First of all, I am a Conservative. Despite this, I have no ties to the Republican Party and probably never will. I vote for the candidate, not the party; and when a Democrat, Independent, or whatever comes along that I actually agree with, I’m happy to vote for that person.
Secondly, I am a Latter-day Saint. This certainly affects the way I see things, but in no way dictates the way that I vote. When another Latter-day Saint (with whom I had much in common) ran for the Congressional seat in my district, I reviewed his positions on the issues, sent him an email asking for clarification on one or two points (to which he actually responded), and then proceeded to vote for the other candidate. I vote my conscience, not an organization.
So having pointed out my background, I’d like to deal with the rest of the country. These are my perceptions.
First of all, it’s hard to know where we’ll be in two years, so the best I can do is talk about today. And frankly, if the Presidential election were held today, it’s difficult to predict which way it would go, especially since we don’t know who Obama’s opponent would be.
What I do see as a perennial problem is that both the Republicans and, to a lesser extent, the Democrats tend to pick candidates that do nothing but preach to the faithful¹. This usually leaves us with one very conservative candidate and one very liberal candidate, with most voters stuck trying to decide between the two. Since the media generally votes liberal, it’s always going to be an uphill battle for anyone that can be painted as “out of touch,” which is how a lot of people view conservatism.
On the other hand, Obama’s approval rating has been hovering in the 45% range for a while, with almost as many strongly disapproving². In other words, the Republicans really do have a chance, here. The problem is that they have to buck convention and actually nominate someone good, someone who can actually reach across the divide and woo left-leaning independents. He (or she) doesn’t actually have to be a moderate (although that probably wouldn’t hurt), but he’s got to have that same je ne sais quois that propelled Obama into the White House, in the first place.
What does this mean? Well, let’s be frank: it translates to “young and alluring.” The Republican campaign has to be Internet-savvy, and the candidate has to be both human and charismatic. They need to forget about the 15-20% of voters who will vote Republican, no matter what. They also need to write off the 20-25% of voters who will vote Democratic, no matter what. What the Republicans need to do is focus on the other 55-65%—those who actually care who they’re voting for, not what—and convince those voters that their candidate is intelligent, able, and ultimately the best person for the job.
On the other hand, we need to consider Congress. The media is abuzz with the fact that the Republicans should score a fairly significant upset in Congress, next month. If this occurs, the Republicans—currently the persecuted, underdog minority—will be thrust back into the spotlight and once again become accountable for their actions. If the Republican Party wants to score a big win in 2012, it is imperative that they not win too many seats, in the 2010 election. As long as the Democrats still control Congress, they continue to be the “problem party,” and Obama will have a lot of ’splainin’ to do in 2012.
Obama’s undeniable magnetism and Teflon®-esque ability to avoid controversy are going to make the 2012 election an uphill battle for the Republicans. By laying the groundwork now, it is possible, but it’s going to take a lot of effort. History shows that the Democrats tapped Obama for President long before he even became a U.S. Senator. If the Republicans are smart, they’ve also got a “long game” up their collective sleeve and are already preparing for the touchdown play.
1. John McCain was a notable exception to this rule, as the rampant—and, in my opinion, unwarranted—Bush bashing of the mid-2000s led to a very different dynamic in the 2008 Primaries.
2. Note that this 45% approval rating represents the combined total of both those who “strongly approve” of Obama’s performance and those who merely “approve.” 43% of Americans “strongly disapprove” of his performance, over half again those that “strongly approve.” See Rasmussen, Gallup, etc..