Now that the conventions are over, the general election begins in earnest. I believe that President Obama will win reelection in November; however, it might be interesting to examine competing scenarios for how each side could lose.
Let’s start with Mitt Romney. If he wakes up the day after the election as Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008, there will be several major factors that contributed to his loss.
Also, Romney’s embrace of the Tea Party on the very important issue of women’s reproductive rights cost him large numbers of votes from suburban, independent women who tipped the balance in some swing states. His statement that he would eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood was straight out of the Dark Ages.
Secondly, his longtime connection with Bain Capital, which pursued business strategies that included closing down plants, laying off workers and outsourcing jobs to maximize profits for its investors, was something that the public could understand and didn’t like. When you also consider his personal holdings in Swiss banks, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, his economic history was successfully exploited by the Obama campaign in a way that Romney never was able to satisfactorily explain.
Finally, his selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate was a mistake. While not as inexperienced as Sarah Palin, Ryan turned off a significant number of seniors in key states like Florida, Iowa and Ohio who like Medicare as it currently exists and don’t want it converted to a voucher plan. And in the final analysis, seniors didn’t buy into the idea that there would be an option between vouchers and the current system because of their fear that any tinkering with the current system could undermine it.
Now let’s visit the alternative universe. Let’s assume Obama wakes up the day after the election as Jimmy Carter in 1980 or George H. W. Bush in 1992 — in other words, a one-term president denied reelection. How could that happen?
First, Obama made a mistake in his first year in office by pursuing a kamikaze mission on cap-and-trade before pushing healthcare reform. This reversal of priorities meant that he lost valuable time to pass and to start implementing healthcare reform while Congress was tied up in knots on climate change legislation.
Also, forcing marginal Democrats from coal-producing areas to walk the plank on cap-and-trade was a major contributing factor to the loss of Democratic control of the House in 2010 and made it harder for Obama to implement other parts of his program in the last two years.
Second, Obama missed a very important opportunity to establish his credentials on deficit reduction by taking too timid an approach and not endorsing the work of his own Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission. Even if he had done so, he still might not have been successful in implementing the Simpson-Bowles recommendations, which were controversial, but at least he would have staked out the high ground on deficit reduction.
Third, he was not able to convince the public of the gravity of the situation he inherited and the true significance of the important actions he took to the prevent the country from falling into a depression. Former President Clinton did an excellent job on this issue during his speech at the Democratic National Convention; maybe Obama should have had Clinton front and center during the summer when he was being hammered by millions of dollars’ worth of negative advertising on his economic record.
This race is very close, and either side could lose. We will see if, in the final analysis, any of the factors that I laid out made the difference. There is always the chance for an October surprise, but that’s how it looks as we enter the home stretch.
Former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 1995-1998 and is currently a shareholder in the Washington, D.C., office of the Polsinelli Shughart law firm.