Despite scandal and a stagnant economy, he was surging in the polls as the election neared. Against the odds, he had gained enough momentum that victory was within his grasp.
But in the span of one televised debate, a gaffe sealed his fate. Gerald Ford, President of the United States at the height of the Cold War, adamantly stated that the countries in Eastern Europe were free of Soviet domination. Ballgame over. (But there was a silver lining. Had Ford won, Ronald Wilson Reagan would never have been President).
In 1972, Democratic Senator Edmund Muskie’s campaign for the presidency immediately imploded when he cried during a speech in front of the offices of the Manchester Union Leader, claiming that the paper’s editor unfairly criticized his wife.
And in 1967, a leading Republican presidential contender saw his hopes crushed after saying he was "brainwashed" into supporting the Vietnam War. The otherwise very smart man who said that? George Romney, father of current candidate Mitt.
The point? At any given time, especially in the world of 24/7 news coverage, a major gaffe can sink an otherwise strong candidate. So the fact that many Republicans are already writing the President’s political obituary a year out from what will be a close election is not just naïve, but political stupidity.
And it will be a close election.
In addition to the billion dollar war chest the President will have, the most important aspect that commentators and politicians are missing is that the popular vote — and by extension most polls — are meaningless.
The only thing that matters is getting 270 electoral votes, and Obama already has, at a minimum, 164. And when you add the states he will likely win, including electoral prize Pennsylvania, which hasn’t voted Republican in 24 years, that number rises to 224 — just 46 shy of victory.
Is the President’s road difficult? Absolutely. The economy is in shambles with no possibility of a recovery until an energy policy is instituted, and that simply isn’t going to happen anytime soon.
Bank failures continue, homes are still being foreclosed at an alarming rate, inflation is rising, and companies not only aren’t hiring (let alone expanding), but are shedding jobs and closing doors. Merck is laying off 13,000, while Bank of America is jettisoning 30,000 — and that’s just two companies. Job loss and uncertainty are so commonplace now that the nine percent unemployment rate has become the new norm. America is fast becoming a suburb of France.
And that doesn’t bode well for an incumbent.
So while it is a good bet that Obama will not be re-elected, the "put-it-in-the-bank" GOP mentality can only work to the President’s advantage. A look at the recent special election for disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner’s seat in New York City tells the story.
A Republican won the seat for the first time since 1920. Impressive? Yes. Good for the President’s Party? No. A harbinger for Obama’s re-election chances? Absolutely not. But the long-lasting impact of the GOP win? Zero.
For the very few able to step outside of the ridiculous spin zone, a few things are obvious about that race:
1) The Republican winner will either be bounced out next year, or will be re-districted out of Congress.
2) While good for the Republican caucus’ organizational votes, does anyone really think Congressman Bob Turner will vote as a true Republican in an extremely liberal district?
3) Voters knew the world was watching, and many voted Republican as a public rebuke to Weiner’s extremely salacious behavior. They did their job, but it will be back to business as usual next year.
4) Many of the Jewish voters wanted to send the President a message that they were displeased over his position regarding Israel. But does anyone really believe they will abandon the President in the general election? Not a chance. Yet some political insiders have even suggested that New York state might be in play electorally (as well as states like Maryland). That thinking is just so out there that I can’t even come up with an appropriate sarcastic response. Optimism is great, but what’s next? The Iranians holding hands and singing Kumbaya with us? Entertaining as it is, let’s stick with reality.
5) The Democratic candidate was a boring, uninspiring hack. Which leads us to the next principle in politics: it usually helps to have good candidates.
Barack Obama has certainly not been an effective or popular President. His policies of Big Government are based on academic theories that simply do not work in the real world, especially in a market-driven economy. His advisers don’t have a clue, and the Administration keeps going back to the same old playbook that never worked particularly well. The results (although not all his fault) speak for themselves.
That said, he is a great campaigner. And make no mistake. Running for President and being President are two totally different things.
While Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry are formidable challengers, neither has been battle-tested in the fire of a presidential general election. Maybe it will be enough in 2012 for candidates just to have an "R" next to their names. Sometimes that is all that’s needed, but that should never be a strategy, and is no guarantee for success.
For proof, look at the 2010 election — the largest Republican tidal wave since 1946. Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell got be-witched in a lopsided loss, Nevada’s Sharron Angle lost to the unpopular Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid despite the state having the highest unemployment rate in the nation, and Alaska’s Joe Miller lost to incumbent Lisa Murkowski in the general election — by a write-in campaign. All three were bad candidates, and none of the races were close.
Trite as it sounds, Republicans would be wise to focus on the issues, ignore the spin and stop deluding themselves that 2012 will be a walk in the park. An example of how fickle the political winds are? Just four months ago, in another New York special election, the Democrats won a long-held Republican seat. In full spin mode, the Dems declared it a monumental setback for the Republicans and a validation of the President’s vision.
That spin was wrong too.
What these last several election cycles show is that voters, more volatile than ever, are fed up with scandal, bickering and meaningless 30 second sound bites. They want vision. They want solutions. They want action. And they will reward whomever can best articulate their ideas in a bold, commonsense way — and kick out those who don’t.
Bottom line: while current conditions certainly favor the Republicans, it is entirely too early to put 2012 in the record books for the GOP.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the President’s political death are greatly exaggerated. If the GOP refuses to recognize that, they do so at their own peril.
An accredited member of the media, Chris Friend is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com
Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries
and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including
The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick
Morris’ recent bestseller "Catastrophe."
Freind, whose column appears regularly in Philadelphia Magazine and nationally in
Newsmax, also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national
television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]