The Three “T’s” of the 2012 Presidential Election
Jay B Gaskill
[As also posted on The Policy Think Site — http://jaygaskill.com/3T.htm]
A message to all thinking conservatives: It is time to wake up our colleagues and friends; time to leave our fantasy-bubbles and smell the coffee; time to address reality while we have the opportunity to make a practical difference in America’s future. This requires us to take three steps together: (1) break the bubble; (2) understand what we are seeing; (3) seize the most realistic open path to the great American recovery.
Here’s what waking up from a conservative bubble is like.
Oh, oh…we are not surrounded by like-minded conservatives. Just because many people are uncomfortable with President Obama does not mean they are comfortable with people who think like a typical conservative.
Most of the people we will casually meet over the course of a month were raised on some version of entitlement pablum. They have been fed by an educational and media information dispensary that has been the pet project of leftist propagandists for two full generations. These good people inhabit a different bubble. [See “Political Liberalism as a Secular Religion”- http://jaygaskill.com/liberalismasreligion.htm .]
For them and too many others, conservatism is still a blatant caricature of 19th century robber barons and antediluvian social snobs. Somehow the left-leaning elites get away with playing with billionaires, while “old fashioned” conservatives who consort with plumbing contractors and surgeons are insensitive plutocrats. This is the legacy of 75 years of propaganda. This is a stubborn mindset. This will frame the context of all efforts to restore America.
The fear of losing what people already have will be a powerful motivator in the 2012 elections. Only some of the language and ideas that conservatives take for granted have real traction outside the bubble. Ideas can drive important changes in policies, but ideas themselves do not reassure.
Only competent, credible leaders can accomplish that.
Barry Goldwater could no more be elected today when he was buried by Lyndon Johnson in the watershed election of 1964. But Ronald Reagan was no Barry Goldwater. He was a charming thematic conservative with the most competent staff support enjoyed by any presidential candidate in the last 75 years, and he was the successful two term governor of the nation’s single most powerful state. Reagan was a once-in-a-century gift to conservatives. There is no GOP candidate in, on or near the field who can carry California this time around.
There is no Reagan.
The country is almost exactly where George W Bush and Al Gore were in 2000. The red state, blue state split remains a hard, bright line that divides America almost exactly down the middle -through neighborhoods, communities, counties, states and regions.
But something has changed. We are on the brink of national failure. People are uneasy and insecure. They voted for change last time and they are feeling disappointed.
But where the people take that disappointment is a crap-shoot. The incumbent occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has a virtual lock on the core blue states – California, New York, and more, vs. Florida, Ohio and more. But there is still a race afoot in blue territory. What about that “generic” GOP opponent who has been leading Obama until the GOP primaries took front stage? That candidate is the shadow of inchoate hope. He or she appears briefly every few years, only to disappear behind a stage of real people, flesh and blood men and women with foibles and flaws.
Consider the overview of W’s victory in 2004. It was won by Bush with 286 electoral votes to Gore’s 251. But this time the incumbent is Barack Obama and the victory allocation will be different. In 2004, Bush Jr. won Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico and Ohio, to name four key races. That time, Ralph Nader took votes from Gore. It was a post 911 reelection in which the incumbent Bush won the popular vote with 50.73%.
…And this time? The insurgent GOP nominee must win Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico and Ohio one more time, or find another 43 votes (9, 11, 5 & 18) without losing anything else that W previously won. This was just one set where two or more states may be in play. There are other equally nerve-wracking examples.
In the intervening years, whole families have relocated, and the Electoral College reflects that. Note these changes: Louisiana – down 1, Florida – up 2, Georgia – up 1, Illinois – down 1, Iowa – down 1, Louisiana – down 1, Massachusetts – down 1, Michigan – down 1, Missouri – down 1, New Jersey – down 1, New York – down 1,Ohio – down 2, Pennsylvania – down 1,Texas – up 4, & Utah – up 1. At best the demographic shift is a 3 vote advantage to the GOP. Or it’s a wash. My point is that the professionals who are working on this election are paying close attention to changes this small. They understand that it could be that close.
