|With bin Laden gone and no true 2012 opponent, how many steps ahead is the president? | AP Photo|
May 5, 2011 04:45 AM EDT
It’s the oldest truism in politics: You can’t beat something with nothing. For 2012, the Democrats have something: Barack Obama. The Republicans, so far, have nothing.
This could change. But who is going to change it? And when? It may seem like the Republicans have a lot of time until the 2012 campaign, but they do not. Obama is already running for reelection and already raising money. Lots of money.
For the GOP, the sands are rushing through the hourglass.
Item: The Quinnipiac poll finds “Still No Clear Leader in GOP Field.” Pollster Peter Brown says: “It is difficult to get a handle on the 2012 Republican race. Many contenders are not well known, and many who are known are not liked, making their candidacies problematic.”
The killing of Osama bin Laden by the Obama administration shows what a difference a death can make. Not to world security; that is still dicey. But the Republican field has been fried like an egg.
Item: “The day after a one-day Washington Post poll found Obama getting a 9-point bounce in his approval rating, a new two-day New York Times/CBS News survey shows the president’s numbers increasing 11 points, from 46 percent last month to 57 percent now,” says First Read. “The increase in Mr. Obama’s ratings came largely from Republicans and independents.”
Item: Bruce Keough, the 2008 director of Mitt Romney’s New Hampshire campaign, says he won’t rejoin in 2012 because, according to Mother Jones, “he’s no longer sure what Romney stands for.” In an interview with the publication, Keough said: “I don’t think the voters are looking for somebody who’s going to be recasting himself. They want somebody who’s been true to a certain set of political ideals for a while.”
No matter how well Republicans did as a party in the last congressional elections, their presidential field was shallow in 2008, and it is shallow today.
In 2008, the Republican order of finish, based on delegates to the nominating convention, was: John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson and Duncan Hunter. Rudy Giuliani ran in the primaries but ended up with no delegates. The rest of the field of Alan Keyes, Sam Brownback, Tom Tancredo, etc., withdrew before the primaries.
Take a gander at those names, and tell me how many you can actually see in the Oval Office running the country today. Two? One? None?
Here is the Republican field for 2012, based on the highly useful Real Clear Politics average of leading polls. The potential candidates are in order: Huckabee, Romney, Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Mitch Daniels and Rick Santorum. Jon Huntsman is said to be preparing to run but is not yet being included in national polls. Others may also enter.
Huckabee is polling at 16.6 percent, Romney at 16.5, Trump at 16.3 and Palin at 10.1. All the rest are in single digits.
Again, take a look at the entire field. How many would make you comfortable if they were sitting in the Oval Office, making decisions about the economy, health care, education, the environment and war and peace?
If you came up with any names at all, how confident are you that any one of them could defeat Obama in November 2012?
And now you see the problem for the Republicans. It’s not the billion dollars Obama is expected to raise, it’s not that he has gone through a presidential campaign while none of the Republicans have (except Sarah Palin as the vice presidential nominee in 2008), it’s not his oratorical skills and mastery of the issues — he has not spent the past 28 months just golfing (although he has spent a lot of the past 28 months just golfing) — it’s the image he has created based on his record of a competent, cool, skilled, experienced, capable leader of this country.
Has he done things that have disappointed Democrats and enraged Republicans? Of course. I have written about many of them week after week, especially his perilous policy of continuing the war in Afghanistan and his launching of a confused and confusing war in Libya.
But Obama also rescued the economy, saved the auto industry, expanded health care to millions of children, passed health care reform for everybody, repealed the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military and eased the restrictions on stem cell research.
And, oh, yeah, he found and killed Osama bin Laden.
Presidential campaigns can be marked by high-velocity changes. The media are much too driven by polls (I try to resist this but often fail). And as a White House operative reminded me recently, the two leaders at the beginning of the last campaign were Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. (Both made grievous mistakes. Hillary underestimated Obama, and Giuliani underestimated the ability of Americans to dislike New Yorkers.)
The media and the public have been mesmerized by Donald Trump in recent weeks. He led the polls by 9 percentage points a month ago. But a presidential campaign is a meat grinder, and Trump has now been minced. Today, he is largely seen as just another buffoon with delusions of adequacy. He is not now and will not ever be a credible challenger to Obama.
Does that mean we don’t need an election campaign in 2012 and that Obama has already won?
Nope. He has vulnerabilities. He is going to have to defend a four-year record. And the economy could tank. Even further. The Republicans could beat this guy. All they have to do is find someone to do it.
They have to find a candidate who is smart, gutsy, nimble, creative, credible, determined and capable of raising vast sums of money.
Give me a minute, and I’ll try to come up with a name.
Roger Simon is POLITICO’s chief political columnist.
© 2011 Capitol News Company, LLC