The futility of Campaign 2012: The horse race is over

Conservative pundits surrender. The continuing GOP campaign circus won't affect the election results

Topics: 2012 Elections, Editor's Picks,

The futility of Campaign 2012: The horse race is over (Credit: Eric Thayer / Reuters)

None of this matters.

Not Iowa or New Hampshire. Not South Carolina or even Ohio. Not Mitt Romney’s gaffes, nor Newt Gingrich’s impertinence, nor Rick Santorum’s sanctimonies. Not Sheldon Adelson, not Foster Freiss and not even Rush Limbaugh.

The 2012 Republican presidential primary may leave a few lasting memories, and could do some irrevocable damage to the GOP brand. President Barack Obama will undoubtedly end up a bit bruised. But mostly it’s pointless, because the 2012 presidential election is effectively over right now: All of the available data indicate that Romney will be the Republican nominee by end of spring, and Barack Obama will be the victor come fall. And the week after the 44th president wins a second term we can then turn our collective attention to what should be a far more interesting 2016 presidential cycle.

Now, I wouldn’t dare suggest that fellow pundits and electoral analysts cease parsing why this Santorum radio remark or that mini-scoop about some top donor is the crucial campaign moment. We should do our duty to attract as many voter ears or eyeballs to the presidential campaign by speculating about whom Sarah Palin voted for in the Alaska primary or calculating how many delegates Ron Paul snagged in Virginia by merely making sure to get on the ballot. But if I may borrow Bill Murray’s famous chant at the end of “Meatballs,” it just doesn’t matter.

Consider the election, first, in its broadest outlines. To begin, the history of presidential elections favors Obama. From George Washington to George W. Bush, incumbent presidents eligible to run for reelection win about two-thirds of the time. If LBJ’s 1964 victory is counted as JFK’s reelection, the pattern also holds in the postwar era, too, with all but three of 10 presidents winning second terms.

As the incumbent, Obama has had four years to raise money (he could well have twice as much to spend in the general election this time around than he did four years ago), and his field guru David Plouffe already boasts a larger and more experienced field campaign staff benefiting from a huge head start on the Republicans (the campaign had a more developed ground game in Iowa this January than any of the GOP nominees did).



So lest there be any doubt why Jeb Bush and other potential Republican nominees stayed out of the 2012 race, here’s why: They did the math.

And even if the 44th president should lose this November, it won’t be because Romney somehow discovered his inner workingman after that foolhardy $10,000 bet with Rick Perry or his “two Cadillacs” comment in Michigan. Nor will the outcome turn on Obama’s Keystone pipeline decision or his handling of the contraception kerfuffle. It will be because the economy takes a dive during the next six months, something that at this point all the president’s horsemen and all the president’s men wouldn’t be able to put back together again by Election Day anyway.

Obviously, in that scenario the Republican nomination contest will have produced America’s 45th president. But the problem for the GOP is GDP. Given the improving economic and employment trends, an economic collapse of the magnitude capable of taking down Obama is unlikely, a fact that only makes the GOP primary contest even more irrelevant.

So if none of this will matter come November, what is at stake in this 2012 Republican primary? Perhaps everything else. Many smart (or perhaps just bored) pundits now see the GOP primary mostly as an intramural battle for the identity, soul and perhaps even fate of the GOP itself. Consider just what the conservative columnists in the Washington Post have been saying lately.

“It is increasingly difficult to argue that the GOP is benefiting from the struggle between Mitt Romney and the challenger—alternately outsider and insider, hefty and svelte, conservative and more conservative—who isn’t Romney,” wrote former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson two weeks ago. Although he has since backtracked slightly, warning against discounting Romney this autumn, in his previous remarks Gerson was more suitably grim:  “Internal Republican ideological debates, while interesting to Republican ideologists, have little relationship to electoral needs. The longer these controversies continue, the longer President Obama has to regain his political balance.”

Prefer Kathleen Parker’s pen instead? Reflecting on the “perfect storm of stupefying proportions” created by Santorum’s family planning extremism, the Virginia transvaginal probe episode and Limbaugh’s tirade against Sandra Fluke’s contraceptive coverage, Parker bristles at the Democrats’ delight as they take up arms in the fight against a Republican “war” on women, who are likely to cast a majority of votes in this year’s presidential election, as they have every four years since 1984. “War has been declared, and there’s hardly any way to change the impression among a growing percentage of women that the GOP is the party of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals,” laments Parker, white flag in her non-pen hand.

And you know conservatives are already thinking ahead when George Will, the conservative dean of the WaPo Op-Ed page, resorts to invoking the spirit of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley’s call a half-century ago for creative destruction on the right. Because neither Romney nor Santorum “seems likely to be elected,” he says, “there would come a point when, taking stock of reality, conservatives turn their energies” to the more attainable goal than electing either of them, specifically holding the House and winning back the Senate. Will’s circuitous column can be simply stated: This general election is over.

Indeed, the lineup card for 2012 is upside down, with the GOP primary as the main bout for control of the party in the future and the general election serving as the undercard to follow. That makes two such elections in a row, switching out the 2008 Democrats for the 2012 Republicans. Indeed, these two presidential cycles shall be remembered as successive intraparty battles to determine, respectively, which Democrat would retake the White House from Bush and which Republican would then lose to that captor.

In any event, if the 2012 general election is effectively over, the 2016 election  should provide more, dare I say, “hope”  for the Republicans? The GOP should be favored, given that the same party has only won three consecutive presidential elections once (1980-1988) in the past 60 years. In 2016, the Democrats will be exploring their own, post-Obama identity. And with the likes of Brian Sandoval, Marco Rubio and Nikki Haley on the Republicans’ increasingly deep bench, plus that other Bush brother lurking somewhere,  the GOP’s lackluster 2008 and 2012 fields should yield a very interesting and consequential GOP presidential primary season four years hence. We don’t have one now.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>