While the 2008 presidential election saw a groundswell of enthusiasm for Obama, the past years of broken promises and corporate politics have worn away at that enthusiasm and support. Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign promises to have a much more corporate character. This is evidenced by his bringing in Jim Messina, often referred to as “Obama’s enforcer” and well-known for keeping progressives in line with Obama’s pro-corporate agenda, as his campaign manager. This is not a campaign that will incite enthusiasm among many people.
The biggest thing Obama has going for him is the fear of a Republican takeover strengthened by the attacks on unions by people like Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker.
Elephant in the Room
The Republicans will be looking to take advantage of the lack of enthusiasm for Obama. But in order to defeat him they will need a candidate who can both rally the Tea Party base and convince swing voters that he or she will do a better job with the economy. The economy is the issue that consistently ranks highest - by far - in polls about national priorities. The budget deficit ranks second, generally with less than half as many votes as the economy, and everything else - including national security - rates a distant third.
Republican Plans vs. Popular Opinion
The biggest issue most Republicans are campaigning on is lowering the national debt. A key to a successful Republican election will be for them to convince swing voters that massive budget cuts will have to be part of a successful plan for economic recovery.
However, cutting costs to balance the budget won’t be easy. The top three expenditures are Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security and the Defense Department: each at around 20% annually.
Cutting the war-makers’ budget is unthinkable for the Republican Party, but Social Security and Medicare are both in the crosshairs. This attack on social services is not popular. In April, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 78% oppose cutting Medicare to balance the budget, and 72% support balancing the budget by raising taxes on people making $250,000 or more a year.
This puts Republicans in an awkward position, especially since Paul Ryan’s Medicare semi-privatization plan has pretty much become a litmus test for Republican candidates. This is particularly so after Newt Gingrich’s “faux pas,” in which he called Ryan’s Medicare plan “right-wing social engineering” and was quickly forced to retreat. All other potential Republican candidates are being asked if they support Ryan’s plan and have been unable to flat out oppose it. The recent special election victory of Democrat Kathy Hochul for New York Congress, in a campaign that had become a sort of referendum on attacking Medicare, shows potential problems for the Republicans nationally if they stick to the Tea Party call for Ryan’s Medicare
Winning over the Tea Party base will be key to winning the primaries, which are dominated by right-wing activists. In order to beat Obama, however, the Republicans will have to present a candidate in the general election who can appeal to the “moderate center” better than someone like Sarah Palin.
It isn’t only voters that need to be won over, however. Big business - and the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of corporate media support that come with their endorsement - will also have to be convinced by the Republican candidate.
By and large, Obama has done the bidding of big business. However, big corporations always want more. Republican candidates are out looking for money from big corporations and Wall Street. These big donors will have a hard time supporting candidates who are unelectable, who refuse to raise the debt limit, or who don’t mind letting the government become insolvent.
The Republican primary field currently seems to lack a clear candidate who can both excite
their voter base and have serious policies that big business can agree with, never mind a viable
general election candidate who can win swing voters away from Obama. This has held up many big business donors from jumping in behind any Republican candidate at this time.
On the other hand, if the Republicans run a candidate who is too much of a corporate “moderate” they risk alienating the Tea Party base. This could lead to a populist candidate to the right of the Republicans running in the general election, gaining some support and splitting the Republicans’ votes.
How Will Republicans Perform in 2012?
While it’s impossible to say now, what is clear is that after the swing to the Republican Party in 2010, growing concern about the Tea Party agenda and its increasing influence on Republican policy seems to have caused a good bit of “Republican overreach.” From Wisconsin to Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, Republican policies are not popular among many who voted for them in the last election. How this will play out remains to be seen.
Whatever candidate the Republicans come up with will not represent the interests of workers, young people, and the poor. Democrats will attempt to use fear about Republicans to build support for Obama and their candidates. We should not be fooled by this. Obama has once again proven the corporate nature of the Democratic Party. We need to break from both parties and build an independent, working-class anti-corporate party as the only vehicle that can represent our interests.