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1980, Part Deux?

The incumbent was facing serious economic challenges, but everyone assumed he’d pull it out in the general election. He was facing what the Conventional Wisdom determined was a weak candidate, a man the intelligentsia deemed too outside the mainstream to win the White House. The president led comfortably in all the polls leading up to the election, when all the undecided broke for the “extremist,” and thus Jimmy Carter became a one-term president until Barack Obama decided to fill in as proxy for his second term. And now he faces an electoral landscape similar to that of his ideological soulmate, only the challenger is doing a lot better than Reagan was doing in May of 1980.

Looking back at 1980, I’m becoming increasingly bullish about Mitt Romney’s chances.

Everyone seems to assume that this election is going to look and feel a whole lot like the past three elections. Even 2008, when Obama became the first Democrat to win a majority of voters since Carter, was tight enough that the red state/blue state from 2000 still meant something. But in 1980, only six states were blue. (Actually, I think for that election, they were using the color red for Democratic wins. They used to alternate the colors with every election. It’s only since the Bush squeaker in 2000 that the partisan colors have solidified.)

In 1984, Walter Mondale carried only one state – his home state of Minnesota, which rejected him in 2002. (Mondale holds the dubious distinction of being the only politician to lose a statewide election in all fifty states.) That year, even Massachusetts went for the Gipper. The rigid electoral polarization of this country is presumed to be a permanent fixture of American politics, but, like all such political axioms, this one will be true only up to and including the point when it isn’t.

It’s becoming increasingly likely that 2012 will look a whole lot more like 1980 than 2008.

I thought about this as Mick Jagger performed a really weird political blues satire on Saturday Night Live this weekend. Watch out for a fecal vulgarity that the NBC censors missed:

Nice of Mick to note that Romney “always says his prayers,” as if that’s a bad thing. I suppose that’s a condescending reminder that Romney’s a Mormon religious zealot, but it’s not as if Mick can get more specific, as he lacks, shall we say, a certain credibility in making the case for traditional religion or morality. Thus he has to come up with something else for the money line: “Don’t let him cut your hair.”

Really? That’s the best anti-Romney weapon in his arsenal?

The bully story has frayed around the edges since it first ran – the family of the alleged victim has called it “factually inaccurate” and the Washington Post bungled a critical detail about one of Romney’s classmates – but the reality is that few, if any, voters will change their minds based on a fifty-year-old high school incident.

This election will be about the economy, and the bipartisan consensus is that the economy stinks.

It’s not the only thing that stinks, though. The Obama reelection campaign isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. They can’t conjure up any leftover hope and change from the previous election, so they’re churning out blame and fear. Yes, the economy stinks, they concede, but it’s Bush’s fault. And look! Romney’s a financial predator/weirdo/extremist/flip flopper/woman hater/bully. Don’t let him cut the nation’s hair!

They want to make this election a referendum on Republicans and Mitt Romney, as opposed to a referendum on the incumbent, which such electoral contests almost invariably are. There are exceptions, of course. You’ve got Goldwater, McGovern, and Kerry as shining examples of candidates that troubled incumbents were able to paint as unacceptable alternatives, but Romney doesn’t fit their mold. He’s not a wild-eyed ideologue like Goldwater or McGovern, and, although he shares geography and wealth with Kerry, the similarities between the two candidates and their electability end there.

In 2004, three years after 9/11, the focus was on the War on Terror, not the economy, and Kerry was seen as too weak or indecisive to prosecute the war effectively. But as much as Obama would like this to be about bin Laden’s death, gay marriage, contraception, or involuntary haircuts, it’s not going to be. It’s going to be about the economy, and Obama making the case that Romney can’t handle that as well as he can is just not going to sell to non-ideological voters. That could well mean that the red/blue divide won’t be nearly as stark as it has been this past decade.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not yet willing to bet good money on a 1980 outcome. But I would advise the Obama supporters on Intrade to start hedging their bets.

Mitt Romney and Doo-Ball
My Brow-Beating Techniques

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  1. What a weak bit of political analysis… Have you been actually listening to Romney’s speeches of late? He’s the one true CONSERVATIVE!

  2. “You’ve got Goldwater, McGovern, and Kerry as shining examples of candidates that troubled incumbents were able to paint as unacceptable alternatives, but Romney doesn’t fit their mold. He’s not a wild-eyed ideologue like Goldwater or McGovern, and, although he shares geography and wealth with Kerry, the similarities between the two candidates and their electability end there.”

    Here you claim that Mitt Romney is not an ideologue– when he himself attempts to create the persona of being a perfect conservative:

    Look as his points– all of them are ripped from conservative pages. So if that is not being conservative I don’t know what is– he claims to be using conservative leadership plans– then he makes a claim to be the new-aged Cincinnatus for the Republic of the New Roman. I mean he’s against the plebeians (what a surprise) promoting an aristocratic system based on the relative wealth of the members within society. Which will undoubtedly turn from being a system of purely economic based status through consumerism to that of stratified and ossified class systems based on birthright. That is after all what happens when inequality is not only projected as worthwhile but necessary to the proper maintenance and function of the society as a whole. Sooner or later people become hereditary victims of the previous generations failures or inabilities to move up the socioeconomic ladder.

    But getting back to your general analysis- besides misrepresenting Romney’s sudden move from moderate to conservative ideologue. You’ve also forgotten to talk how Romney’s own record on job creation is weak. His inability to successfully translate his career of Capital Assets Consulting– i.e Bain Capital into something that seems less like a slash and burn occupation. His inability to actually be able to attack Obama on his healthcare system: after all it is in fact an scalar model of Romney’s own system in Mass. And of course the fact that most economists are projecting modest but significant signs of improvement within the economy itself.

