What if 2012 Isn’t Obama’s Last Campaign?
Picture it: It’s December, and folks like you and I are celebrating the recent presidential campaign victory of Mitt Romney. It wasn’t a landslide; something on par with the Electoral College map of Bush vs. Kerry, and Romney winning the popular vote by two or three percentage points.
In that scenario, do you envision President Obama accepting defeat gracefully? Do you picture him congratulating President Romney on his victory, and pledging to do everything possible to ensure a smooth transition? Do you think the president will be ready to move on to post-White House life, focusing upon memoir-writing, building his presidential library, some charitable and foundation work, and plenty of golf?
Or do you think President Obama, and David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett and all of the true believers will find some reason to believe the result is illegitimate? Some combination of SuperPAC spending and voter ID laws that they believe nullifies the results? I don’t mean a constitutional crisis where Obama refuses to recognize the results, I mean just a narrative of “Romney cheated” that will reassure liberals that their views really are popular, and a return to the natural order of their eternal string of victories is one election-law change away. (In liberals’ view of the world, they never suffer a legitimate defeat.)
Seeing that rotund, irate Iowa woman storm the stage at the state fair to berate Paul Ryan, I can’t help but suspect we’ll see a lot of lefty rage in response to a Romney victory. Romney, Ryan, Speaker Boehner and Majority/Minority Leader McConnell will have a full plate, and they may see Wisconsin-style protests on a national scale. Occupy Wall Street may not be completely deflated; a “stolen election” makes a heck of a rallying cry.
If there’s anything we’ve seen, it’s that President Obama loves to campaign – to hold fundraisers, to attend rallies, to attend ‘town meetings’ where the questioners mostly ask why people aren’t smart enough to see how great he is. In January 2013, former President Obama would find himself with a lot of time to do all that.
I’m not the first to ponder this question, or to come to the same suspicions. Mickey Kaus saw a signal in Obama’s gay marriage shift:
Thinking two steps ahead? If Barack Obama loses the 2012 election, do you think he’s going to quit elective politics, serve on a series of corporate and foundation boards, write a best-selling children’s book on being a Dad and a Lugaresque memoir describing how Fox News and Peter Orszag betrayed him? I don’t. I think he’s going to run again, Grover Cleveland style. That casts possible additional (distant) light on today’s endorsement of same-sex marriage: It may or may not help Obama in 2012. But it would much more reliably likely help him in 2016, when public opinion can be expected to have shifted further in favor of this social innovation. It would certainly help him in the Democratic primaries. ….
Aaron Goldstein was even more explicit: “Let’s say Obama loses in November. He has a ready made excuse for his defeat. Obama can say that the forces of darkness (i.e. opponents of gay marriage) are to blame for his defeat while patting himself on the back for his “courage” in supporting same sex marriage. It also helps to position him for a comeback in 2016 or 2020. Make no mistake. If Obama loses this fall it won’t be the last we see of him. By that time with a greater presence of voters born after 1980 chances are there will be more voters in favor of gay marriage which would give Obama an opportunity to claim he was ahead of the curve.”
Back in July, James Pethokoukis came up with five reasons the president might try to come back again:
1. Obama, always trim and fit, would be only 55 on Election Day 2016.
2. Obama would likely still have a deep reservoir of support among key Democratic interest groups including (most importantly) African Americans, gays, young voters, and the educated elite.
3. Many Democrats might be inclined to give an historic president a second chance, reasoning he was dealt an impossibly bad economic hand by George W. Bush. “Bush got two terms, and Obama just one? Please.”
4. While there could potentially be some big name rivals in 2016, including Hillary Clinton and Andrew Cuomo, none seem as formidable as Ronald Reagan was to Ford in 1980.
5. The economy the next four years could be pretty rough thanks to high levels of U.S. debt and a possible eurozone implosion. The Obama years might be subject to some positive revisionist history by a friendly media. And as one gloomy economic analyst told me recently,”Whichever party wins the White House in 2012 won’t win again for 20 years.”
There are a lot of people who are emotionally invested in the notion of Barack Obama as a transformative, redeeming, era-defining national leader.
In fact, thinking back to my Jolt of a few days ago, about how political leaders seek to have heroic narratives… perhaps Obama would be even more pleased with himself with “wilderness years.” In fact, if Obama really is a messiah-like figure in the minds of his biggest fans… doesn’t he need to return and demonstrate a political resurrection?