In my last article, I outlined the reasons why I believe Mitt Romney still has the best chance of the remaining GOP candidates to win his party’s nomination. While it may be far too early to predict the results of the election, the intrigue of this hypothetical matchup begs for more in-depth analysis. Assuming that the former Massachusetts Governor does indeed win the Republican nomination, it is only appropriate to begin assessing his odds for the presidency.
The race between President Obama and Governor Romney will ultimately come down to the country’s economic health and whether or not voters see improvements in the economy as a result of the president’s policies. According to a Gallup poll conducted February 10-14, 2012, Romney and Obama are in a deadlock with each taking 48 percent of registered voters, with the president also posting a 45 percent approval rating. These numbers indicate the country’s growing frustration with the President’s handling of the economy. Also the fact that Obama – who soundly defeated John McCain in the 2008 election by winning nearly 53 percent of the popular vote – is in a close contest with a candidate who has not even won his own nomination, yet. Following this line of reasoning, it seems as though President Obama will be re-elected if the economy shows tangible improvement based on the government’s policies. However, a failure to reboot it will likely hand the presidency to Romney, who should benefit from his background in the private sector.
This year’s economic outlook seems bleak as the United States will have to face a variety of internal obstacles − including a record high federal deficit, stagnant growth, and political squabbling in Congress − and external ones − namely slowed growth in China and a burgeoning debt crisis in Europe. Unemployment has only slightly decreased. Meanwhile, college graduates saddled with tremendous debt from student loans are voicing their dissatisfaction with the current job market. The administration’s delaying of the Keystone XL Pipeline, a project that would bring in thousands of jobs and reduce the United States’ dependence on Middle Eastern oil, in favor of environmental concerns could be a political blunder on the President’s part as well.i It appears as though Obama will have to either convince the American public that the economy is improving or hope that an aggressive campaign against the GOP frontrunner will work to his favor. Overall, the mediocre projections are an ominous sign for the incumbent and the future of his presidency could be tied to the country’s economic health.
While foreign policy may not be the focus of the 2012 election, it will be crucial to determine which candidate is better suited to keep the United States at the top of the global hierarchy and protect US interests abroad. President Obama has had mixed results in his foreign policy and has scored a few notable successes, including the deaths of terrorists Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Alwaki, the end of the Iraq War, increased cooperation with the international community, and the overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya. Conversely, critics say that he has been too soft on Iran, damaged relations with Israel, weakened the military with budget cuts, failed to protect the border with Mexico, allowed China to manipulate its influence on the global economy, and has been unwilling to concede that radical Islam poses a major threat to American national security.
Romney favors aggressive policies rooted in American exceptionalism similar to those enacted by President Theodore Roosevelt at the beginning of the twentieth century, by using America’s “big stick” − naval supremacy, technological superiority, and combat readiness. He plans to do this by adding more ships to the naval fleet, increasing the size of the military, and pushing the defense budget to 4 percent.ii He even went as far as to write an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on February 16 titled “How I’ll Respond to China’s Rising Power,” which was consistent with these hawkish principles, yet, cognizant of the need for China and the United States to engage in mutually beneficial trade. Romney and Obama will most certainly clash on illegal immigration, seen as a national security issue. This could have an impact on the outcome in swing states with a large Latino population, such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, and New Mexico. Both candidates have the opportunity to score a victory on foreign policy with the voters and it will be interesting to see whether any new global developments can change the tone of the election.
Social issues will likely take a back seat to the more pressing concerns on the economy and national security, yet it is likely that the presidential debates will spark discussion over the legalization of gay marriage and medical marijuana. Both issues have passed in several states legislatures and could become a national reality. Romney could also be stumped on abortion, where he currently takes a pro-life stance despite earlier liberal leanings. Any discussion on health care will surely give each candidate the opportunity to take aim at one another as the Obama administration passed a widely unpopular health care law based on one signed into law by Romney during his tenure as governor. Romney will likely be a target for flip-flopping, while Obama will have to answer to concerns over deficit spending associated with the law and its widespread unpopularity. Particularly, Obama will need to quell the economists that are skeptical about the projections made by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which estimates that the new law will actually reduce deficit spending. In all likelihood, these issues will not dictate the outcome of the election; however topics with economic consequences such as health care could serve as a litmus test to see which candidate the nation views as more competent in reducing government spending.
If the economic recovery remains stalled during 2012, then President Obama faces an uphill battle to be re-elected. Considering he was an inexperienced Senator with no substantive record to speak of when he won the election in 2008, Obama will have a difficult time defending a new record. On top of that, he will find it hard to be held accountable for the disappointing state of the economy and overall dissatisfaction with the federal government. While bashing his predecessor was acceptable at the beginning of his presidency, President Obama can no longer take comfort in blaming Former President George W. Bush for the country’s economic woes and instead will have to shoulder the blame himself. And though it is true that Obama has more than three times the amount of campaign funds that Romney has, it is also worth noting that Romney will absorb the money from the other candidates once he is nominated for the general election.
The president was elected on promises to fix the economy and unite a divided American public, yet three years later the economy remains broken and the country is only more divided. The 2012 election has hardly even begun and in this technology-driven era, media twists and shocking revelations can twist the course of the election in a matter of seconds. That being said, the numbers cannot be ignored: since Gallup began tracking presidential approval ratings during the Truman Administration, only three presidents facing re-election with an approval rating under 50 percent remained in office for another term: Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.iii More importantly, each of these incumbents faced extremely weak candidates (George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Bob Dole) and ended up winning landslide victories.iv This election does not bear the same resemblance as these previous three, seeing as Romney fares well against Obama in the polls and has stronger organization than the aforementioned challengers. Additionally, the panic over the economy and the nonstop media coverage of Mitt Romney’s campaign distinguish this year’s election from those of the past. Considering historical trends are squared against President Obama, it appears likely that Mitt Romney will win the election in November and become the next President of the United States.
i “The Impact of Developing the Keystone XL Pipeline Project on Business Activity in the US.” <http://www.transcanada.com/docs/Key_Projects/TransCanada_US_Report_06-10-10.pdf>. The Perryman Group, accessed 23 Feb 2012
ii “National Defense: An American Century.” Mitt Romney, accessed 23 Feb 2012. <http://www.mittromney.com/issues/national-defense>.
iii “Presidential Job Approval Center.” (2012): Gallup, accessed, 23 Feb 2012. http://www.gallup.com/poll/124922/Presidential-Approval-Center.aspx?ref=interactive.