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GOP woes are Obama’s gain

Last update - Sunday, May 15, 2011, 16:33 By Charles Laffiteau

Even though the 2012 elections for the US Congress and Presidency are still 18 months away, Republicans actually began their campaigns just after the 112th Congress was sworn into office on 3 January this year.

Fast on the heels of their November mid-term election victories, the leader of Republicans in the US Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell, said: “Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office.” 

Congressional Republicans then proceeded to propose and pass a series of bills to cut spending and enact their social conservative agenda, instead of measures designed to reduce unemployment and spur the American economy.

Even though none of their spending bills had any hope of being passed by the US Senate, Republicans continued to reject attempts by the President to enact a federal budget for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year that would eliminate a smaller amount of federal spending. 

The end result was a series of small spending cut measures that did nothing to reduce unemployment, but instead threatened to shut down the federal government and damage America’s fragile economic recovery in the process.

Although President Obama truly desired to work with Republicans in crafting bipartisan solutions to America’s economic and budget deficit problems, he is also a realist when it comes to politics. So after Republicans spent the first three months of their term rejecting any and all attempts at bipartisan compromise, Obama decided that since Republicans only cared about defeating him in 2012, he would announce his intention to seek re-election some 19 months before Election Day.

However, despite his many attempts to strike a compromise with Republicans, many Americans nonetheless blame President Obama, at least in part, for the gridlock that currently envelops Washington DC, instead of just the Republicans who refuse to meet the President in any way, let alone half-way. This reflects the sad fact that many Americans don’t really understand the constraints our Constitution places on the President’s power. The President can veto laws that he doesn’t support, yes, but is also powerless to force Congress to pass the laws America needs to address its problems.

If Obama is to succeed in his quest to win re-election in 2012, one of the most important tasks for the President and his campaign team is to educate American voters about the difficulty of running a country when his opponents’ top priority is preventing him from doing so. 

Many Americans, including myself, have long believed that a divided government leads to more bipartisan and effective laws and policies. But this belief is also based on the assumption that politicians on both sides will be willing to work together. The current situation exemplifies one of the main disadvantages of a divided government – namely the inability of the government to function if politicians on one side determine they have more to gain by not compromising with their political opponents. 

Since the Tea Party movement doesn’t believe in making compromises, Republicans who were elected in 2010 thanks to their support believe they have more to gain by opposing the President, regardless of what’s good for the country.

In addition to painting his Republican opponents as obstructionists, the President’s other task is to compare and contrast his more ‘compassionate’ view of America with the Republican and Tea Party movement’s more selfish and self-serving vision. Obama wisely began painting this picture soon after he announced his election run last month.

Since the winner of Presidential elections is decided by the votes of moderate, independent or swing voters rather than the more liberal and conservative voters who form the core of the Democratic and Republican parties, it’s important that the President spend as much time as he can between now and the November next year colouring the Republican Party as one dominated by hardline conservatives. By doing this it’s more likely than not that swing voters will view whoever the Republicans nominate to run against him as an extension of the party’s right-wing base.

Moreover, because Obama will not have any viable Democratic opponents to run against in the 2012 Democratic primaries, he will be able to conserve his campaign funds for the general election. His Republican opponent, on the other hand, will have to go through all the hoops of the nominations process, not to mention pandering to the Tea Party.

Simply put, if Obama succeeds turning swing voters against the Republican option, then it won’t matter who his opponent is.

But the more important electoral calculus is winning at least 270 electoral votes. If President Obama succeeds in winning the same 28 states he won in 2008, then he will finish with 359 electoral votes. Seventeen of these are solidly Democratic states that guarantee him 229 votes; on top of that, Obama won another seven states with 53 electoral votes by large margins, ranging from six to 14 per cent. 

Since these states are unlikely to swing back to a Republican – even if the Republican candidate is able to win all the big swing states like Florida, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina that Obama carried in 2008 – President Obama will still win the electoral vote by a margin of 282 to 256.

A lot can change in 18 months, but these reasons alone give me confidence that Barack Obama will win re-election in 2012.


Charles Laffiteau is a US Republican from Dallas, Texas who is pursuing a PhD in International Relations and lectures on Contemporary US Business & Society at DCU

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