Campaign 2012 – Summer Hijinks

by George Kennedy on July 12, 2012

Campaign 2012 – Summer Hijinks

We took some time from analyzing the 2012 election to launch a new site (https://www.facebook.com/WhoShapesOurTimesSuccess), one we hope will fill a niche in today’s economic climate.  Now, it is time to pick up the trail of the President and the GOP presumptive nominee Mitt Romney.

During a presidential election year, the period between the end of the July 4th Independence Day holiday and the Republican National Convention in late August is when campaigns fine tune their message, reset candidates that are off message, fire up their base, and fund raise like hell.  Schools are closed, kids are at home, the beaches are affordable, and it’s time to get the house back in shape for the coming winter season.  And, at least one or two members of the average household are looking for a job.

Moreover, many Americans feel beleaguered by the constant barrage of TV campaign ads that rank on the “interest scale” with the summer network TV reruns.  And, then, there are the annoying robocalls from presidential candidates to the candidate for local dog catcher.

In July and August, the two major political parties will likely engage in the politics of “propose” (for the party occupying the White House) and “oppose.”  You know the game by now.  The President will announce a select number of politically charged proposals on tax cuts and health care designed to appeal to his base and the all-important Independent vote.  Obama then appears as a champion for the middle class, a leader trying to govern despite the intransigence of the Republicans in Congress.

The Republicans and their leadership will dutifully oppose not just these two proposals but, also, every White House initiative with which they disagree to demonstrate fealty to conservative theology and to maintain cohesion within their base.  Witness the unprecedented number of Senate filibusters by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  This game is now into its fourth year.

The Democrats and the Republicans are locked into their respective roles in this tiresome Kabuki Theater.  No self-respecting Republican in Congress can be seen as cooperating with a president held in such low regard by conservatives.  As a consequence, the White House and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have given up on governance for the balance of 2012.

In a year when the Republicans’ well-financed political juggernaut – thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling – appears poised to bury the principled-but-timid-Democrats, the Democrats are scrambling to retain their tenuous grip on the Senate while hoping to capture a few seats in the House.

For the GOP, the period in the run-up to their August convention in Tampa is about raising a billion dollars to finance the campaign ad blitz against the Democrats, and to pass highly symbolic legislation in the House they know would never pass muster with Harry Reid’s Democrats in the Senate.  “Job-creating” abortion bills are the perennial favorite followed by another vote to repeal Obamacare.

The current abortion measure being proposed by House Republicans is to impose a federal ban on abortions in the District of Columbia.  The non-voting Delegate from the District is powerless to vote against this new abortion measure affecting her constituency.

The House GOP’s vote on repealing Obamacare could be problematic for them politically in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling.  Polls show that voters like expanded health coverage.  The safe bet is House  Republicans will schedule the 31st vote  to repeal Obama care, polls notwithstanding.

The Obama White House moved quickly to propose extending the Bush tax cuts for those making up to $250,000 annually.   However, Democrats are not unified in their support for the President.  Several prominent Democrats suggest raising the threshold to $1 million.  In large measure, they appear willing to go along with the President if he insists on the lower threshold.  It is still good election year politics and the President is taking the lead.  Of course, the GOP has declared – again – that the proposal is dead on arrival calling the President’s proposal a tax on small business and the “job creators.”

The theatrics continue.  Neither the tax cuts or repealing Obamacare has any practical effect for either party except to try and retain a grip on their respective base supporters.

The larger mass of voters, meanwhile, has other distractions.

Closer to home, the GOP leadership does have a more fundamental concern:  their presumptive presidential candidate.  A chorus of Republican critics is increasingly more vocal regarding Romney’s preferred campaign strategy.  His strategy, in their view, amounts to, to employ a sports metaphor, the political equivalent of straddling mid-court and holding the ball.  Romney is failing to offer a compelling vision for his candidacy.  A neighbor compares Romney’s strategy to former boxing champ Muhammad Ali’s legendary “rope-a-dope.”  Ali, on the other hand, could get down to specifics very quickly.

The President is on his game even though he is failing to match Romney and the GOP in fundraising.  Romney and the RNC raked in an eye-popping $106 million dollars in June compared to $71 million dollars for Obama and the DNC.  Unless the wealthy Democratic donors step down from their principled heights regarding contributions to SuperPACs, it is a safe bet Democrats will be outspent this year.  The consequences are anyone’s guess.

In a tough economy, Mitt Romney should be an even money bet to be president in November, yet he trails Obama in the key swing states.

An investigative report in Vanity Fair magazine highlighting “gray areas” in Mitt Romney’s finances could not have been better timed:  the summer when many voters are not paying close attention.

If this story does not gain traction among swing voters between now and late August, it may not matter much when the campaigns move into their final stages following Labor Day.

Romney is an irregular candidate, entirely different than our last Republican President.  Romney appears quite confident holding his own counsel, much to the chagrin of the GOP’s elders.  He is, however, all they’ve got.    The Republican Party and its allies seem prepared to buy this election in 2012 so fearful are they of losing their grip on power and the ability to set our national priorities over the next decade.

The summer calculus seems to be that Romney and the GOP are betting a lot of the farm on voter discontent with the President’s stewardship of the economy and lingering high unemployment levels.  Also, voter suppression laws on the books in Republican dominated states could eliminate several million citizens from casting votes in November.  Who knows but that could tip the scales in Romney’s favor in a close election.  Moreover, we cannot underestimate the impact of a billion dollars in hard-hitting, negative campaign ads the SuperPACs and the RNC will unleash against the President and the Democrats during September and October.

Democrats are known to wither during message wars with Republicans.  I would be surprised if they are up to the task this year.  Between their fears and their principles, they don’t engender much confidence when it’s time to man the foxholes.

The President is largely on his own this time.  If he wins a second term, he will have earned it.  The question is, what then?

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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