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June 28, 2011

Jon Huntsman's 2016 strategy?

In yesterday's post I said that Huntsman's entry into the Republican race did not make much sense in terms of 2012. But if you think beyond the 2012 elections and look to 2016, it may be a smart move. For starters, few outside Utah have heard of Huntsman and name recognition is important in winning elections. By running now, even if he loses, by the time 2016 campaign starts he will be seen as a familiar face. John McCain, Bob Dole, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan all had losing runs for the Republican presidential nomination before they later succeeded, and the latter two then went on to win the presidency on their first try.

Furthermore, the first time you enter the national political scene by running for major office, you face a sudden scrutiny of your past life, both personal and professional, that can throw up awkward information that needs to be explained away and distracts from your campaign. Just ask Sarah Palin whose family life and career became the stuff of soap opera. Since the media craves novelty, it is good to get all that baggage out of the way early on when the stakes are not so high, so that it becomes old news by the time the races that really matter come around. So running in 2012 allows Huntsman to see what is the worst that can be thrown at him.

But the most important factor is the general political dynamic at play. The economy is not doing well, unemployment is high, and the nation is draining its resources by waging three increasingly unpopular wars. These factors would normally doom an incumbent president running for re-election. George H. W. Bush lost his re-election bid in 1992 when conditions were not nearly as bad as they are now. But the Republican party is not in a position to take advantage of this prime opportunity because the tea party movement, although it is splintering into factions and is likely to become irrelevant soon, still has enough residual strength to wield veto power over the 2012 nominee and seems determined to want a true believer as the Republican candidate. Bill Clinton was able to win in 1992 by being a political chameleon and seizing the political center (in addition to being aided by Ross Perot's independent candidacy) but the Republicans now seem determined to only nominate someone whose swears allegiance to a long list of right wing extremist positions.

The supposedly serious elements in the Republican party who have been alarmed at the unserious direction the party has taken seem to have resigned themselves to the fact that the party nomination will go to someone who is either just plain nuts or is not nuts but has to take so many nutty positions to win the nomination that his candidacy is doomed in the general election. This seems to be the fate of Mitt Romney, whom I pick to be the eventual 2012 party nominee based on a simple but reliable political model which is that the candidate with the most money wins.

Obama winning re-election in 2012 may be viewed with horror by the Republican base but not by the oligarchy. The serious elements in the Republican party realize that Obama's policies on all except some social issues (like gay rights and abortion) are highly congenial to the oligarchy, so they can easily live with him. I see the medium term strategy of the Republican party traditionalists being to concede the 2012 election to Obama and focus on finding someone for 2016. The expected defeat in 2012, especially if it is a rout that drags down Republican candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives, will hugely diminish the influence of the tea party leaving the so-called 'adults', currently marginalized, in a position to regain control.

So after the 2012 debacle, expect the Republican party to blame the loss on too much adherence to the tea party agenda and to look for an 'adult' to be their next candidate, someone who is anti-abortion (which will continue to remain non-negotiable for the Republican party) but is not locked into an increasingly unpopular anti-gay and anti-science agenda, someone who is pro-business and for lower taxes and will look after the interests of the wealthy but can also appeal to a broader constituency simply by not appearing to be a nutcase. In short, an anti-abortion Republican Obama. Someone like Jon Huntsman.

So based on that rather convoluted analysis, here is my prediction. Most likely Romney will gain the nomination by being a faux loony, being pushed into that losing position by a semi-loony (Tim Pawlenty) and real loonies (all the rest of the current field except Huntsman), and will then handily lose the presidential election. This will be followed in 2016 by the party selecting a more 'adult' candidate.

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Comments

Among the three, Huntsman, Obama and Romney, it is almost impossible to find any difference. Obama is the Democratic version of Romney, in the sense of being a oligarch's errand boy who spouts his party's catchphrases to sustain the support of the base. So just as Romney who is a oligarch's best friend talks anti-abortion, anti-gay, and anti-socialism to be accepted by his base, Obama talks pro-choice, pro-gay, and pro-"socialism" to cater to his base! If Romney is clever he will convert himself into a Republican Obama and peel off the 22-25 year olds who were caught up by the Obama frenzy as 18-21s in 2008. That crowd now for a variety of reasons could turn pro-Romney - they may be in the fin/insurance/service sector in cushy jobs, they may be under/unemployed, they may aspire to be employed and so on, and now are disillusioned with Obama's utter disinterest in jobs and economic growth. Romney on the other hand can orchestrate another round of bubble economy growth through a generous Congress, and give these 25 year olds another 10 years of living off their credit card. That's what Clinton accomplished about 20 years back.
Huntsman seems more sincere than the other two. He is not actively religious and as Governor of Utah has been very welcoming of non-Christian/non-Mormon Utes. He is almost like the old school east coast Republican. But all this will become moot if - and that is a big if - the left in this country wakes up. It has happened before in less politcally hospitable times for almost 75 years between the Civil War and the New Deal, when labor and the marginalized fought to win their rightful due. That may not happen any time soon, but when (mind you not IF but WHEN) the next bankster led crash happens we may see a real grass roots led populist movement. FDR's New Deal prevented a second Civil War in the US helping us avoid the fate of European countries which following the great depression descended into oligarchy and then chaos.

Posted by kuraL on June 28, 2011 11:13 AM

I think Obama is a one term president. he could of stamped himself in history but what has he done???

Posted by stunt scooters on July 5, 2011 04:07 AM

I can't help but to agree with the last comment. There was promise of such good things from Obama when he came to power but since then it all seems to have come to nothing. That said the whole world seems to be self destructing so its probably not the best time to be president!!

Posted by haley claire on August 6, 2011 03:19 AM

I believe the economy will be unduly painted positive in the months ahead. It's January and the banking crisis of Europe has gone to the back burner of the news. As late as December, the European debt crisis was white hot. What do you think about the way the economy will be portrayed in the months ahead?

Posted by Robert Urban on January 21, 2012 12:36 PM