The 2012 Presidential election season is shaping up in a quite interesting manner. On the Republican side, we have been treated to several proclaimed “front-runners”, only to see them pass one by one into the sunset. Of the remaining candidates, none seems able to capture momentum, with each primary and caucus yielding a different winner.
Furthermore, none of the Republican candidates – those remaining and those departed – seem to offer a serious challenge to Barack Obama. Certainly, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul seem to perform well well against Obama in hypothetical matchups in the polls; however given the abysmal state of the economy these marginal “victories” seem quite shallow, with little margin of error.
The Republicans have not been able to field a strong candidate in an election year that offers the presidency for the taking. As mentioned, the state of the economy is poor, unemployment is high. These are normally a death knell for an incumbent. Further, Obama likely faces less-than-enthusiastic support from his own base given his poor track record on the wars and on civil liberties. With such factors in place, it is remarkable that the Republicans seem to be in such disarray.
So far, I believe there is little to dispute in what I have suggested.
Those who believe elections in the United States are run in an open and straightforward manner, with the eligible voters able to choose the ultimate winner through a well-regulated and transparent process, should probably stop reading now as the rest of what I write will probably not make much sense.
OK, now that they are gone….
What follows will make more sense (I believe) to those who believe that elections are strongly influenced, if not decided, by powers greater than the electorate.
It seems to me that there are a few possible reasons as to why the Republicans are in the condition described above, given the otherwise quite favorable circumstances surrounding the incumbent and the economy. I will explore a few of these.
Those in power desire Obama to win re-election.
This seems to me the most straightforward and plausible explanation for the mess that is the Republican Party primary. None of the candidates is very strong. None is gaining momentum. Few, if any, can win nationally in the general election: as previously mentioned, only Paul and Romney (barely) poll favorably against Obama. It is not fathomable that Santorum or Gingrich (to say nothing of the others who have previously fallen by the wayside) could win the general election. They appeal to a subset of the Republican base, but there is NO constituency outside of the base that will provide support. As poor as Obama has been on the wars and civil liberties, his disenchanted base would easily support Obama over any Republican candidate (with the notable exception of Ron Paul, as he is better on these issues than Obama for those who care about these issues).
It is (rightly) said that it matters little who sits in the Oval Office. No matter the President, state power grows, civil liberties shrink, and the general direction is toward more centralization and control. This is all quite correct. So why should it matter to those in power whether Obama wins as opposed to (take your pick from) Romney / Gingrich / Santorum (I must set aside Paul, for obvious reasons)?
I believe it matters because elite power is not exercised only through direct command and control. Elite power is best exercised by finding vessels (vassals?) that are pre-disposed to behave in manners that are desired. For example, knowing the calamity to come in financial markets, it was best for the elite to find someone like Bernanke to put in charge of the Fed. Yes, all central bankers inflate, this is all they know. But for some, overwhelming action comes more naturally. We all know the infamous “helicopter” speech given by Bernanke in 2002.No one else gave that speech. If you were sitting at the top of the pyramid – knowing that drastic action was necessary to save the system - wouldn’t you prefer someone already predisposed in such a way as opposed to someone who believed the ability of the central bank to effect results was even modestly limited?
I believe a similar dynamic was in play four years ago during the last presidential election cycle. It seemed clear we were to be offered the choice of John McCain and Hillary Clinton. From the position of the elite, there seems nothing wrong with either choice. And in the big picture, either would have sufficed. So why did Obama come out of the blue? Clinton had it all sown up, and given the history of Bush going against the Republicans, was a shoe-in for the general election. What did Obama have that Clinton didn’t, to say nothing of McCain?
As only Nixon could go to China, it seems to me only Obama could do what was desired: Only Obama had the track record (or lack thereof) to defy the democratic base and continue the wars. Only Obama could extend the Patriot Act and sign NDAA into law. Yes, Clinton too is a democrat, but had nowhere near the anti-war / pro-civil liberty credibility that Obama had. Clinton had too much baggage – even with the democratic base – to carry into office. Clinton was a known entity, and already came with very strong negatives. She was not trusted by many, including some on her own side. As a not-unimportant aside, she had already failed at a previous attempt to fully nationalize health care. Obama had not.
