On the morning after the election, reporters for newspapers like this one will write accounts of the outcome. Their stories will tell who won, by how much, and provide a basic narrative of why the winner prevailed.
Right now, both campaigns are trying to start writing that account.
One of those two storylines could prevail and elect our next president, but I doubt it. I am betting that the campaign instead eventually turns on issues related to patriotism and American exceptionalism.
My expectation takes into account the dominant role that external events play in dictating the electoral plot. Ready or not, the Summer Olympics are headed toward our TV sets and our hearts. The Games this time even have a theme, “Inspire a generation,” that suggests the power of sport to grab hold of our collective emotions. If the American teams win great victories, and I suspect they will, national pride will flow deep and wide enough to float the politicians’ boats and they will sail away.
They won’t be able to help themselves.
The multinational sporting competition will also provide a canvas for comparing our nation’s economy with those of the rest of the world. You will hear over and over that other countries can’t properly compete because of the economic struggles they face. The financial travails of Greece and Spain will be front and center all summer long, but other nations will join the pity party, too. The message sent to stateside viewers will be undeniable: It’s great to be an American, where at least we know we’re solvent.
Summertime and the fall will also bring notably lower gasoline prices and a dawning recognition that we have become an energy-producing powerhouse. Americans are excited about this and will get more excited as the energy oversupply boosts our economy and becomes a lynchpin of our economic advantage over Europe and even China. A recent nationwide Energy Poll by the University of Texas at Austin — based on a March sample of 2,371 adult Americans — suggests that energy issues could become decisive in the presidential contest. In particular, voters want to press our national advantage in natural-gas production. Six in 10 Americans said they would be more likely to vote for the presidential candidate who will expand natural-gas development.
If, as I am predicting, the campaign turns on issues related to patriotism and American exceptionalism, it would be logical to suggest that Republican Mitt Romney would benefit most. Republicans aren’t afraid to play Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be an American” at our rallies. We’re quicker to burst into chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!” Democrats, on the other hand, are wary of patriotic fervor and more Eurocentric and even multinational in their perspective on a host of issues. Swing voters, like independents, are in the middle, but most will succumb to the wave of nationalistic pride that’s headed our way.
The president and the Democrats will join the fray, though. They won’t willingly get outdone in patriotism, because they’ll recognize the critical importance to their success. The president will embrace victorious Olympians, grab credit for alternative energy advances and their contribution to the energy glut and even — gulp — admit that our economy is better than Europe’s.
He won’t exactly be a nationalist, but he’ll be a different guy from the one who toured the Continent after his election.
Some historians might eventually interpret — incorrectly, I feel — the American summer and fall of 2012 as another nationalistic outburst like we’ve seen elsewhere in the Middle East and Europe over the past two years.
Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.