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Yesterday on Salon, Steve Kornacki made the contrarian argument that, despite all the talk of the GOP 2012 field being populated by a gaggle of hacks, has-beens, and hysterics, supporters of the President underestimate the Republicans at their own peril:

It'€™s hard to argue with this observation; we'€™ve documented plenty of the GOP pack’s flaws here. But it'€™s also not nearly as significant as it sounds.

As a general rule, whenever presidential fields are dismissed as unusually weak or flawed, it's a good idea to think back to late 1991 and early 1992, when virtually the entire political universe was convinced that the Democratic pack contained nothing but certain November losers.

[...]

The lesson for the '12 race is obvious: If the economy takes a turn for the worse and popular anxiety is soaring, Obama will be a ripe target for the GOP nominee, even if he (or she) emerges from a pack derided for its flaws and shortcomings. So in terms of President Obama’s reelection prospects, it doesn'€™t mean too much that the GOP field now seems so unimposing.

This doesn'€™t mean that it'€™s impossible for the GOP to muck up a winnable '€™12 race - if it ends up being a winnable race - by nominating an egregiously flawed candidate. It'€™s just not too likely.

I'€™m not buying this argument, although its fundamental premise--€“that this is a rather evenly split country, and a bad economy plus simple partisan loyalty can be enough to buoy even a paper-thin candidate--is sound. If you need proof that enormous numbers of people will vote for their preferred party almost no matter whose name is on the ticket, I'd refer you here.

So that'€™s not my issue. Instead, my issue is with the '€™92 comparison. It makes sense on the surface, but the fact is that Kornacki'€™s analogy neglects to recognize one of--€“if not the--€“key elements of the '€™92 election. I'€™d go so far as to say that his oversight leaves a huge vacuum, from which emanates a giant sucking sound...

All right; I'€™ll stop being cute; you guessed it. He forgot this beautiful SOB:

That'€™s right, it'€™s our good buddy Ross Perot. And while he may now be best remembered for Dana Carvey'€™s legendary SNL impressions, the fact is that Mr. Perot had an enormous impact on the 1992 election, in all likelihood all but handing the White House to Bubba. Let'€™s use the blessed Wikipedia to refresh our memory as to how that vote went down:

You wouldn'€™t know it from how we think of the guy nowadays, but the fact is that at the time, Perot ran the most successful third-party campaign in 80 years (topped only by the legendary Teddy Roosevelt), seizing upon widespread discontent amongst then-President Bush's base, and running with it straight into future pop-trivia immortality.

H.W.'s big mistake, of course, was saying "€œread my lips: no new taxes"€ when he meant to say "€œlook at the f*&^ing deficit: we need new taxes." And while Bush'€™s decision to break his promise and raise taxes for the good of the country'€™s economy was noble, there'€™s a reason no Republican since has been willing to even dream about raising taxes without breaking out into a cold sweat. It was an enormous hindrance toward'€™s Poppy Bush'€™s chances of reelection, and while it was hardly the only reason--€“a sluggish economy, a distinct lack of charisma, and the fact that his party had already held the Presidency for the previous 12 years sure didn'€™t help--€“Bush'€™s tax -rationality- apostasy is much of the reason why he clocked an anemic, embarrassing 37.5% of the popular vote.

And to Perot (well, Clinton, really) went the spoils. That'€™s the reason why, despite being seen as a fatally flawed candidate, Clinton pulled it out--€“not simply because the man from Hope felt our pain or, as Kornacki indicates, the out-party can always win the White House in a weak economy.

Third-party campaigns like Perot'€™s are extremely rare (just check out how he fared in 1996 for proof), so the chances of something like that happening in 2012 aren'€™t high. And while there remains in this country a significant bloc of voters like those that punched their ticket for Perot, they'€™re not really in play. You may have heard of them; they'™re called the Tea Party (and they don't take kindly to MORANS). Judging by how 2010 went--€“and how the prospective 2012 candidates are positioning themselves thus far--the chances of the Tea Party not bedding down with the GOP in 2012 are slim to none.