The bottom line is that conservatism needs to be sold all over again. Reagan temporarily persuaded and won over a coalition that no longer exists. He had the advantage of being a genial hard liner in the Cold War against Soviet Russia when a weak democrat was in place, having presided over a humiliation in the Middle East that put millions of Americans in gas station lines during rampant inflation. Barak Obama has set policies in play that may well bring this country to a similar pass, but so far he has avoided responsibility for them because they are in the post 2012 future…or so he hopes.
A majority of Americans have only vague notions of what being a conservative means these days. This is the case even though, on a handful of key issues, majorities of Americans are regularly counted by pollsters as conservative or leaning conservative. These conservative issue groupings include:
- a tough-minded approach to law and order, national security and terrorism;
- a high level of concern about excessive federal debt and borrowing;
- a less generous approach to entitlements and social justice issues;
- a more generous approach to the problems and concerns of private business enterprises; and –
- -a broadband distrust of federal governmental agencies, bureaus and bureaucrats as out of touch, unelected elites with too much power and time on their hands.
But most of the time, most of these same conservative leaners are unwilling or unable to think in principles. As a result they remain far too susceptible to manipulation by the mainstream media. Most of these leaners consist of former Reagan democrats and independents, busy men and women who simply lack the time, energy and expertize to figure out who their true friends and enemies are. In a single phrase, they are potential members of a center-right governing coalition without a leader.
Much of the current conservative angst and dyspepsia is the reverse mirror image of the pent up longings of the ideologically progressive, arch-left democrats who blew a major opportunity with Obama, Reid and Pelosi by falling into the “purity trap”. The purity trap goes like this:
“We are right and eventually every one with a brain will figure that out. So if we are just true enough to our beliefs, if we just present our philosophy in its naked form and act on it, what can go wrong?”
The answer to that question for the democrats was a sharp electoral blowback, followed by a failure of governance.
I suspect that a critical mass of weary and worried conservative voters are looking for a candy-covered ball bearing candidate, meaning a leader who is palatable on the outside, but tough steel just underneath. Let’s go with that metaphor for a moment. Santorum is hard candy all the way through, but brittle; Gingrich is Halloween candy with a few razor blades sticking out; and Romney is candy on the outside with a “trust-me” core. [No Romney endorsement is intended here, but I personally think there is more steel than chocolate in Romney’s makeup. I also strongly suspect that the Governor probably won’t be able to cross the likeability barrier until and unless he is elected and faces his first crisis. FDR was similarly perceived as unapproachable, and earned his charisma the hard way.]
If the current pretend-recovery begins to fray and falter by midsummer, our incumbent wunderkind POTUS is probably electoral toast – unless the GOP alternative is seen as unsettling, unreassuring and unappealing.
This means that conservatism must be explained and sold in a credible way that is appealing, reassuring and realistically uplifting. However – if the economy is plausibly on the mend, it also means that a considerably more difficult case must be made, to wit: that President Obama’s policies are poised to fail; that any seeming improvement is a small blip, what some call a “dead cat bounce.” A direct, even fierce attack on the incumbent president’s credibility and competence is unavoidable in either scenario.
Meantime, Candidate Obama is hoping to hold all the feathers of his large left wing together, while trying to move rhetorically to the center – at least far enough to staunch the hemorrhage of independents. When the main campaign reaches that final stage, any charges we are currently hearing that a particular GOP candidate is “not conservative enough” will no longer have any traction.
I believe that another, deeply psychological theme, will soon overshadow everything else. I’m calling it the Three T’s – as I will soon explain.
Over the long haul, this race will come down to leadership and “followship”. No leader who stands at the head of a crowd of reluctant, tepid supporters can be successful in persuading others. Whether the GOP nominee is former Governor Mitt Romney, former Governor Jeb Bush or the Messiah, it’s going to take an army of enthusiastic followers, or there will surely be an army of “I told you so” mourners on Wednesday, November 7th.
At the end of the day this presidential election is going turn on an intangible trio of elements:
The Three T’s – Trauma, Trust and Turnaround.
The electorate has been traumatized. The American people are willing to make a midstream course correction only for leadership they can trust, and only for a turnaround they can believe in.
Exit bubble. Get involved. Stay tuned.
Copyright © 2012 by Jay B Gaskill, Attorney at Law
First published on The Policy Think Site and The Dot 2 Dot Blog
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