How to lose the US presidency in 21 ways

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There are many ways to lose the presidency whether you’re fighting a primary or battling for the ultimate prize itself in the November general election. These are just some of them…

Cry (Ed Muskie, 1972)

Public crying has played well for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama more recently but when Muskie appeared to weep over allegations about his wife’s drinking, he soon lost his status as the Democratic frontrunner. Ultimately, the victim of a dirty tricks campaign by the Nixon camp, Muskie denied crying, saying reporters had mistaken snow melting on his face for tears.

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Lose your temper (Bob Dole, 1988)

Dole snarled that his opponent George HW Bush should “quit lying about my record” after losing a Republican primary. Dole looked like a sore loser and his campaign never recovered. He later won the nomination in 1996, losing comfortably to President Bill Clinton.

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Scream (Howard Dean, 2004)

Although he was probably on his way out anyway, Dean’s hysterical “I had a scream” speech which ended with a Kermit the frog-style note of hysteria ended his prospects of getting the Democratic nomination. John Kerry got it instead and subsequently lost to George W. Bush in November.

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Fail to answer a simple question (Gary Hart, 1984)

Democrat Hart (of later sex scandal fame) proved unable to explain why he had changed his surname from Gary Hartpence. Worse, he floundered desperately when asked the most basic question: why do you want to be president?

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Be inadvertently racist (H Ross Perot, 1992)

The Texan billionaire independent offended a largely black audience by referring to them repeatedly as “you people” throughout a campaign speech.

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Terrify everyone (Barry Goldwater, 1964)

The Republican nominee’s open extremism and apparent enthusiasm for nuclear weapons led him to lose by a record margin. “In your heart, you know he’s right” his campaign claimed. “In your guts, you know he’s nuts” countered his opponents.

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Have an affair (Gary Hart, 1988)

Recovering from his 1984 failure, Hart was the clear favourite to succeed Reagan until allegations of infidelity with model Donna Hart emerged. Hart initially denied meeting her until photos emerged of her sitting on his lap. Hart then withdrew from the campaign, then re-entered it later, totally sabotaging his own career in the process.

Skeletons in the closet (George HW Bush 1992, George W Bush 2000)

A last minute recovery for President Bush against Bill Clinton stalled after allegations over his role in the Iran-Contra affair re-emerged. Later, his son was harmed by a last minute revelation over a 1979 drink driving incident during the closing stages of the very close 2000 campaign.

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“Steal” a speech (Joe Biden, 1988)

Obama’s future vice president withdrew after striking similarities were spotted between a campaign speech he delivered and one which had been made by British Labour leader Neil Kinnock (an unknown figure in the US).

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Ignore attacks (Michael Dukakis, 1988)

When the Bush campaign cast doubt on the Democratic nominee’s mental health, Dukakis refused to sink to their level. Unfortunately, by the time he did release his records (which revealed a clean bill of health), the damage to his campaign had already been done.

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Insult your rivals (Bush, 1992)

“My dog Millie knows more about foreign policy than these two bozos,” President Bush said of Clinton and Gore late in 1992. The “bozos” bit went down very badly with voters. Clinton’s lead grew by around five percent just before election day.

Be too honest (Walter Mondale, 1984, Michael Dukakis, 1988)

Both these Democratic nominees admitted taxes would have to increase substantially to tackle Reagan’s huge escalating deficit. Bush in 1988 was much less frank “read my lips – no new taxes” but won. Taxes went up dramatically soon afterwards.

Insult women (Mitt Romney, 2012)

The Republican nominee referred to “binders full of women” he could choose from for his cabinet. This played badly.

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Rely too heavily on your war record (John Kerry, 2004)

This backfired when several campaign groups began casting doubt over the Democratic nominee’s Vietnam War heroism which had been contrasted with Bush’s decision to join the state National Guard (a classic draft dodging tactic) and Vice President Cheney’s decision to duck out of the war altogether.

Run against your own party’s incumbent (Eugene McCarthy, 1968, Ronald Reagan, 1976, Ted Kennedy, 1980, Pat Buchanan, 1992)

This has never worked, although McCarthy undoubtedly made history by prompting President Johnson’s withdraw from the 1968 contest. Reagan also undoubtedly enhanced his credentials for a future run by challenging President Ford. Four years later, Reagan ran again and won.