But even if, that were to occur (if, somehow, we got a Mittens + Specter RINO-rama ticket) a Tea Party third-party challenge--€“besides being decidedly less of a "party" than one might think--€“would undoubtedly siphon votes away from the Republicans, not our incumbent President.

To say the least, I think Obama would welcome adding "Sarah Palin (Tea Party-Alaska)"€ to the debates.

Basically, unless Dennis Kucinich suddenly becomes the barn-storming, vote-gobbling firebrand phenomenon absolutely no one on earth thinks he could be, I just don't think 1992 tells us much about 2012. So keep on gloating, my fellow defeatocrats. Besides t Kornacki, who could really blame you with material like this?

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Comment Preferences

  •  In 1992 Corporations Were Not Allowed (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fizziks, k9disc, tardis10, neroden

    unlimited political advertising.

    Ads are all over the place now and the deficit is now the #2 issue for voters.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 06:48:36 PM PDT

  •  Pretty much every credible analysis (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fizziks, Jim P, Bill W, Big River Bandido

    of 1992 holds that Perot ultimately drew evenly from Bush and Clinton. Clinton might have snagged a handful of extra EV because of Perot, but that didn't change the outcome of the election.

    I think the 1992 comparison happens to be a good one, and it worries me.

    Ok, so I read the polls.

    by andgarden on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 06:57:17 PM PDT

    •  True (0+ / 0-)

      IIRC, Perot announced in the spring of 1992, then dropped out in early/mid summer when he couldn't take the heat.  Then he re-entered the race in October. By the time Perot re-entered the race Clinton was already polling well ahead of Bush, and in some polls he had a clear majority.  

  •  Sorry but this diary is stupid (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bill W

    A) Every serious (not beltway serious but actual serious) person agrees that Clinton would have won in 1992 in the absence of Perot.  It is a stale right wing talking point that he wouldn't have, but that doesn't make it true.  

    B)

    And while there remains in this country a significant bloc of voters like those that punched their ticket for Perot, they'€™re not really in play. You may have heard of them; they'™re called the Tea Party (and they don't take kindly to MORANS).
     What??  Perot attracted many middle of the road and unaffiliated voters back in 1992 - the religious right largely stayed Rethug. And this time around, the Teabaggers are the morans - what do you mean they don't take kindlt to them.  You are correct that they will vote for the Republican nominee this time, but it's not like they didn't back then.
    •  I don't agree, and I consider myself serious. (0+ / 0-)

      Perot was about money and business. Reducing the Debt, etc.

      I find it hard to believe that he drew the same from Democrats as he did Republicans, but I could be wrong. Democratic support for Perot might have come from Unions, but my guess is that it was the thinkers in the Unions that broke for Perot, but the Doers stuck with Reagan and the free-market=Democracy.

      NAFTA was an outlier. I think it was a wonky kind of a spectre - like a bogeyman with nerdy glasses. It just wasn't harsh enough or concrete enough to steal the rank and file Union folk, as it is today (if only someone 'serious' would articulate it).

      I did a paper on it, it was shitty and half assed, but I had reams upon reams of research - pro and con - that I sifted through and I found the content fascinating. At the time, it was unclear to me who, pro or con, was actually right, but in hindsight, it was painfully clear that NAFTA was a power grab by private interests that would do nothing but impoverish America.

      Anyway, kind of rambling here, but I did want to speak up as someone who considers myself serious that believes that without Perot, there would probably be no Clinton and, surely, the 'Third Way' would not be the only way.

      Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

      by k9disc on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 07:52:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  exit polling (0+ / 0-)

        The only quantifiable measure I can think of is the exit polling, and in 1992, Perot voters were pretty evenly split on whether they'd have backed Bush or Clinton had Perot not been on the ballot.  
        We could get into the more abstract issues, like how Perot's presence throughout the campaign may have changed things.  His deficit-hawk tendencies might have drawn more potential Bush supporters, but then again, Clinton wasn't exactly running as a big spender himself.  And there's no question that the anti-incumbent "throw the bums out" voters that Perot attracted would have been more likely to support Clinton than they would Bush.
        The two Perot voters I'm most familiar with are my sister and her husband, and they were Nader voters in 2000.  Hardly tea-party types.

