signature accomplishment, healthcare reform, is disliked by two-thirds of the electorate. The recent "good news" on the economy has been either insignificant (net positive job creation of 100,000 per month for two months, less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the 25 million jobs needed) or falsified (discouraged workers no longer counted as unemployed).
Despite what Obama tells them, Americans know things are still getting worse. Similarly, Obama's recent, feeble, impotent rhetorical attempts to shore up his support among his Democratic Party's disappointed liberal base will probably not generate enough enthusiasm to counter other factors that favor Romney.
You can't vote for the first African-American president twice. Unless he picks a woman as vice president, a vote for Obama will be a vote for the same-old, same-old. The history-making thrill is gone.
At this writing the Republican Party appears to be in disarray. No doubt, Romney is emerging from the primaries battered and bruised. His awkward and demented soundbite stylings ("corporations are people," "the trees are the right height") will provide fodder for countless YouTube parodies. But Romney hasn't been damaged as much as the official political class seems to think.
Republicans are a remarkably loyal bunch. United by their many hatreds (liberals, blacks, gays, poor people, Mexicans, Muslims, foreigners, etc.), they will set aside their comparatively low simmer of anti-Mormon bigotry this fall. Picking a standard-issue white Anglo Christianist thug as veep will cinch the deal.
The GOP enjoys a huge fundraising advantage, especially via the new-fangled SuperPACs. Romney has raised $74 million against $151 million for Obama, but look for that ratio to flip after he locks up the nomination. Cue those vicious, potent ads mentioned above.
About the only major factor working for Obama is the presidential debates. Romney doesn't stand a chance against the cool, articulate Obama.
Of course, it's a long way to November. A lot can happen. It's very possible for Obama to win. But that's not how it looks now.
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