When Looking Ahead to 2012, Conservatives Should Remain Dispassionate

by Samuel R. Staley

One of the cardinal sins of marketing is believing your own press releases. Based on the responses to my post on Friday concerning Obama’s chances for winning a second term in 2012, a significant segment of the conservative movement might be falling into this trap.

I believe the Obama presidency has been an unqualified disaster for the nation and economy, as I’ve frequently written on the Corner and National Review as well as over at my home blog at the Reason Foundation. But that doesn’t mean Obama won’t win a second term. Incumbency is a powerful electoral force, for better or worse, and Americans have shown a preference for divided federal government. Of course, politics is fluid, but Allan Lichtman’s “keys” to the presidency are not just liberal drivel. Nor is his book a crystal ball. Lichtman simply articulated varied but significant factors that contribute to winning the presidency. “It’s the economy, stupid,” may be an appealingly simply mantra, but the outcomes of presidential elections are never that straightforward.

It doesn’t help that principled conservatives are still a political minority. Even the Tea Party, which has fundamentally shifted the political landscape, represents a plurality on the political landscape, not a majority. Combined with a Republican party that still has to overcome a lot of skepticism about its ability to govern, keep spending down, and stick to its principles, Obama has a number of factors working in his favor.

One of the reasons I submitted the post was a fear that politically minded conservatives and free-marketeers might get so caught up in the disaster of Obama’s policies that they would lose sight of the hard work that still has to happen to prevent a second term. After 25 years following and participating in state and local policymaking and politics, including co-founding two free-market state-based think tanks, I’ve learned not to underestimate the power of incumbency and or the willingness of the general public (or Republicans) to accept tax increases as a short-term “pragmatic” response to fiscal crises.

Do I want Obama to win a second term? No. Will he? Only time will tell. I’m hoping for a game changer. Even after digesting more than 90 negative responses to my post, IMHO more factors are working in favor of an Obama second term than against him as of August 1, 2012. (In fact, I believe they may be turning even more in his favor if the current debt-ceiling deal becomes law.)

For sitting presidents, the election is typically theirs to lose and the headwinds against challengers are stiff. That’s not a liberal or conservative conclusion. Conservatives and libertarians should take heed, and not get caught up in the emotion of the moment when looking ahead to 2012.

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