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

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Mitt who? Relief as Obama re-elected

In the end it wasn’t even that close.

Barack Obama seems set to become the first candidate since Ronald Reagan to twice win over 50% of the vote.

It’s not all glorious though. He’s also the first president since Franklin D Roosevelt in 1944, to be re-elected with less support than he won the previous time. Obama’s win is also the second narrowest US presidential re-election ever, beaten only by the narrowness of the win by the disastrous President Bush over Senator John Kerry in 2004.

But this is still a lot better than losing. Although Obama’s first term has been slightly disappointing in some ways, his presidency still feels unfinished. This wasn’t his time to go.

And make no mistake: a Mitt Romney presidency would have been a disaster.

Obama should be wary though. Second terms are often harder than the first. Bush’s was even more terrible than his first four years. Clinton was besieged by the Lewinsky scandal after re-election. Reagan and Nixon fell foul to Iran-Contra and Watergate.

But let’s not worry about that now. Congratulations to President Obama. The world can now breathe a collective sigh of relief.

The Mormon conquest?

“The history book on the shelf. It’s always repeating itself.”

So sang Abba in their 1974 hit Waterloo. And they were right. 1907, for example, was virtually the same as 1894.

So what’s it to be then?

Which election of the past is this year’s presidential election most likely to echo?

Here are the main scenarios:

1948: The Truman Show: Shock result! Electoral upset!

The precedent: Every underdog in every election prays for a repeat of the 1948 result. President Truman was universally expected to lose to his Republican opponent, the ultra-bland moustached weirdo Governor Thomas Dewey throughout the campaign. One newspaper even reported “Dewey defeats Truman” on its front page. Yet the polls were staggeringly wrong. Truman was, in fact, returned comfortably. He even gleefully held up a copy of the inaccurate newspaper for the cameras.

Is it likely?: Actually with the election so close, neither a Romney or an Obama win would exactly constitute an electoral upset. So assuming neither candidate wins by a huge margin or something insane happens, this wouldn’t be possible. Especially as neither Truman nor Dewey are alive.

1956, 1964, 1972 and 1984: President re-elected in a landslide.

All of these elections saw the incumbents (Eisenhower, LBJ, Nixon and Reagan) winning by huge margins. Nixon and Reagan both won 49 out of 50 states. Could Obama do the same?

Likely? This may have been possible when Romney was in a flap over his moronic 47% comments. But unless something dramatic happens between now and polling day (perhaps Romney will be revealed to have sold one of his elderly relatives to a powerful conglomerate) this now seems very unlikely.

1996: President re-elected comfortably but not by a landslide.

1996 saw President Clinton comfortably quashing Senator Bob Dole’s leadership bid by a 7% poll margin.

Likely?: Not too farfetched actually and probably the best result Obama can realistically hope for. Had the result gone the other way…Monica Lewinsky? And the 73 year old President Dole? Let’s not think about it.

2004: A narrow-ish win for the president.

Nobody likes being compared to George W Bush. But in 2004, he did beat Senator John Kerry by a three percent margin. And get this: he didn’t have to cheat this time!

Likely?: A narrow Obama win is currently the most likely result.

1976: A narrow win for the challenger.

After Watergate, the fuel crisis and the Nixon pardon, ex-peanut farmer Jimmy Carter achieved a very narrow win over the maladroit President Gerald Ford.

Likely: Horribly plausible. Romney could scrape home narrowly. And remember: Ford was also undone by a poor TV debate performance!

1980: A big win for the challenger.

The 1980 victory of Reagan over incumbent President Carter was decisive and seems inevitable in retrospect. In fact, it seemed much closer at the time. Carter’s diaries reveal he felt he had a good chance at winning almost to the end.

The result famously forced loon John Hinckley Junior to reconsider his plan to shoot President Carter and shoot the new president Reagan instead. All to impress the actress Jodie Foster. Who apparently wasn’t even very impressed anyway! Tsk! Women eh? Next time just try sending a bunch of flowers. Or stalking someone who isn’t a

Likely?:A Mitt Romney landslide? If you believe in a God, pray to him or her that this doesn’t happen.

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…

Welcome to the Muppet Show…

The Muppet Show returned last week. Or to be more precise, the Republican National Convention met in Tampa, Florida.

For such a stage managed event, it’s surprising how many things went wrong. Most disturbingly and indeed almost unbelievably, some racist Republicans reportedly threw peanuts at a black camerawoman claiming: “This is how we feed animals.” Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan then used his speech to blame the Obama Administration for the closure of a General Motors plant. The truth soon came out: the plant had in fact closed under Bush.