    This article shows that both Obama and Romney have a problem with the economy:–abc-news-politics.html

    This one shows the potential for greater economic recovery:–finance.html;_ylt=A2KJ3CRWubtPGVsAkP7QtDMD

    This article shows that homes sales are improving.–business.html

    Slow but Steady–
    More signs that a mild economic recovery is occurring.

    This article is just for fun– keep it simple stupid– for the masses!!!

    So, my problem with your general analysis is that it claims that economy is failing or stagnating. When in fact it is growing- not much and not certainly fast enough. And that has a lot to do with the policies of the the new anti-government Tea Party candidates that want to secure economic failure. You should read the book:
    It is a fascinating read actually. And you can see right now with this race how interlaced the Democrats and Republicans are with the business interests of the country. In fact I would agree with Chomsky and argue that in fact this nation has one party: The Business Party and two factions of it “Democratic Party” and “Republican Party”. And really what we are seeing is the destruction of the more liberal faction in the party , the Democrats, and the creation of a monolithic party system based on ultra-right wing elements of the “Republican Party”. Which is why your analysis fails– you fail to see that really Obama and Romney are two centrists attempting to appeal to more extremes in their own factions of the same party. So that means at some point alienation of the middle or outer extremes must occur to secure the middle of the road majority of American Independent voters for either one to win.

    That being said the question is which group of voters can safely alienate without any effect on your polling numbers? I would say that since the Tea Party’s victory last election the base of the Republican Party has become decidedly more right leaning in its ideological stance thus making Romney more susceptible to alienating them as time goes on. I would also postulate that given the recall votes in States like Wisconsin, the failure to produce gains by ultra-right wing governments e.g Indiana’s failure to reduce the Unions in the State, and the general lack of confidence in the Congress that Romney will be able to maintain his ultra right wing positions of the primary. In fact I think Romney will have to make a radical shift to the middle that will no doubt leave many smaller factions in the Republican Party displeased with him.

    So while you say Romney is doing well and cannot be painted in a bad light– I say Romney is time-bomb. His inability to effectively connect to his base or expand on it with a message that resonates between moderates and ultra-tight wing conservatives means alienation is inevitable. The question is what group will he throw overboard? I would guess he’s betting on the conservatives having an upper hand– if that is so I would put most independents in Obama’s corner since he is the moderate.

    Then you have the fact that Romney cannot really fall back on his Mass record. His record is horrible– worse than Obama’s. In short Romney has to make this about Conservative values v. Liberal Values or he will die a horrible death.

    The economy is not Romney’s friend.

    • So your point, as I understand it, is that Romney is cut from the same mold as Barry Goldwater, that Bain Capital will be a bigger issue than the pathetic recovery, and that economic forecasts will persuade the massive crowd of unemployed/underemployed/left-the-workforce-in-unprecedented-numbers people that happy days are here again?

      Good luck with that.

      • Actually, my point is that while you attempt to paint Romney as being some how ideologically neutral– he himself is attempting to paint himself as a “true conservative”. So you’re incorrect when you claim that is is false to think of him as conservative. After all that is what he wants you to think of him as.

        Will Bain Capital be a bigger issue than a weak recovery? Well, that will all depend on how much traction Obama can develop by using it. I think it will be a huge factor since it is basically Romney’s only claim at present to being a jobs creator. He won’t bring up his Mass record because it is pathetic. So he has to link himself to this record and it isn’t much better. So I think Bain Capital is the Achilles heal of Romney.

        Will the workforce be won over by a person who tells them:
        Romney is pretty interesting actually– he flips and flops better than anyone else. That is from Ron Paul… So my question is this how will Romney win over Ron Paul Libertarian movement?

        How will Romney win over the dissatisfied members of the population who are basically moderates–
        Do you think he will resonate well with people who are paying about 40% in taxes for their income while Romney is making 7.5-10million in total is paying 14% in income tax? Do you think that will make him a friend of the dwindling middle class?

        How do you think he will come off to people who still facing foreclosures with comments like this:

        You know with a direct frontal assault on Romney’s positions over the years a smart campaign manager can eat Romney up and Spit him out before breakfast.

        The only question is one of money. Will the Obama administration be able to raise enough money and be focused enough to slaughter him.

        • Where do I claim Romney is “ideologically neutral?” Of course he’s conservative. My point was that in order to make him an unacceptable alternative, the Obama people have to paint Romney as an extremist outside the mainstream. Reagan was conservative; Obama is liberal. Both got elected, though, because, unlike McGovern and Goldwater, they were not perceived as extremists.

          Much as you like to believe otherwise, conservatism is a very mainstream philosophy, and this is a center-right country.

          Again, good luck with putting all of your eggs in the Bain basket. If I had to put money down on whether the selection was going to be a referendum on Bain Capital or a referendum on the economy, it’d be a no-brainer.

  3. It is not just saying conservative things– it is the fact that everyone of the candidates has said the same exact statements basically. Which sort of leads me to wonder are they all just blindly following the conservative rabbit down his or her rabbit hole in the hopes of connecting to the base?

    • Yeah, but none of the same things everyone’s saying have the same ring as “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” My point is that Romney does not come across as an extremist.

      • That’s subjective– and it doesn’t mean you’re not an ideologue just because you’re not an extremist.