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 packâs 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 Obamaâs 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 "read my lips: no new taxes" when he meant to say "look 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?