Preview of November Campaign
We got a preview of the 2012 general election campaign in recent days and let’s just say it’s going to come up a bit short in the ‘sweetness and light’ department.
The Obama campaign has been zeroing in on the Romney camp for months. From the beginning, the White House politicos were convinced that Romney’s money and organization made him the favorite to win the Republican nomination, and recent events have obviously proven that theory to be correct. So week after week, Democratic attacks ads have focused in on the Romney campaign, hoping to use the attacks from his rivals to soften him up for the general election push leading up to November.
By the way, we’re not saying here the Republican race is technically over yet. It isn’t. But it seems pretty implausible, if not downright impossible at this point, to see how Rick Santorum could overtake Romney between now and the convention. So, we’ll operate on the theory that Romney is the nominee-in-waiting at the very least. Add to that comments Newt Gingrich made on Fox News Sunday that Romney is “far and away” the most likely Republican nominee, and it seems as though reality is slowly setting in on at least some of Romney’s rivals.
As we head toward the general election, both Republicans and Democrats are likely to focus in on a similar theme—authenticity. The tenor of the Democratic attacks on Romney for months has been that he made his career as a moderate Republican in Massachusetts — going way back to his Senate race against Ted Kennedy in 1994 and continuing to 2002 when he won election as governor of the state.
So one of the undercurrents this fall will be who is the real Mitt Romney? Is he a true conservative as he now claims, or is he really a moderate who positioned himself enough to the right to win the Republican nomination?
Likewise, the Romney campaign will try to take advantage of President Obama’s recent comment to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have greater political flexibility once he wins a second term. Romney seized on this during a recent speech in Washington to accuse the president of waging a “hide and seek campaign” that will mask his true intentions should he win a second term in November.
Romney’s camp will try to use the Obama “flexibility” comments to raise doubts among independent voters about where the president really wants to take the country should he win another four-year term in November.
You can expect a lot of negative TV ads from both sides between now and the general election. Both campaigns will be well-funded and will have plenty of background support from friendly Super PAC organizations more than happy to spend millions of dollars to tear down opponents.
It will likely stay negative because the polls suggest the election will be close. That means the Romney camp will always believe they have chance. They have to make the election about President Obama, make it a referendum on his handling of the economy and hope the voters give the president a big thumbs-down.
For the Obama campaign, they would prefer to make the election a choice in November, not a referendum. A choice of staying the course and keeping the economy on an upward trend or returning to Republican policies that they believe caused many of the problems in the first place. Of course, all of this depends on the economy continuing to improve and that things won’t be derailed by rising gasoline prices. Like the man said in that great film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, “There’s always the unexpected!”
Supreme Court Politics
The recent back and forth over the Supreme Court and its consideration of the Obama health care law is likely another preview of the coming presidential campaign. The president walked back some comments that a high court decision to strike down part or all of his health care law would be “unprecedented”, but that didn’t stop Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell from warning that Mr. Obama had crossed “a dangerous line” in his comments on the court and should “back off.”
The betting among many experts is that the five conservative-leaning justices will probably vote to strike down at least the individual mandate in the law requiring everyone to buy health insurance. If that happens, the question then becomes what would the political fallout be for the president and Republicans?
It seems as though the president is signaling that he would make the court a big of a political target in hopes of whipping up his base of supporters who generally support the health care reform effort. No doubt the Democrats would remind voters about the infamous Bush v. Gore decision of 2000 and the 2010 Citizens United case that opened the floodgates for unlimited campaign spending by unions, corporations and wealthy individuals.
Mr. Obama wouldn’t be the first sitting president to try to turn legal setbacks at the Supreme Court into political gain. In 1937, fresh off a second term re-election victory, President Franklin Roosevelt proposed expanding the number of Supreme Court justices from nine to 15 after the court invalidated several New Deal measures passed by Congress. Roosevelt’s attempt to “pack the court,” as the saying goes, turned out to be a political failure, his first major miscalculation in office.
In the following months, however, the Supreme Court upheld a series of New Deal initiatives including the Social Security Act, as the legal tide seemed to turn in the president’s favor. Roosevelt effectively was able to make over the court anyway over the next four years since he got to appoint seven new justices to replace incumbents who had either died or retired.
The high court’s reputation may have suffered a bit in recent years following the Bush-Gore decision in 2000 and the campaign finance case in 2010, but public opinion polls still show that the public generally has high regard for the Supreme Court as an institution, something that should cause any president to think twice before launching a political critique.