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2012 Between Meh and Meh?

Regular commenter Michael Reynolds sums up a potential matchup between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney next November:

I’ll vote for Obama, but I won’t leave the country if Romney wins. And that’s not where Obama wants to be. He doesn’t want the choice to be between “meh” and “meh.” If it’s between two “mehs” people may decide to give the new “meh” a try.

I’m on the opposite side of that one, with Romney the only plausible Republican nominee that I could see myself supporting. He’s by no means my ideal candidate but he’s reasonable, competent, and generally plausible as president.

A contest between “meh” and “meh” is bad for the candidates trying to draw contrasts and bad for True Believers but good for the country.

Measuring by charisma, we haven’t had two great choices in any election in my lifetime and I’m struggling to come up with an example in living memory. Obama had it in 2008 but it seems to be gone, replaced with mere cool, calm, and collected. And, aside from perhaps Herman Cain, none of this year’s Republican crop has the sort of charisma that appeals to the general public.

Were the Republicans to nominate, say, Michele Bachmann, it would be a much more exciting campaign. But it would essentially be no contest at all, since large numbers of those of us who have always voted Republican at the presidential level would leave in disgust. Worse yet, if she were to somehow manage to win, half the country would spend four years in absolute horror.

A re-elected Obama would be, like most second term presidents, a placeholder. His Big Ideas are all either enacted or failed and he’s unlikely to have much support in Congress. And Mitt Romney doesn’t as of yet seem to have any Big Ideas at all. So, either way, we’re likely to see centrist technocratic management by a grownup constrained by the realities of a shrinking federal budget and a non-existent public appetite for military adventurism.

We’ve done worse.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    Assume that the Deficit Committee and Greece both fail. Who has the strongest story?

    I’m afraid it is Romney, and that while “Obama wants to make us Greece” is mostly inaccurate, it can easily be viral.

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  2. Stan says:

    After what the country’s been through in the last ten years, cool, calm, and collected is OK with me, and for once I disagree with Michael Reynolds. Because of a personal tragedy in my family, my wife and I believe passionately in the importance of providing access to medical care for all Americans. Therefore a Romney-Obama election is the best possible in the current political climate, given that Romney provided the framework for a universal health insurance plan when he was governor of Massachusetts and Obama saw it through on a federal level.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  3. de stijl says:

    @john personna:

    I’m afraid it is Romney, and that while “Obama wants to make us Greece” is mostly inaccurate, it can easily be viral.

    I can as easily see Romney’s Bain Capital past go viral given any OWS medium- to long-term traction.

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  4. ponce says:

    Gallup has Obama’s approval rating up 6 points over the last few weeks. Not that you’d know it from reading wingnut blogs (or the “Liberal” press}.

    Romney has never managed to get the support of more than 25% of his own party.

    I predict Obama beats Romney by 25-30 million votes if they face off in the general election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. Hey Norm says:

    “…cool, calm, and collected…”

    Works for me.
    This nation still faces a lot of challenges and so far Romney is just preaching more supply-side economics and standard issue GOP scare-mongering on foreign policy. We know those dogs don’t hunt…and we know that Romney’s positions and principals depend on which way the breeze is blowing…so what’s he going to actually do when the rubber hits the road?
    If my choice is between a known “meh” and an unknown “meh”, I’m likely to stick with the known.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  6. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: I’d take that bet.

    We’ve had two “landslide” elections in my lifetime: Reagan’s re-election romp over Walter Mondale in 1984 and George H.W. Bush’s 1988 thumping of the hapless Michael Dukakis. The margin of victory in those races were 17 million and 7 million, respectively.

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  7. Ben says:

    @James Joyner:

    Under those criteria, you’d have to include Obama/McCain as a landslide, too. 10 million votes and almost 200 electoral votes

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. Gustopher says:

    I think that Obama is a genuine “meh”, while Romney is just a complete faker “meh”. Romney, bless his little flip-flopping inconsistant heart, is one of the least genuine people around.

