13 July 2009

For Palin to become President, EVERYTHING has to go wrong

Sarah Palin resigned as Alaska governor last week in what even the Daily Telegraph called "a sometimes incoherent performance". It's not really clear why (I mean, why she resigned. It's clear why the performance was incoherent - because she's a 24-carat loon). Media commentators in the US suggest that if you are looking to clear the decks for a Presidential run, this is not the way you'd normally do it.

But could it be Palin in 2012? It would be so, so easy to take the piss (and I'm not averse to doing that sometimes) but more interesting, probably, to engage seriously with the idea for a couple of minutes.

There are two steps to this: (a) could Palin win the Republican nomination? and (b) could Palin beat Barack Obama?

(a) seems a damn sight more likely than (b). We should bear in mind of course that there are 2 and a half years to go (which doesn't seem that long actually...) before primaries start, and some brilliant new Republican star might emerge as the obvious choice. Such a sudden discovery of a star candidate two years before the election hasn't happened that many times before, though. OK, so Barack Obama was a fairly new face on the political scene in 2008 but he had already been marked out as 'one to watch closely' when he won election to the Illinois Senate in 2004. John McCain was very much an old stager when he got the Republican nomination. You could make a case that Bill Clinton was a relative unknown in 1992, but I think you'd have to go back to Jimmy Carter in 1976 to find a true 'dark horse' candidate.

Ruling out a new face for now, who are the main other contenders? Mitt Romney looks like the frontrunner - although not particularly appealing to the Republican hard-right, that doesn't matter particularly as those people would vote for anyone on the Republican ticket. The Republicans need the moderate centre to win, and Romney probably stands best chance of delivering that. Mike Huckabee is basically Sarah Palin with less lipstick, better jokes and a more fluid guitar style. Louisana Governor Bobby Jindal ruled himself out for the moment by giving one of the worst speeches ever when responding to Obama's inaugural speech, although he has plenty of time to rehabilitate himself.

Assuming that Palin could become the hard-right frontrunner (which is not automatic, but certainly possible), she is likely to become the nominee in one of two circumstances. First, and probably most likely, is the situation where the economy recovers enough for Obama to run for re-election on having saved the US economy. Some success in achieving health care reform and US commitments to greenhouse gas emissions would also help here. In these circumstances Obama would be a total shoo-in for 2012 and it is likely that the moderates in the Republican party would not even try to contest the nomination particularly hard, preferring to put a hard-right winger in as a fall guy/girl in the same way Barry Goldwater was used in the Johnson landslide of 1964. Of course in theory the Republican right could reason the same way and endorse a moderate as the fall guy, but because so many of these right-wingers are foam-at-the-mouth loonies who believe any election can be won as long as you repeat the same hackneyed anti-abortion anti-gun control agenda as loudly as possible, they are more likely to seize the opportunity, poisoned chalice though it be. So Palin could certainly get the nomination in these circumstances, but she'd almost certainly be annihilated in the election.

The second scenario is that Obama makes an almighty hash of things (or at least, the right manage to convince the US public that he has done) - the economy continues to tank, health care reform and climate change targets get voted down by the Senate - and there is a massive backlash against the Democrats in 2012. This could enable Palin to win the nomination and the election in 2012 - in a very similar way to the way Reagan was able to beat Carter in 1980. I think this is an outside possibility but an unlikely one; the political climate does not seem to be pointing towards the hard right as we approach the 2010s in the same way it did at the end of the 1970s. Partly it's a historical thing: by 1980, the post-war social democratic settlement (called "liberalism" in the US) seemed to be exhausted and decrepit whereas now, the neo-liberal era that began in the 1980s looks in much the same state, and there has been a shift to the left (in policy terms across the globe, and in voting intentions in the US although not yet in Europe).

I still think Huckabee looks more electable than Palin even in that situation though. He does a better impression of Stillson from The Dead Zone.

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