Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Craven Compromise Post-Capitulation Landscape: A Primary Challenge Looms For Obama

Dan Rather raised the specter on MSNBC’s Jansing & Co. in his inimitable colorful language:
“This is a political nightmare for Barack Obama as president. The more-left portion of his party hates this with a passion. And politically, within his own party, if this goes through, Barack Obama will be in a position to have his shirttail on fire, his back to the wall, and the bill collector at the door. Which is metaphorically a way of saying he's almost guaranteed -- if this goes through -- to have a serious challenge in a Democratic primary for president in 2012.”
According to Matt Lewis, the President has about a six-month window to flip the perception that he “won’t fight for anything” before major Democratic contributors start shopping around for a 2012 alternative. Of Course, Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge of Jimmy Carter in 1980 is the template the Idiot Punditocracy will seize upon as a narrative for disaster with a split in the Democratic Party which will hand the election to the generic Republican candidate. The problem with this predictable analysis is that the generic Republican is not Ronald Reagan. It’s rather doubtful that even had Kennedy sat out the 1980 election and thrown his support to Carter it would be enough for the unpopular president to  defeat Reagan.

Second, this President’s craven compromise enhances the probability of a third-party independent challenge. From the Left, one could easily envision a challenge to the President by Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a socialist. From the center-right, New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, with his unlimited personal wealth, is probably contemplating an independent presidential race much more seriously today than he was a week ago, or before November 2. 

Possible top-tier Democratic challengers place defeated Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold at the very top of the list. Feingold may have lost his star power in his home state but remains a stalwart favorite of progressives for his independence and principled positions. Defeated Ohio Governor Ted Strickland is another possible challenger. His unusually harsh criticism of the President, similar to Ted Kennedy's criticism of Carter in 1980, came as a surprise to Democratic insiders. Strickland's favorite son base in "big state" Ohio gives him an instant electoral springboard advantage over other contenders. Finally, there is always the tantalizing if unlikely possibility that Hillary might be “drafted” and convinced to  challenge the President if his political fortunes take a nosedive in the next six months. To make it happen, a high-level delegation of Democratic Party elders would prevail upon Hillary to run "for the good of the country" with Bill Clinton pulling the strings in the background.

This is no longer the idle speculation that it was after the Democrats' Nov. 2 drubbing. Ultimately, President Obama has no one to blame but himself for the growing buzz within restive and angry Democratic ranks of a primary challenge. In politics, perception is reality. And the perception today is that the President has capitulated to Republicans and, worse, the nagging suspicion among progressives that Mr. Obama is a risk-averse conciliator who negotiates from a position of weakness and is unlikely to stand up to the GOP in the looming political battles ahead.

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