Responding to a Salon article by Democratic Strategist Ed Kilgore on the Republicans’ “2012 problem,” RS McCain offers up a mixture of snark and political prognostication. The snark is arguably well-deserved, and McCain delivers it with relish. He doesn’t, however, seem to have taken as much interest in his own political speculation:
Is BHO not already the most protested POTUS ever? Should he not hold that dubious honor, he shall by 2012.
McCain’s heart may be in the right place, at least if you share his estimations of the Tea Party Movement and of Barack Hussein Obama, but “most protested POTUS ever” strikes me as a reality-free historical observation (Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Milhous Nixon, a.o., are rolling over in their graves). It’s not really up to the relatively low standard set by Kilgore when, in downgrading Mike Pence’s presidential prospects, he reaches for his political almanac and points out that no sitting House member has won a presidential nomination since 1896.
You don’t have to be the sponsor of the Pence12 Facebook page to recognize how utterly irrelevant such factoids are to whatever is really going to answer run/not-run and win/not-win for a prospective candidate, but merely declaring that Kilgore is flacking for the Dems doesn’t make McCain’s own conclusions any less self-servingly wishful:
Counter-analysis: the 2010 election buys We The People a chance, but only a chance, to set the country on a course for recovery. The Tea Parties et al. continue their pressure and whoever wins in 2012 comes in with a mandate to begin the process of unwinding a century of debt, centralization, and diminished liberty. And the efforts of the Founding Fathers shall not have been in vain.
From McCain’s blog to God’s monitor, we might say, but this isn’t really an “analysis.” It’s a hopeful projection. Compare it to Kilgore’s final paragraph, dubbed by McCain a “watered down Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf outing”:
So let Republicans enjoy their 2010 comeback. It was all but foreordained by the last two cycles, and by the very demographics that threaten the GOP in the long run. Allow them to celebrate their “fresh faces”; they’ll have a lot of fine options for the vice-presidential nomination in 2012. But their 2012 prospects will go straight downhill starting on Nov. 3, 2010. That’s when Republicans will have to start to deal with the consequences of their recent bout of self-indulgent destructiveness, when they’ll begin choosing someone to take on Barack Obama not in press conferences or talking points or Tea Party protests, but in a presidential election.
Kilgore is summarizing here: “self-indulgent destructiveness” refers to his argument that Republicans have “brand[-ed] themselves as the party of angry old white people” in a way that may maximize advantages in 2010, but hurt them in 2012 and beyond, when the electorate will tilt more to the Democrats’ favor, whether under an incumbent Barack Obama or, going forward, as demographic factors shift.
It’s possible, perhaps likely, that both McCain and Kilgore are doing a little whistling past their own partisan graveyards here, but, even if you share McCain’s faith in continued “pressure” from the Tea Party and a quasi-apocalyptic awakening to the supreme self-evident truths of constitutional conservatism, Kilgore’s argument stands. It goes without saying that a perceived abject failure of the Obama Administration, and the aftereffects of any of several potential game-changers between now and November 2012, might make a hash of all conventional political calculations. Yet 2012 was always likely to be a more difficult climb than 2010, and we should also understand that what Republican conservatives promise or promote with effect this Fall may serve them a lot less well, or even weigh them down, when Obama is on the ballot again against a real opponent with his or her own campaign to run. If we reach for our own political almanacs, we can determine from polling history that even Jimmy Carter looked pretty good until Ronald Reagan finally closed the deal against him during 1980 campaign’s final days. We don’t know yet that BHO = JEC. As for the Republicans, if you can confidently declare one of the known suspects for a 2012 run to be another RWR, you may be a candidate – for de-programming (assuming you’re not receiving a check).
This isn’t the place to attempt a full-fledged comparison of 1980 to some imaginary 2012, or even to dial back to 1978 for a mid-term comparison, or to 1994/96 for an alternative set of potential parallels. It’s even less the place to wonder whether we don’t focus too much on the presidency, too little on how policy is really effectuated in the U.S.A. And unless we’re pushing a partisan or factional agenda, we have to begin and end by admitting that we don’t know what the future holds, and which rough beasts slouching toward Bethlehem might draw the nation closer to the President and the stationary state he and his allies are preparing for us – an effort that Ross Douthat recently characterized as aiming “to get everybody inside the barrel before it goes over the falls.”
We might just as well look back to that election of 1896 that I was just dismissing up above: That “last sitting congressman” nominee was William Jennings Bryan, who lost in 1896 and again in 1900 and 1908, but went on to become one of the most important and influential figures of that age in whose shadow McCain sees us still to be standing. A conservatism that aims to change the course of history, to “begin the process of unwinding a century of debt, centralization, and diminished liberty,” could do a lot worse than lose with a new Bryan, but it may not even achieve a fruitful defeat if it stands still, expecting the assumptions of a convinced minority to carry the day simply for having been asserted, and without regard for what and whom those assumptions seem to exclude.