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Pick the wrong running-mate (George McGovern, 1972, John McCain, 2008)

The McGovern campaign was thrown into chaos when running-mate Thomas Eagleton had to be replaced. John McCain’s campaign was similarly undermined when Sarah Palin’s intellectual shortcomings became too obvious to ignore. Oddly, however,  Bush’s disastrous choice of Dan Quayle in 1988 seemed to do him little real harm.

Screw up the TV debate

Notably Richard Nixon in 1960.

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Insult 47% of the electorate (Mitt Romney, 2012)

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. … These are people who pay no income tax. … and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Mitt Romney, remarks at private fundraiser. Ironically, he ended up losing having received 47% of the vote.

Get paranoid (H. Ross Perot, 1992)

The independent candidate accused the Bush camp of trying to sabotage his daughter’s wedding by labelling her a lesbian.

Make huge factual errors in public (Gerald Ford, 1976)

“There is no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford Administration.” President Ford made this absurd claim in the 1976 TV debate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he went on to lose narrowly to Jimmy Carter.

“Win” (Al Gore, 2000)

Few election results look more dubious than the 2000 one. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the Supreme Court declared George W. Bush not Al Gore the winner.

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The Class of 2016

The dust may have only just settled on the 2012 race but already thoughts are turning to 2016. Obama can’t run again due to the two term limit, Romney is unlikely to stand again either. So who’s in contention at this early stage?

Hilary Clinton (Dem)

Secretary of State, former First Lady and near winner of the party nomination in 2008.

For: Certainly, the most famous of any of the possible contenders, she has been a success as secretary of state and any wounds left by the bitter 2008 primary race against Obama now seem to have (largely) healed.

Against: She is getting on in years (she will be 69 in 2016) although seems good for her age. There are also a lot of Clinton-haters still in the US (although most are more obsessed with Obama now) and, oh yes!: the US has still never nominated a woman as presidential candidate for any major party, let alone elected them president. Then again, until 2008, they had never elected a black president either…

Joe Biden (Dem)

Vice President.

For: With the exception of the corrupt (Spiro Agnew), the evil (Dick Cheney), the mortally ill (Nelson Rockefeller) and the stupid (Dan Quayle) every Vice President in the last sixty years has gone on to eventually win the presidential nomination for themselves. Four out of the last ten Veeps have gone onto the presidency too (Nixon, Ford, Johnson, Bush I). Biden performed well in this year’s TV debates.

Against: Age again. Biden will be 74 in 2016 and he has already proven gaffe-prone. His 1988 presidential bid was scuppered when he delivered a speech which turned out to have been plagiarised from one previously delivered by British Opposition leader Neil Kinnock (an unknown figure in the US).

Paul Ryan (Rep)

Wisconsin Rep. Mitt Romney’s running mate.

For: Romney’s confused introduction of Ryan as “the next president of the United States” may yet prove correct.

Against: He could be tainted by defeat. He lied in his convention speech and he and Romney both lost their home states in 2012.

Rick Santorum (Rep)

Former Senator for Pennsylvania.

For: Ran against Romney in 2012. A Catholic who will benefit if the party shifts to the Right. Anti-gay marriage and in denial over climate change.

Against: Just horrible.ImageImage

October Surprise!

A look at nine last minute stories which (if they happened) could swing the US presidential election…