Prospective First Lady Ann Romney was judged to have done well with an appallingly sentimental speech. Remember Sarah Brown’s introduction of her husband Gordon as “my husband, my hero” at the British Labour Party Conference a few years back? Ann Romney’s speech made this look positively restrained by comparison. Indeed, some of Mrs Romney’s attempts to make the ultra-rich Romneys appear normal, barely made sense. “I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a storybook marriage,” she said at one point. “Well, let me tell you something. In the storybooks I read, there never were long, long rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once.” Er, no. Okay then…

Mitt himself didn’t mince words either. Recognising the key issue that worries many Americans – how happy was the marriage of Mitt Romney’s late parents – the former Governor of Massachusetts was extremely reassuring. “Mom and Dad were married 64 years,” he said. “And if you wondered what their secret was, you could have asked the local florist – because every day Dad gave Mom a rose, which he put on her bedside table.” Never let it be said that Mitt Romney has dodged the all important “parents’ marriage” issue.

The Republican Party is incredibly short on glamour these days. Recognising that they are both extremely unpopular, former President George W Bush and ex-Veep Dick Cheney did not attend the Convention at all. Sarah Palin, the heroine of the Convention, just four years ago, kept her head down too. Hence why Clint Eastwood was given a ten minute speech. Had the ageing star restricted himself to a few simple platitudes: “Obama: make my day” etc, the speech might have passed off successfully.

As it was, the eighty two year old Eastwood rambled, muttering his way through the speech dreadfully. Things got even worse when the actor began speaking to an empty chair, pretending it was occupied by President Obama. Oddly, most of the joke seemed to revolve around the invisible Obama supposedly swearing at Eastwood and telling him to “shut up” (not actually things the President is renowned for doing). Little wonder much of the audience looked on in apparent abject horror. No actor has done such harm to his reputation with a political gesture since the late Charlton Heston started appearing at pro-gun rallies.

But the scariest fact of the whole week remains this: bland as Romney undeniably is, with unemployment still so high in the US, Obama is barely more popular than Romney. Contrary to the prediction in my first blog entry back in March, Romney could actually win in November.

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.

 

Is this the future?

Picture the scene. It is a cold day on January 20th 2013. A huge crowd has gathered in Washington DC to witness the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.

This is the future. Or is it? The reality is that Americans are almost certainly going to have to wait a bit longer for a new president. For by far the most likely outcome of the November 2012 presidential election is that the Barack Obama will be re-elected, only the third Democrat to win a second term in US history. Barring tragedy or serious scandal, Obama will be in the White House until 2017.

Part of this is down to the total failure of the rival Republican Party to find anyone decent to run against him. The fact that a suitable front runner hasn’t yet emerged from the Republican pack is not in itself a bad thing. It is only February. At this stage of the electoral cycle, four years ago, Democrats were still a long way from choosing between Obama and Hillary Clinton and that delay (much more severe than this) didn’t ultimately do them any serious harm.

But there is a difference. Senators Clinton and Obama were both serious contenders for the presidency. The Republican field this time is poor.

The fact that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was even briefly considered a serious frontrunner for the nomination is a sign of the dire situation Republicans find themselves in. Currently the main race is between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Romney has consistently failed to excite the party faithful enabling Santorum, who under normal circumstances would have been out of the race long ago, to hang on. Voters are torn between choosing between the least terrible option, not the best one.

History favours Obama. Only four elected presidents in the past century have been defeated in their bid for re-election in November and all in fairly extreme circumstances. A third party candidate brought down President Taft in 1912, the Great Depression defeated Hoover in 1932. Jimmy Carter was knocked out by the combination of the hostage crisis and economic malaise as well as the strength of Reagan’s candidature in 1980. Reagan’s former Vice President, the first President George Bush was similarly floored by a combination of recession and strong challenge from Bill Clinton in 1992.

Obama has disappointed many of his supporters. Unemployment remains high even as the economic recession in the US lifts. Guantanamo Bay remains open. Some feel his health and economic reforms have not gone far enough.

But Obama is not a Herbert Hoover, a Jimmy Carter or a George HW Bush. And none of the Republicans are anything like an FDR, a Ronald Reagan or a Bill Clinton. Polls indicate most Americans want to give Obama’s reforms a second term to come to fruition.

True, I may yet end up eating my words. Predicting anything is a risky business. None of the past three presidential election outcomes could have easily been anticipated at this stage of the cycle. But the evidence suggests Obama will be in the White House for a good while yet.