A Long Row to Hoe

In “A Welcome Trend,” I point to Obama’s declining popularity and note that

the trend — if it continues — offers hope for GOP gains in the mid-term elections, if not a one-term Obama-cy.

Of course, it is early days yet. Popularity lost can be regained. Clinton succeeded in making himself so unpopular during his first two years in office that the GOP was able to seize control of Congress in the 1994 mid-term elections. But Clinton was able to regroup, win re-election in 1996, and leave the presidency riding high in the polls, despite (or perhaps because of) his impeachment.

Focusing on 2012, and assuming that Obama runs for re-election, what must the GOP do to unseat him? In “There Is Hope in Mudville,” I offer this:

What about 2012? Can the GOP beat Obama? Why not? A 9-State swing would do the job, and Bush managed a 10-State swing in winning the 2000 election. If Bush can do it, almost anyone can do it — well, anyone but another ersatz conservative like Bob Dolt or John McLame.

Not so fast. A closer look at the results of the 2008 election is in order:

  • Based on the results of the 2004-2008 elections, I had pegged Iowa, New Hampshire, and New Mexico as tossup States: McCain lost them by 9.5, 9.6, and 15.1 percentage points, respectively.
  • I had designated Florida, Ohio, and Nevada as swing-Red States — close, but generally leaning toward the GOP. McCain lost the swing-Red States by 2.8, 4.6, and 12.5 percentage points, respectively.
  • Of the seven States I had designated as leaning-Red, McCain lost Viginia (6.3 percentage points) and Colorado (9.0 percentage points). (He held onto Missouri by only 0.1 percentage point.)
  • McCain also managed to lose two firm-Red States: North Carolina (0.3) and Indiana (1.0).

The tossups are no longer tossups. It will take a strong GOP candidate to reclaim them in 2012. The same goes for Nevada, Virginia, and Colorado. Only Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Indiana are within easy reach for the GOP’s next nominee.

McCain did better than Bush in the following States: Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Massachusetts. The first five were already firm- and leaning-Red, so McCain’s showing there was meaningless. His small gain in Massachusetts (1.7 percentage points) is likewise meaningless; Obama won the Bay State by 25.8 percentage points. In sum, there is no solace to be found in McCain’s showing.

The GOP can win in 2012 only if

  • Obama descends into Bush-like unpopularity, and stays there; or
  • Obama remains a divisive figure (which he is, all posturing to the contrary) and the GOP somehow nominates a candidate who is a crowd-pleaser and a principled, articulate spokesman for limited government.

The GOP must not offer a candidate who promises to do what Obama would do to this country, only to do it more effectively and efficiently. The “base” will stay home in droves, and Obama will coast to victory — regardless of his unpopularity and divisiveness.

I hereby temper the optimistic tone of my earlier posts. The GOP has a long row to hoe.