  1. Governor Mitt Romney is revealed to have taken part in a recent ceremony in which thousands of dead non-Mormons were baptised posthumously as Mormons. Embarrassingly, many of those listed as baptised included many people who were not actually dead who Romney assumed were dead (such as actress Angela Lansbury and Senator John McCain), several people who were clearly already Mormons and several fictional characters who Romney apparently thought were real people (Sherlock Holmes, Roger Ramjet, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Skeletor).
  2. Romney also admits switching the past votes of many dead Democrats to Republican ones, this changing the outcome of every presidential election since 1920 into a Republican victory. Former president Bob Dole defends Romney’s actions.
  3. The Romney campaign receives another blow when an hour long programme is broadcast featuring actor Clint Eastwood interrogating an empty chair which he believes to be occupied by President Barack Obama. Surprisingly, the actor appears to be won over by the chair’s arguments during the course of the programme and ends the show by endorsing President Obama’s re-election campaign.
  4. Obama is revealed to be “following” Hugo Chavez on Twitter.
  5. Romney reveals he briefly hypnotised the President during the first presidential debate thus explaining Obama’s semi-comatose state throughout. Similar hypnosis largely explains the soporific effect Romney’s speeches have on many audiences.
  6. Secret plans reveal Romney intends to sell the state of Ohio to the People’s Republic of China if elected. “It makes sound business sense,” he argues. “There’s no money in Ohio. I’ve seen the projections.”
  7. In a speech, President Obama unwittingly reveals a major plot twist in the new Bond film Skyfall.
  8. Newly released wannabe Reagan assassin John Hinckley attempts to “impress” actress Ellen DeGeneres by assassinating Obama. Once again, he fails on both counts. Obama survives and like Jodie Foster before her, Ellen isn’t even slightly “impressed”. She is more “alarmed”. Women eh?
  9. In a surprise move, Great Britain is suddenly granted admission as the 51st state of the Union. With a firmly pro-Obama population and far more Electoral College votes than California, the change secures the re-election for the president.

Romney and Obama: the great TV debate

Tonight sees the first of this year’s debates between Romney and Obama.

Before we get too excited, let us consider a few key facts:

1. Whoever’s winning the election will probably win the debate…

Debates usually reflect the existing state of the campaign rather than deciding it. President Obama is comfortably winning the election so can probably expect to win the debate.

There are exceptions to this rule however: if as in 1960 or 1976, the race is very close. Nixon’s shifty appearance and President Ford’s confusion over the USSR may have swung the race in both cases. In 2000 and 2004, Al Gore and John Kerry both easily beat Bush in the debates. Expectations were so low for Bush, however, that the debates felt like a victory for Bush who went on to win narrowly (in 2004 anyway). In 1988, Bush’s father managed to lose the first of two debates to Michael Dukakis but still won the election by a landslide.

But trust me usually the first place candidate usually wins the debate.

2. The Vice Presidential debates don’t matter 

From the 1988 Dan Quayle/Lloyd Bentsen VP debate…

Quayle: I have far more experience than many others that sought the office of vice president of this country. I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration, if that unfortunate event would ever occur.

Judy Woodruff: Senator [Bentsen]?

Bentsen: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy. (Prolonged shouts and applause.) What has to be done in a situation like that is to call in the — Woodruff: (Admonishing applauders) Please, please, once again you are only taking time away from your own candidate.

Quayle: That was really uncalled for, Senator. (Shouts and applause.) Bentsen: You are the one that was making the comparison, Senator — and I’m one who knew him well. And frankly I think you are so far apart in the objectives you choose for your country that I did not think the comparison was well-taken.

Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s “no Jack Kennedy” humiliation of Senator Dan Quayle in 1988 is probably the finest moment in any national US presidential debate ever. But it didn’t help the Dukakis/Bentsen campaign which still went down to a hefty defeat.

3. There’s always the potential for a gaffe from either side.

Nixon’s anxious scowling at JFK during the 1960 debate. President George HW Bush glancing at his watch throughout his debate with Bill Clinton. Senator Bob Dole’s foolish labelling of both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam as “Democrat wars”.

It is these potentially random factors which have the power to swing elections, which make the four yearly ritual of the televised presidential debates so compelling.

