Romney Was Never A Favorite

Photo courtesy of Austen Hufford

With the release of Mitt Romney‘s “47 percent” video this past week, many Republicans seem to believe that Romney is now losing a race he should have won — a sentiment expressed by Peggy Noonan, who lamented that this was “a year the Republican presidential candidate almost couldn’t lose.”

Where’d she get that?

Over the past 100 years, there have been five cases in which a challenger defeated an incumbent president. None of them serves as a model for a Republican victory in 2012.

In 1912, Woodrow Wilson defeated President William Howard Taft. Former President Teddy Roosevelt, angry that Taft had not continued his agenda, tried to defeat Taft for the Republican nomination. When TR failed, he mounted a third-party challenge, splitting the Republican vote and opening the door for Wilson.

In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt defeated President Herbert Hoover in the first presidential election after the 1929 stock market crash plunged the country into depression. The state of the economy was the dominant factor in the election, of course. But the economy had crashed on the watch of the incumbent, who was blamed for the depression and largely campaigned in a dour way from the White House, while FDR, the greatest politician of his generation, crossed the country, blaring his campaign song, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

In 1976, Jimmy Carter defeated President Gerald Ford. Ford became president when President Richard Nixon resigned, so he was not elected president in the first place. It was the first presidential election after Watergate, and the voters were not done punishing Republicans, even Republicans who had had nothing to do with it. Also, Ford was held in suspicion for pardoning Nixon. He had faced a strong intraparty challenge from Ronald Reagan. And the economy was lousy.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated President Jimmy Carter. Carter had faced a strong intraparty challenge from Ted Kennedy. He faced a third-party challenge from John Anderson. For a year, he was plagued by the Iranian hostage situation, including a failed rescue attempt. Carter was up against one of the greatest political talents of his time. And the economy was lousy.

In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush. Bush had faced an intraparty challenge from Pat Buchanan and then suffered the ill effects of a right-wing convention speech by Buchanan, which, the immortal Molly Ivins wrote, “sounded better in the original German.” Bush also faced a third-party challenge from Ross Perot, and he had infamously broken his “read my lips” pledge not to raise taxes. Also, Bush was up against one of the greatest political talents of his time. And the economy was lousy.

You can summarize these analyses in a lot of ways. Here’s one: In three cases, the winning challengers were among the most gifted politicians of the 20th century, and the sitting presidents were badly outmatched in political skill. In another case, a former president, from the same party as the incumbent, ran as a third-party candidate. And in the final case, the incumbent had not been elected president in the first place.

None of these scenarios compares to 2012. President Barack Obama faced no intraparty challenge and is facing no significant third-party challenger. The economy is weak, but it did not crash on his watch. There is no obviously complicating factor like the hostage crisis or Watergate, and Romney is not Reagan — or Clinton or FDR.

There is no historical model for a Romney win.

The possible eruption of hostilities with Iran or escalating Muslim protests against the U.S. could scramble the analysis, but voters’ initial reaction to national security emergencies is to support the president, and Romney is unlikely to inspire any exception to this rule.

There are still a few wild cards. Past elections don’t offer any basis for evaluating the impact of the voter ID laws passed in some swing states, which will make it harder for traditionally Democratic groups to vote. And this is the first presidential election since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision unleashed mountains of new money into the presidential race, most of it favoring Romney.

If these wild cards don’t pull out the race for Romney, many Republicans will feel that they blew it. That thinking suffers from a single-factor analysis that says Republicans should win because the economy is bad. There’s no basis in history for that. This election was never Romney’s to lose. It takes a lot to bring down an incumbent president; a weak economy is not enough.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chuck Briese, Oak Ridge Now

[avatar user="cbriese" size="thumbnail" align="left"] Chuck Briese has been a resident of South Montgomery County since 1988. He and his lovely and patient wife, Leslie, have six sons, with only one left to finish high school. Chuck has been a Cub Scout leader, a Little League baseball coach, a church youth leader, and a general troublemaker over the course of the past 25 years. He is obsessed with his lawn, and likes restaurants that serve food that fills up the plate. He has a tendency to tilt at windmills, which may explain why he started Oak Ridge Now.

More Posts - Website