        •  Evenly split is not even in exit polling. (0+ / 0-)

          Given the people's penchant for wanting to support a winner, I'd say that some of them lied.

          I really don't put a lot of stock in polling, especially since 1992.

          Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

          by k9disc on Thu Mar 24, 2011 at 12:43:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  morans = tongue-in-cheek (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      neroden

      I also wouldn't agree with the serious argument that it came from Clinton, but if you've got some evidence, obviously, lay it on me.

      But k9disc made my argument pretty well for me.

      Also, all this talk of citizens united seems to, imo, neglect the fact that it wasn't so long ago that the democrats were significantly out-raising the GOP on wall st.

      the problem with CU isn't the threat it poses to the D party; the D party will simply move towards catering to rich people (even more than it already does).

      CU threatens the other 98% of us.

  •  Democrats should not underestimate them for (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    neroden, PhilK

    2 reasons:
    1. Citizens United and Corporate Sponsorship
    2. Democratic Rhetoric and Policy do not match their values.

    peace

    Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

    by k9disc on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 07:54:18 PM PDT

  •  let me google that for myself (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    neroden

    besides the funky layout this link - http://www.leinsdorf.com/... - does seem to bear out that perot didn't take as much from Bush as I'd thought (altho I just want to note that I didn't think he tipped the election). I still feel like a lot of Perot's voters are the type of low-information, angry populists who support the tea party (altho obviously much of the TP is just the right-wing's base, rebranded). but yeah I was wrong on that and thanks for pointing it out.

    •  One thing: Perot was right about NAFTA. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fizziks, neroden

      Although I imagine a President Perot would have done the banking deregulation just like Clinton did.


      Until we break the corporate virtual monopoly on what we hear and see, we keep losing, don't matter what we do.

      by Jim P on Wed Mar 23, 2011 at 09:16:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  If you look at the '92 returns (0+ / 0-)

    you'll find that the places Perot carried were the ancestrally Republican type places where the current Teabagger message is least likely to resonate.  Especially instructive is a county by county comparison between Perot's performance in 1992 and Anderson's run in 1980 against Reagan.

  •  What I remember (0+ / 0-)

    about 1992... Dick Gephardt, considered the leading Dem. at the time, decided not to challenge Bush because he thought Bush was unassailable after his Gulf War poll numbers were in the stratosphere.  Gephardt wasn't the only wuss Dem.

    Clinton, on the other hand, said 'fuck that' I'm going after Bush.  A little timing helped when the recession hit before the election which spelled doom to the "I don't know what a price scanner is" and "what's the price of milk?" and "gotta look at my watch during this debate" Bush.

    My understanding is that Perot pulled independents about evenly, but attracted normally reliable Republicans away from Bush.

    After Clinton won, fuckwad Bob Dole, then the Senate majority leader, repeatedly hammered away that Clinton was not a legitimate president because he didn't get a majority of the votes.  This is the real damage Perot wrought on the first Clinton term.

    Whether 1992 can be compared to 2012 - who knows?  I don't think Obama is George H.W. Bush.  Not in the least.  He's a better politician than Bush was.  Bush was still hampered somewhat by being Reagan's number two.  He had other baggage.  Obama, to me, is much more presidential.

    •  "the real damage Perot wrought..." (0+ / 0-)
      ...Bob Dole, then the Senate majority leader, repeatedly hammered away that Clinton was not a legitimate president because he didn't get a majority of the votes.  This is the real damage Perot wrought on the first Clinton term.

      Luckily, we only had to concern ourselves with popular vote numbers for a few years.  In 2000, as we all remember, the Republicans decided that popular vote figures are utterly meaningless, and electoral  college margins are the only numbers that matter.

  •  Republicans simply have no chance (0+ / 0-)

    at an Electoral College majority in 2012 — period.  There's no way for them to thread that needle, and all these diaries about the incumbent being threatened fail to consider the awesome political muscle that comes with being in the White House.  Piss-poor economy and Citizen's United be damned;  Obama will be awash in cash.  

    Obama's only problem will be to motivate his own base.  That could potentially be a huge problem, and the only thing that might sink him in 2012.  

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