Monday, March 28, 2011

A Primary Challenge in '12? Suicide!

I'm reposting my article -- originally published at The Pragmatic Progressive 2/15/11.

Primary Obama? It Will Be Suicide!

The biggest threat to the Democratic Party is the Democrats themselves.

Discussions about giving President Obama a serious run for his money in the 2012 primaries have been tossed around for at least four months.

This is so incredibly insane – and so obviously policy contrary to self-interest – that I have to seriously wonder if the Koch Brothers or the RNC aren’t actually behind this despite the fact that all evidence clearly indicates they are not. Sadly, it most certainly emanates from the perpetually disgruntled leftist-loony fringe.

I’ve tried to ignore these people, praying against all odds they’d fall off a cliff but I’m never that lucky. In fact, rather than disappear the idea is actually gaining traction.

I find it absolutely unbelievable.

Several days ago Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) said Barack Obama “absolutely” ought to face a Democratic primary challenge.

Now I like Kucinich, I think he’s occasionally shown some guts and even a few operational brain cells, but I personally think he was sucking on the Bong of Bullpucky when he made that statement.

His reasoning (if we can call it that) was that a primary challenge will make Obama “stronger.”

Excuse me?

Kucinich said,

“I think primaries can have the opportunity of raising the issues and make the Democratic candidate a stronger candidate,” Kucinich told CSPAN’s Washington Journal. “I think it’s safe to predict that President Obama will continue to be the nominee of the Democratic primary, but he can be a stronger nominee if he receives a strong challenge in a primary.”

What? He thinks a primary fight is a Vitamin B shot?

Kucinich is playing to the loony fringe, to the perpetually unhappy one- or two-issue voters who have no respect for the fact that politics is the art of compromise and not the art of war. These are the spoiler Democrats who vote litmus test issues and not the larger platforms of the party. They are people who do not understand that politics is a team sport.

Most astonishing, despite their hatred for the far right conservatives in this country they don’t seem to understand that having our guy in the White House is the only thing keeping those other nuts at bay.

Tell me: is it too much for me to expect that our nuts see how dangerous the other nuts are?

Kucinich and others delude themselves into thinking that a primary battle will strengthen the president. That is absolutely not true. A Democratic primary battle will do one and only one thing: it will deliver the White House to a Republican in 2012.

The fallacy in Kucinich’s thinking is that a primary fight will somehow serve as a “wisdom lesson” for the president, some type of political epiphany – that it’s a communications tool that will send the president a message and set him straight.

For a sitting president a primary is not a memorandum or a sit-down; it is not a corrective to policies gone south or a weakness of will. A primary is a slaughter ground.

Here are the facts:

Only within the last half of the 20th century have presidential primaries emerged as the true crucibles where nominations are actually decided rather than (as had been customary) national conventions. Whenever an incumbent president has been forced to mount an aggressive primary fight inside his own party the end result – the presidential election – has proven disastrous for his party.

Since 1976 there have been three incumbent presidents who had to do hard battle against their own party’s primary challengers. They all won renomination.

They also all lost the presidency.

Gerald Ford in ’76, Jimmy Carter in ‘80, and George H.W. Bush in ’92 were forced to endure, and were significantly weakened by, long-running primary challenges. In all three cases, the primaries left the party divided, rancorous, and unable to mount unified efforts to return the incumbent to office.

Ford and Bush were severely weakened by competition from the GOP right; Ronald Reagan and political commentator Pat Buchanan savaged their standard bearers and they never recovered. Edward Kennedy led the challenge against Carter and it left the party in shambles. Carter’s loss in November ’80 banished the Democrats from the White House for twelve long cold years. The results of that loss have proven absolutely disastrous for the nation.

Clearly, Ford, Carter, and Bush did not come out stronger for their primary experiences.

And neither did their parties.

Rhodes Cook wrote in the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Blog (10/11/10) a historically accurate and savvy summary of the damage done to Ford, Carter and Bush as a result of these primary battles. I’ll quote from his article as follows:

“The level of threat to these presidents varied. Mr. Reagan came close to winning the Republican nomination in 1976, battling Mr. Ford virtually vote-for-vote through the primaries and delegate-for-delegate at the Republican convention that summer. Mr. Ford narrowly prevailed. But after his defeat that fall, Mr. Reagan was poised as the front-runner for the GOP nomination in 1980.

In the early stages of the ‘80 election cycle, Mr. Kennedy was a heavy favorite to win the Democratic nomination over President Carter. The Iranian hostage crisis that began in November 1979 shifted sentiment sharply to the incumbent. But the sluggish economy, with frequent references to the “misery index” (a combination of the unemployment and inflation rates), helped Mr. Kennedy win several big-state primaries, including those in California, New York and Pennsylvania. Mr. Carter emerged from the Democratic convention that summer as “damaged goods” and was swamped in November by Mr. Reagan.”

Cook continued,

“On the other hand, Mr. Buchanan’s intra-party challenge to George H.W. Bush in 1992 won no primaries and was never a threat to the incumbent’s renomination. But it did provide a vehicle for dissatisfied voters in the Republican primaries to register their distaste with Mr. Bush during a time of economic unease. Nearly three million did, out of less than 13 million GOP primary ballots cast. No doubt many of the anti-Bush primary votes that spring went to independent Ross Perot in the fall, helping to deny Bush I a second term.