Five worst US presidential candidates ever

Okay! So it’s becoming horrendously clear Mitt Romney is an unusually poor presidential candidate. But he’s not the first disaster area to be nominated by a major US political party. Here are a few others:

5. Richard M. Nixon (Rep. Lost 1960, won 1968, 1972). It might seem odd to choose a candidate who was victorious twice to go in a list of bad presidential candidates. But Nixon’s success if anything exposes the flaws in the system. In 1968, with Nixon’s poll lead narrowing, the Nixon team used an insider to actively sabotage Vietnam peace talks fearing a sudden breakthrough would give his opponent Hubert Humphrey a last minute boost. Interestingly, the Humphrey campaign learned of Nixon’s chicanery at the time but chose not to expose him as they expected to beat him anyway. They were wrong. Four years later, the Nixon team again used all manner of dirty tricks to crush their most feared Democratic opponent Ed Muskie in the primaries releasing mice into a Muskie press conference and smearing Muskie’s wife as an alcoholic. Break-ins later in the campaign ultimately led to the Watergate scandal. Nixon would win heavily in 1972 but his victory would be short lived. He must rank amongst the most corrupt post-war presidential candidates.

4. Michael Dukakis (Dem. Lost 1988). What went wrong for Duke? In the summer of 1988, having beaten seven rivals to the nomination, his soaring Kennedy-esque rhetoric gave him a 15% lead over his Republican opponent Vice President George HW Bush. But in the last months of the campaign, Dukakis, who like Romney was a Governor of Massachusetts barely put a foot right. He unwisely refused to respond to any attacks the Bush campaign launched upon him and was soon irretrievably tainted as a tax and spend liberal (a bad thing in the US). Even his principled opposition to the death penalty in the TV debates went against him.  Despite being quite a bland candidate himself, Bush ended up romping home to a forty state victory.

3. John McCain (Rep. Lost 2008) An ex-Vietnam POW, McCain may have been a fine candidate in, say, 1992, but by 2008, he was much too old and grumpy for the task. His repeated attempts to distract attention from his opponent’s superior campaign by repeated references to “Joe the plumber” proved a failure. His worst decision, however, was undeniably his poorly researched choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as running mate. Initially boosting the flagging McCain effort, the decision backfired horribly once Palin’s many shortcomings became all too apparent. McCain soon had his chips.

2. Barry Goldwater (Rep. Lost 1964). Although the GOP occasionally flirts with extremism, they rarely embrace it. The moderate Senator Bob Dole saw off Pat Buchanan in 1996 for example while Mitt Romney beat the even more odious and unprincipled Rick Santorum earlier this year. 1964 was different however. In the year after President Kennedy’s assassination, they rejected the moderate future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller in favour of the alarmingly pro-nuclear Senator Goldwater. “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice,” Goldwater (sometimes nicknamed Au H2O by science geeks) would opine. He also advocated a form of racial apartheid. The result? The Johnson team produced one of the best campaign ads ever (showing a little girl being blown to smithereens by a nuclear attack). Ex-actor Ronald Reagan was moved to defect from the Democrats to the Republicans. Everyone else went the other way. President Johnson beat Goldwater by a record margin.

1. Mitt Romney (Rep. 2012). Okay! So it’s not over yet. Things may improve for the hapless Mr Romney. But as it stands, this looks like the only poll Romney’s going to come top of this autumn…

Three cheers for political correctness!

Few terms have become so debased within the lexicon of political discourse than political correctness. Like the term “liberal” in the United States, the term has become almost an insult. Peter Hitchens describes it as “stern, fierce movement which is completely sane and sets out deliberately to stop us from saying – and thinking – various things. It is not a joke.” Newspapers like Hitchens’ own Mail and the Daily Telegraph routinely blame political correctness for everything under the sun. Some even liken it to the tyrannies of Nazi Germany and Stalin’s USSR.

What are these bold claims based upon? Basically, it comes down to this: Fifty years ago it was acceptable to make sexist, racist and homophobic remarks and jokes in public. Now it isn’t. Most people recognise this as a good thing. The Right have never come to terms with it. So the next time you read any garbage about “political correctness gone mad” remember: that’s all the writer is complaining about. They want to be racist or offensive in some way but society has changed so much it no longer permits them to be so.

That’s all there is to it. And no one is more humourless about it than the modern Right.

Madame President?

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When will the United States elect its first woman US president?

It is a strange truth.  Nineteen years after Benazir Bhutto was elected in Pakistan, thirty three years after Margaret Thatcher came to power in the UK and a full forty six years after Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India, there has still never been a woman US president.

