As a Democrat active in the Democratic Party for most of my life, the 2012 Presidential election seems like deja vu with the tables turned. The Republicans in 2012 could experience the same disappointment the Democrats experienced in 2004. The run up so far has been eerily similar.
Leading up to the 2004 Presidential election, Democrats were desperately hopeful and cautiously confident that they could defeat President George Bush, who they saw as illegitimate and gave him the moniker, “The Thief in Chief.” The Bush Administration’s overreach in the realm of foreign policy squandered the high approval ratings it once had. The Democrats proposed a plan they believed would more effectively combat terrorism and believed that the American people are on their side.
However, their field of Presidential candidates were lackluster. John Kerry, Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards, Carol Moseley-Braun, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, and Mike Gravel were all vying for the nomination and while Democratic ideas energized the people, that energy dissipated once they saw the messengers. Gravel, Kucinich, Moseley-Braun, and Sharpton were not serious contenders. Kosovo War veteran General Wesley Clark never gained the traction people thought he would. Dean flamed out after his disappointing showing in Iowa and even more embarrassing high-pitched scream on national television.
Before Iowa, Democrats were holding out hope that their heroine, Hillary Clinton would jump in the race. She never did.
John Edwards inspired a great deal of Democrats with his youth, energy, and progressive vision, but as the primaries went on, Democrats resigned themselves to the fact that John Kerry was their most “electable” candidate and rallied around him. They believed that his experience as a Vietnam War veteran, prosecutor, Lieutenant Governor, and U.S. Senator with an assignment in the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations prepared Kerry to lead the nation in a time of war. This coupled with Bush’s declining approval ratings due to the Iraq War created an atmosphere that was ripe for a Democratic victory.
Immediately, the right-wing attack machine went on the offensive. They attacked Kerry on two fronts and created a significant amount of damage on both fronts. In order to take away his trump card, they hit Kerry on his strongest asset which was his experience as a war veteran. Republicans, who are especially quick and effusive with praise for every person who makes the sacrifice to wear the uniform, immediately called Kerry’s service into question.*
* (Congressman Allen West (R-FL), elected in 2010, assaulted a detainee in Iraq with a pistol and retired with full benefits under the cloud of a possible court martial. A reasonable observer could believe that Republicans looked the other way on this count because he was a Republican, not a Democrat. Source: CNN (Dec. 13, 2003). U.S. officer fined for harsh interrogation tactics. http://articles.cnn.com/2003-12-12/us/sprj.nirq.west.ruling_1_allen-west-iraqi-detainee-military-justice?_s=PM:US)
In order to keep the Bush campaign “clean”, a 527 group by the name of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was set up to question Kerry’s leadership and service to our nation and, by extension, his patriotism. This 527 was bankrolled by major Republican donors. The ad blitz proved to be effective even though there were inconsistencies in the accounts of the members of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and criticisms from other Vietnam War veterans for smearing a fellow veteran.
The tactic of accusing political opponents of being unpatriotic because they did not fully support the Bush foreign policy agenda trickled down to the grassroots. In 2004, I was accused by many Republicans of being unpatriotic because I was a Democrat. This was something that offends me to this day. On Election Day, Republican vandals tore off all the bumper stickers on my car. All of my Democratic stickers were positive and I never used anything that was anti-anything, tongue-in-cheek, derogatory, or offensive.
On the second front, the Bush campaign attacked Kerry on his flip-flopping on the issues. The fact that John Kerry came from the establishment, elitist wing of the Democratic Party made this attack far too easy. A video of John Kerry wind-surfing told the voters all they need to know about Kerry. He is a “finger-in-the-wind” politician whose tastes, interests, and hobbies do not reflect those of normal, hard-working Americans.
Bush would win reelection by a larger margin in ’04 than in ’00. Not knowing how to win with class, Republicans I encountered in the weeks following the election relished the opportunity to ridicule and humiliate me in public for standing up for my beliefs and participating in the political process.
Push fast forward to today.
Leading up to the 2012 Presidential election, Republicans are desperately hopeful and cautiously confident that they can defeat President Barack Obama, who they see as illegitimate and call him “The Current Occupier of the White House.” The Obama Administration’s overreach in the realm of domestic policy squandered the high approval ratings it once had. With a high unemployment rate continuing to plague the country, Republicans proposed alternate solutions to fix the economy and believe the people are on their side. A “generic Republican” beats Obama regularly in the major polls.