All of this is my roundabout way to get to the idea that the elite desire Obama to win re-election. While it is true that any candidate other than Paul would suffice, there are times when some suffice more than others – just as Obama did four years ago, and may very do so again now.
I leave it to you to speculate as to why it is viewed as important for Obama to win.
Some subset of those in power see the need to alter course, thus providing support for Ron Paul.
I will grant this is a long shot, but I do not believe it to be inconceivable (plus I need to spell this out in order to get to my third possibility, which I find more likely).
Why do I find this at least possible and bordering on plausible? The fear by some subset of the elite of chaos. Yes, it is true that chaos brings the possibility for further control. However, even more true is that beyond chaos - especially in this internet age with open communication - comes the unknown.
Consider that those in power have it pretty good. They have control tools in place, unknown wealth, control via central banks and governments throughout the world. Ron Paul, while he might make significant dents around the edges, cannot undo all that has been done. As much as I admire and support him, even as President Ron Paul will not be able to eliminate the control that the elite have established. So in the big picture, saving the system - even if this requires taking a pause for air - would seem worthwhile.
Paul can enact programs that might allow the current structures to survive. Think of austerity, spending cuts, etc. These are needed if economic and therefore social chaos is to be avoided. Ron Paul can provide the pause or the step-back that is needed if chaos is to be delayed or potentially avoided. And if not avoided, who better to blame than the free-market guy?
Now there is a problem: Ron Paul is not winning any primaries or caucuses. He certainly has a strong and dedicated base of supporters and according to some reports is building a strong base of delegates, which could come in handy if the Republicans get to a brokered convention.
It is the brokered convention scenario that seems to offer the best chance for Ron Paul at this point, and to the extent any of the elite are holding out hope for his candidacy, this seems to be the only path remaining.
Which gets to my third possibility and one that is not mutually exclusive to the possibility that the elite desire Obama’s re-election.
Those in power want to bring an end to the Electoral College system and move toward presidential elections based on the popular vote across the country.
Imagine the scenario of a brokered Republican convention. No clear winner, backroom deals, new names being thrown about (Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, etc.). Worse, what if Ron Paul, through “loopholes” in the delegate system, comes out on top despite not having won any primaries, or at least none of great significance? A complete sham is made out of all of the efforts to date through the primary season. What is the use of voting if it doesn’t count - if my vote doesn’t matter anyway? There will be an uproar for a change in the system – or an uproar will be generated by the media….
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the foundation for a “solution” was already in place: The National Popular Vote Bill.
From the site:
The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the entire United States. The bill preserves the Electoral College, while ensuring that every vote in every state will matter in every presidential election. The National Popular Vote law has been enacted by states possessing 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 electoral votes needed to activate it.
The states will award their delegates based upon whichever candidate wins the popular vote across the country. Whichever candidate wins the most popular votes in the country wins the national election. I didn’t think there were any nails left to put into the coffins of the states, but here is one – and one that the states are apparently voluntarily lining up for. The bill seems to be technically Constitutional (states are free to award delegates as they see fit – but who knew they would voluntarily award delegates based on how the entire country votes as opposed to how their own residents vote?), so there is no roadblock here - not that the Constitution has ever been a roadblock to much of anything.
Why would the elite want to move to a completely popular election for national office? In a country where opinion is swayed quite easily by the mainstream tools already in place, to ask the question is to answer it. Direct democracy by an easily manipulated electorate seems to offer one of the worst forms of government, which is therefore one of the best forms for the elite. With direct popular election of the President, the electorate feels even more empowered (especially after the disaster of a stolen “brokered” convention for the Republicans), thereby even more easily offering support for the system.
In any case, these are my thoughts to try to make sense out of a Republican primary that otherwise makes no sense – especially in the context of a general election that is theirs for the taking. As always, only time will tell.