Bearing in mind, two of these three mentioned above (Gandhi and Bhutto) were subsequently assassinated, perhaps they are not the best example but there are, of course, many others. Cory Aquino in the Philippines, Golda Meir in Israel and Angela Merkel and Julia Gillard both currently Chancellor of Germany and Prime Minister of Australia respectively.

Britons should not be too smug on the subject. As time goes on, Mrs Thatcher’s eleven years in Downing Street look more and more like an historical aberration. Good news some might say. But from an equality viewpoint, it isn’t. A woman prime minister need not be as divisive or as damaging as Thatcher was but we don’t seem to be anywhere near finding this out for sure even after the surge in women MPs since 1997. Nobody looks even close to leading any of the three major parties save perhaps Labour’s Yvette Cooper (or at a stretch, Harriet Harman).

So what about the US? Presidents in the US come to power by two means: as vice presidents who succeed a president to office after they have either died or resigned or (more commonly) through election in their own right.

There have been no women vice presidents so far although two have been picked as running mates by candidates for the two major parties in the past. Geraldine Ferraro was picked as running mate by Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984 but is thought to have had little impact on Mondale’s campaign which was already well on course to suffer a massive 49 state to one defeat to President Ronald Reagan.

Governor Sarah Palin’s selection by Republican candidate Senator John McCain four years ago, in contrast, briefly revived a flagging campaign. Palin’s novelty and relative youth excited the party base. McCain, unlike Mondale, actually had a shot at defeating his opponent. And as a man in his seventies, it was hardly too far-fetched to imagine Palin could soon be president herself.

But the excitement didn’t last. Palin soon emerged as a totally unsuitable candidate, as ignorant as she was gaffe-prone. Despite being a former beauty contest entrant (coincidentally in 1984, the same year as the Mondale-Ferraro campaign) for once there seemed little sexist about her downfall. McCain lost and despite the angry denials by the idiotic John Bolton on the BBC’s 2008 election coverage, Palin helped him lose.

The real loser in 2008 was perhaps not McCain or Palin, however, but Hillary Clinton. Had she ran in 2004 against an enfeebled Bush she might have won. Even the unimpressive Democratic nominee Senator John Kerry came close to toppling Bush that year.

Instead, she waited until the race was clear of incumbents in 2008. This would have worked normally but she completely misjudged the strength of Obama’s candidacy and arrogantly fought the election as if the nomination was hers by right. The voters reacted against both this and her support for the war in Iraq.

It is doubtful she would have won the November election anyway. There has long been a strong entrenched hostility towards her since her husband’s first presidential campaign in 1992 and much of this undeniably has a strong misogynist element. She would also have been hampered by the Whitewater scandal and other baggage from the Clinton years.

But we’ll probably never know. After all, Obama’s 2008 victory was certainly against the odds too. It seems unlikely now that the secretary of state, already well into her sixties, will ever sit in the White House as president.

2012 has thus far proven a less thrilling race with Obama less dazzling than in 2008 and Governor Mitt Romney clearly a loser from the outset.

Perhaps it’s a shame Sarah Palin did not run this time after all. At least it would have been amusing.

The quest for a new JFK

Fifty year have now passed since the presidency of John F. Kennedy and one thing is obvious: the US Democratic Party has never escaped the ghost of his memory. True, no member of the Kennedy family has ever been on the presidential ticket in the years since (Sargent Shriver, Kennedy’s brother in law, came the closest as George McGovern’s running mate in 1972). But consciously or unconsciously, the Democrats have repeatedly opted for the man they have perceived to be closest to the charismatic, idealistic Kennedy ideal as their candidate for the presidency. The fact that the Kennedy name has since been tarnished by revelations about his prolific sex life, his dealings with the Mafia and by harsh reassessments of his presidency has made no difference.
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Picking the right running mate.

With the ghastly Rick Santorum out of the race, the way ahead is virtually clear for Mitt Romney to secure the Republican nomination for the US presidency. But who should Romney pick for his all important running mate?

1) Choosing a potential successor: This should, of course, be the only real reason for picking a running mate. Once the election is one the new Vice President will be literally a heartbeat away from serious power. Vice Presidents succeeded to the presidency mid-term (due to illness or resignation) five times in the 20th century alone.