However, the field of Presidential candidates for the Republicans is awful. Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry are all vying for the nomination and, as energized the people are for the message, once the people see the messengers, they are disappointed. Two camps have formed. There is the Romney camp that stays perpetually at 25% and an anti-Romney camp with everyone else taking turns at being the front runner.
Throughout 2011, Republicans hoped that there would be a stronger candidate than Mitt Romney in the race. The list is long. Sarah Palin, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio were courted by the grassroots and major elected officials to run for President. All of them declined.
Republicans seem to have resigned to accepting Mitt Romney. Romney elicits passion only from Republicans inside the Beltway as he is culturally part of the “Cocktail Party” establishment (One does not need to drink or smoke to be comfortable with the ways and interests of the Cocktail Party). Outside the Beltway, in middle America, Republicans unenthusiastically believe that Romney is “electable” because, in this time of economic crisis, he has a background as a successful businessman and was the former Governor of Massachusetts, a liberal state which would, in turn, make Romney more appealing to moderates. Obama’s low approval ratings would make 2012 a prime opportunity for Republicans to win the White House.
However, is Romney really as “electable” as advertised? He won only one general election in his life and that was in 2002 to become the Governor of Massachusetts. He declined to run for reelection in 2006. One can surmise that he chose not to do so because he feared losing*. One can also reasonably believe that the politically ambitious Mitt Romney served as Governor only to set himself up for a Presidential run given the fact that he only served one term, spent quite a bit of time during his governorship building his name identification and base outside the state, and his politically cautious maneuvers.
* (Romney trailed all his possible Democratic challengers in the polls in 2005. Source: Joyner, James (Oct. 5, 2005). Mitt Romney Trailing in Massachusetts Poll. Outside the Beltway. http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/mitt_romney_trailing_in_massachusetts_poll/)
If Romney does become the Republican nominee for President, the left wing attack machine, just like the right wing attack machine eight years earlier, will come out in full force attacking Romney on two fronts. Similar to how right wingers attacked John Kerry’s strength and his penchant for flip-flopping, left wingers will do the same to Mitt Romney.
They will attack his credentials as a businessman. The Republican talking point is that people with wealth are successful and are the job creators America needs in order to get the nation back on track economically. However, if there is one thing populist conservatives and the Occupy Wall Street movement have in common, it is their shared anger at crony capitalists who use government or other privileges to their advantage to increase their wealth and power at a rate that eclipses the gains of the middle class and working class over the past few decades.
Republican Presidential candidates have already taken their turns criticizing Romney’s time at Bain Capital for buying up companies, laying off workers, moving the operations overseas, and earning profits off the ventures.* The Romney camp can spin this however they want, but when voters in a general election see this record, they can’t reconcile it with the rhetoric that says the wealthy needs tax cuts in order to create more jobs, especially when the argument is colored with Democratic bias. They will just think that wealthy people want tax cuts so that they can keep more of their money to make money for themselves and their investors and live large in $12 million mansions while people continue to be unemployed and unable to expand their homes to a comfortable $500,000 abode to meet the growing needs of their families, much less a $12 million mansion by the beach.
*(1. Lerer, Lisa (Jan. 18, 2008). Romney changes tune on layoffs. Politico. http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0108/7967.html)
2. Sarlin, Benjy (Dec. 21, 2011). Huntsman Camp Slams Bain Layoffs In New Hampshire. Talking Points Memo. http://2012.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/12/huntsman-camp-slams-bain-layoffs-in-new-hampshire.php)
Of course, Democrats will also attack Mitt Romney on flip-flopping just like Republicans did with John Kerry. The flip-flops are well documented.
Here is one. http://mittromneyflipflops.com/
Here are some videos.
Will 2012 for the Republicans be a repeat of 2004 for the Democrats? That remains to be seen. One thing is clear so far.
Mitt Romney is the Republican John Kerry.
Will, George (Oct. 28, 2011). Mitt Romney, the pretzel candidate. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mitt-romney-the-pretzel-candidate/2011/10/28/gIQAPEQ8PM_story.html