No Way to Choose a President
Painful primary-ing and the end game.


Jay Cost watches politics like a hawk. And so from time to time we check in to see how he’s processing what he sees. And so here you’ve clicked. He gave National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez his early-December view of political matters primary and general.

(Cost, by the way, has a book coming out next May, Spoiled Rotten: The Story of How the Democratic Party Embraced Special Interests, Abandoned the Public Good, and Came to Stand for Everything It Once Opposed, which can be pre-ordered on Amazon.)


KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: You’ve written: “[Obama] needs a noticeable uptick in the state of the union to stand a chance, as right now his numbers are just too weak. Barring that and/or a fumble by the Republicans, I see no path to reelection for this president.” Are you just pumping the base for clicks? Being overly optimistic?

COST: Well, those two caveats are not just to cover my you-know-what! Let’s take each in turn.

Right now, the consensus forecast for 2012 GDP is just 2.3 percent year-over-year growth, according to the Wall Street Journal. Unemployment is forecast to be at 8.7 percent. No president has ever been reelected when the economy was performing so far below its historical trendline. We can go back all the way to 1840 and see Martin Van Buren get tossed from office because of economic weakness. And if these estimates turn out to be more or less accurate, Obama will be in huge trouble.

But the GOP could still screw it up, and the probability of that happening looks to be increasing. I’ve talked before about the danger of an Obama “Frontlash” campaign — something like what LBJ ran on in 1964. To counter the backlash against Obama for a weak economy, the president’s team is going to try to make the GOP nominee seem so extreme and dangerous that swing voters will have no choice but to back Obama. Not all the would-be GOP nominees are susceptible to this kind of attack, but some of them are — and if the party selects one of them, then I’d honestly give the edge to Obama, weak economy and all.


LOPEZ: Is there a reasonably attractive candidate in the running on the GOP side? There is a lot of whining that the most reasonably attractive are sitting on the bench waiting for another year.

COST: This is a weak field. There’s no doubt about it. Even so, I think from a general-election standpoint, Romney is fine. Ditto Huntsman. 

And I personally think conservatives need to assign more weight to the electability factor than many of them are currently doing. This is not like 1996, when it was ultimately okay that Clinton was reelected because the GOP still controlled the Congress. With Obamacare waiting to be implemented, this is a must-win election for the Republicans. Frankly, anybody who can beat Obama and sign the repeal bill is good enough for me.

LOPEZ: Do you have a potential-fumble-watch checklist?

COST: Foot-in-mouth disease. That’s what nailed Goldwater in 1964. And I’d add that LBJ was bound to win that year, but the disaster of the Goldwater candidacy yielded the Great Society Congress, which passed Medicare, which is now bankrupting the country.

To that end, it’s worth pointing out that the Democrats learned no lessons from 2010. That means that if the GOP screws this up, Obama gets reelected, the Democrats hold the Senate and retake the House, then that Obama-Reid-Pelosi trio will go right back to doing all the stuff that got them in so much trouble in 2010. They’ll never stop. The Left is totally in charge of the Democratic party now, and, to borrow a concept from Samuel Gompers, they have a simple goal: More. More regulations, more spending, more redistribution. More, more, more. They’ll never stop, unless the GOP stops them.