2) To appease a defeated foe: Primary contests can be messy and like Jed Bartlet picking the defeated John Hoynes in The West Wing, giving the loser a place on the ticket can (in theory) help smooth things over. Thus JFK opted for the defeated LBJ in 1960 and the unsuccessful Democratic nominee John Kerry picked runner up John Edwards to run with him in 2004. It only goes so far though. A particularly vicious primary battle wrecks any chance of even feigning unity. Obama thus didn’t pick Hillary Clinton as his running mate in 2008 (although she did become Secretary of State when he won). President Gerald Ford didn’t pick his defeated primary challenger Ronald Reagan when a vacancy on the ticket arose in 1976. Likewise, when Reagan did get the nomination himself four years later he didn’t pick former President Ford as his No.2 as some had expected. Some wounds just won’t heal. For similar reasons, Romney may not pick Santorum to run with him this time. Particularly, as he’s awful.

3) To appeal to women: Outgunned by the charismatic Senator Barack Obama, the flagging Senator John McCain targeted a politically unrepresented group: women, when he picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his No.2 in a bid to revive his lacklustre 2008 campaign. It worked…at first. McCain actually led Obama as late as September. But as Governor Palin’s shortcomings became apparent, the McCain ticket was ultimately overwhelmed to the point that the choice derailed the campaign. Choosing the first ever female running mate Geraldine Ferraro similarly didn’t stop Democrat Walter Mondale losing 49 out of 50 states to President Reagan in 1984.

4) Pick someone older and wiser: The forty something Obama went for the more experienced sixty five year old Senator Joe Biden in 2008. Governor George W. Bush picked his daddy’s former Defence Secretary Dick Cheney in 2000, despite the fact he had already had four heart attacks.

5) Provide some youthful vigour: Alternatively, an older candidate may choose someone much younger to balance the ticket. The precedents for this aren’t encouraging though. Popular sixtysomething Republican candidate and war hero, General Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was ultimately harmed by his choice of the thirty-nine-year-old Richard Nixon in 1952 who was widely distrusted over his murky role in McCarthyism and a notoriously dirty 1950 California Senate campaign. Likewise, George HW Bush was damaged by his selection of the young but gaffe-prone Dan Quayle in 1988 although like Ike still managed to win the election. John McCain and the younger, inexperienced and politically maladroit Sarah Palin were not so lucky twenty years later.

6) To control them: Some suggest that having been vice president for eight years himself, George HW Bush picked Dan Quayle precisely because he felt Qwuayle was too stupid to manipulate his position to his own advantage. The Watergate-damaged President Richard Nixon is also believed to have opted for the clumsy Gerald Ford as the new VP in 1973 because he thought Ford’s appointment as the next in line made his own impeachment less likely. LBJ had once famously described Ford as being “unable to walk and fart at the same time” without falling over and Nixon reckoned Congress wouldn’t dare make Ford President. The strategy failed: Nixon had to resign in 1974 and Ford became President anyway. He twice fell over in public before leaving office in January 1977.

7) So they can control you: Twelve years after his father picked Dan Quayle, the less experienced George W. Bush requested Dick Cheney produce a list of possible running mates during 2000. Cheney came back with the answer: himself. Under Bush, the more experienced Cheney became the most powerful Vice President in US history.

8) Because mistakes do happen!: Picking the wrong running mate can be fatal. Democrat George McGovern’s heavy 1972 defeat became a certainty when he was forced to drop his first choice of running mate Thomas Eagleton after revelations emerged about his health background. Eagleton was replaced with JFK’s son-in-law (and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s future father-in-law)Sargent Shriver, but the damage had already been done. Sarah Palin may also have helped defeat the McCain campaign last time. Even when a candidate goes onto win, a Veep who is distrusted (Eisenhower’s Number Two “Tricky Dicky” Nixon or Nixon’s own Vice President Spiro Agnew who resigned over tax evasion charges in 1973) or gaffe prone (Dan Quayle, Joe Biden) can still be a source of embarrassment.

The precedents are clear: if Mitt Romney wants to win, he should choose carefully.