By Elvin Lim
Republicans waited and they waited for Sarah Palin, but all she is is a tease. They tried Michelle Bachmann, and she had her day in the sun (or on Newsweek’s cover). They tried Rick Perry, and he had his day in the polls until his debate performances revealed certain holes (he would say “heart”) in his conservative armor. And now people are asking if Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey might be the last (“portly“) standing man between Romney and the Republican presidential nomination.
All of this is good news for Romney, but mixed news for the Republican party. He is the Prince of Wales now — the runner-up to the nomination in the last contest, and presumptive front-runner for the next. But like Prince Charles, he is barely likeable, and the Republican has gone around the country desperately looking for a candidate with the X-factor that would enthuse them the way Obama enthused Democrats in 2008.
The difference between 2008 and 2012 is that people were crazy about Obama. Democrats couldn’t wait to get Bush out of the White House, to be sure, but they loved Obama. He even gave Chris Matthew a tingle up his legs.
The one thing that unites the Republican and the Tea party is their intense hatred of Obama and Obamacare — some would say, the same thing, under the banner of “socialism.” This is certainly a potent political force, and it will get the voters out next November. But what is curious is that this negative affect does not translate to any equivalent positive affect on any of the candidates in the field now. Ron Paul has won a few straw polls here and there, but his anti-war position disqualifies him from the get-go. Perry’s position on immigration is now earning him heckles on the stump. And if Chris Christie jumps in the race, it is unlikely that he will get a pass on his moderate positions on immigration and gun control.
Enter Barack Obama’s campaign, jump-started recently with a new sense of purpose and fury, ready to rumble. Obama will never be loved as he had been loved before — the campaign gurus must know that by now. But, if there is one thing that will resuscitate the Progressive vote, it is that they want someone who would stand up to the Tea Party ranting, to deal a fist to their fury. The White House hopes that this might just be enough to overcome the forbidding reality that a bad economy always works against an incumbent president up for re-election. With no love on either side for their respective candidates, the next election is shaping up to be a slugfest between the Obama-haters and the Tea Party-haters. We are en route to a very negative campaign in 2012.
Elvin Lim is Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency, which draws on interviews with more than 40 presidential speechwriters to investigate this relentless qualitative decline, over the course of 200 years, in our presidents’ ability to communicate with the public. He also blogs at www.elvinlim.com and his column on politics appears here each week.