In short, it does not take a “celebrity” candidate such as Clinton to cast doubts on the reelection chances of a beleaguered president. A lesser-known primary challenger such as Buchanan in 1992, or Sen. Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota in 1968, can suffice. Mr. McCarthy was not especially well known when he launched his campaign that cycle. But he quickly emerged as the champion of the anti-Vietnam War wing of the Democratic Party. His unexpectedly strong showing in the New Hampshire primary, followed by the entry of Sen. Robert Kennedy of New York into the race, is credited with helping drive President Lyndon B. Johnson to the political sidelines.”

Cook concluded with this,

“But if the Democrats fare poorly Nov. 2, the economy remains sluggish, and the president’s approval rating continues to be mired well below 50%, the prospect of a significant primary challenge to President Obama cannot be ruled out. While it is unlikely at this point that a Democratic icon such as Hillary Clinton would lead the opposition, some other politician with ties to disgruntled elements on the Democratic left might just decide to do so. It has happened before.”

Well, now we know how the November 2nd election turned out, don’t we?

In some ways, President Obama inherited a series of problems that may be even worse than those facing FDR. Roosevelt didn’t inherit America’s longest running war; in fact, he didn’t inherit any war. That came eight years later.

Additionally, although he was horribly vilified by the Republicans and suffered venal attacks by Hearst and others on the far right of American society, it was relatively tame in comparison to the continuous 24/7 media onslaught Obama has experienced. The news today is significantly Foxified and it serves up an unending barrage of defamation and lies that saturates the nation in ways unimaginable in the past.

As the November 2010 election demonstrated, the continuous sliming of the Democratic Party paid dividends. The Democrats barely held the line.

And now we want to soften it up further?

When Obama ran for president sane people understood he was facing a number of near-impossible tasks, at least impossible to accomplish within a period of time as short as four years.

Now, three years into his presidency people within his own party attack him for his perceived failures when, in fact, his successes have far exceeded in both number and import anything Bush accomplished in eight horrendous years.

If Obama is forced to contend with a tough primary fight in 2012 he will no doubt still win the nomination.

But he will not prevail in the presidential election in November.

And where the hell are we going to be then? You tell me?


  1. with luck we will still want to live here if our presidency goes to a republican. the good news is all the state level activism responding to the conservative campaign to remake america in david koch's image.

  2. Yes, I'm seeing more & more people waking up to the realities of what's been happening the last 30 yrs. I'm hearing lifelong Republicans finally saying the conservatives have gone way too far. I'm happy to hear that, of course, but have to wonder where they've been all these yrs. I think the Walker's egregious actions in Wisconsin, as well as what's happening in other states, has brought it all home in a way that can't be done on the national level. Suddenly it's not some vague platform or a bunch of blather about "taking back America" or big vs small government, far off wars, or even arcane debates about deficits and entitlements. Nope. Suddenly the beast is in everyone's back yard and when he's up close & personal he's one scary sonofabitch. I think Americans are truly pretty shocked.

    As to Obama, he is who he is -- a moderate pragmatist not so different from Clinton. I don't know who people thought he was (Che Guevara?) but the reality is that efforts to make him more left will (as via a primary) will be futile (won't change him) and deadly (he'll lose the general election in Nov.). SO, those folks who want him more left have to stop and ask themselves how they're going to feel to have a Rep president if Obama isn't liberal enough for them. And actually, there are NO Dems out there now who could (even if it made sense and history didn't caution against it) beat him in the primaries BUT if there were: then what? Do the math: that person could not win the general. He/she wouldn't have the Republicans (that's for damn sure!) and many very moderate even soft Dems would crossover back to the Republicans -- you know, the Republicans who were ended up thinking Bush really was dreadful but McCain/Palin scared the hell out them... well, we'd lose their votes.

    No one more left that Obama can get elected to the presidency in Nov. '12 -- that is only about 20 months away and we are at least a decade away from ever being that left leaning, if such a thing is even possible in so short a time. It took 30 yrs of an unrelenting conservative push to takeover this country and it's not going away in one or two presidential elections... barring, of course, a major social meltdown but I would sincerely hope it never comes to that.

    As to what to do if the GOP can reclaim the White House in '12? Well, I think at that point it's time to start shopping around; living here is going to be hell. Thnx for the post Mary Lou!

  3. I think more lefties who are disgruntled and don't think Obama is left enough should visit this site. Have you seen it? It's eye-opening, in its own crass way (you can click at the bottom right for the PG version). It definitely gave me some perspective.

  4. Coming back to this to add: It would make me feel more confident all the way around if the Democrats, and the progressive organizations that support them, would stop sending out e-mail after e-mail begging for contributions. I'm not naive. I know they need money to operate, take out ads on television, and so forth, but when the party who is supposedly looking out for the little guy and standing up for the poor and middle class imply that they won't be able to achieve that goal without financial help, and many who are poor or middle class simply don't have it to give, well, it just does nothing to inspire my confidence!