    While in 2000, Americans chose their president based on who they would rather have a beer with (and picked the guy who stopped drinking…), in an Obama/Romney contest I think the question would be “Who would you buy a used car from?”

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  9. Scott F. says:

    James –

    I respectively disagree with this –

    A contest between “meh” and “meh” is bad for the candidates trying to draw contrasts and bad for True Believers but good for the country.

    The best thing for the country would be to have a True Believer defeated by Obama in 2012. Here’s why… Our government works best when the two parties work in opposition tempered with pragmatism. As long as the Republicans continue on their current nihilistic path, no good government will come of it.

    As Doug lays out in the OP Michael’s comment was drawn from, whether Romney wins or loses the White House, there will be no incentives for the more radical elements currently driving the GOP bus to give up the wheel. However, if a True Believer loses decisively (which I expect they would), perhaps the Republican party will get that time in the wilderness they so sorely need for the soul searching they should have done after Bush’s two terms. That soul searching could lead the party towards someone like Huntsman in 2016.

    Now, if a True Believer ends up beating Obama, it would be very bad news. But, in the end, the country would survive and I think 4 years of True Believer governance would lead to a sound defeat of the GOP in 2016. Redirection of the GOP (similar to the redirection of the Dems following Carter) is necessary before we can get a more effective government. Romney won’t get us there.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  10. James Joyner says:

    @Ben: It wasn’t as severe an Electoral College rout as those others. 1988 and 2008 were almost identical in terms of the percentages, but Dukakis only carried 10 states + DC; McCain carried 22.

    But that election helps make my case: Despite a perfect storm for Democrats–a charismatic candidate, a horrible economy, a lackluster opponent, and absolute frustration with the opposite party–they were able to win by less than a 10 million vote margin. Ponce is predicting a 25-30 million margin despite a much less favorable set of (likely) circumstances.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  11. mattb says:

    @Scott F.:

    As Doug lays out in the OP Michael’s comment was drawn from, whether Romney wins or loses the White House, there will be no incentives for the more radical elements currently driving the GOP bus to give up the wheel.

    “If Romney wins, then that would somewhat destabilize the “true believer” grip on the wheel. If Romney loses, I expect that will actually strengthen the “true believer” position.

    The argument goes that when you run moderates (McCain 2008 & Romney 2012) you lose. When you run “real conservatives” (2010) you win… that fuels the GOP towards an even more extreme position.

    The big question in my mind about 2012, beyond the presidency, is what happens with Congress. Assuming Romney is the candidate and he wins, does the GOP also maintain the house and take the Senate? That could make the next 4 years really difficult…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. ponce says:

    Ponce is predicting a 25-30 million margin despite a much less favorable set of (likely) circumstances.

    Meh.

    The economy is getting better, Iraq and Libya are over plus Obama has OBL and Gaddafi ‘s heads on his wall.

    I don’t think America is doing anywhere near as badly as the Republicans are praying it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: 75% of the country says we’re on the wrong track. Those numbers are increasing and at the highest levels of Obama’s presidency. 51.3% of the public disapproves of the president’s job performance according to the RealClearPolitics average. That’s the highest of his presidency.

    Can he still win? Sure. I’d say an Obama-Romney race is a tossup and and Obama-Perry or Obama-Cain race strongly favors Obama. But he’s running under much less favorable circumstances than he was in 2008.

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  14. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Funny post and even a funnier thread. Ah, the Internet.

    In any event, an Obama-Romney contest would be exciting in the sense (1) it would show just how far the country has slipped towards terminal idiocy, (2) simultaneously it would suggest how many out there are so tied to religion they can’t separate church from state.

    On the first point you’d have to be brain dead to vote to reelect Obama. It’s preposterous. Thing is, Obama’s floor is about 45%. Add up every useful idiot and you get about 45 out of 100 registered and likely voters. It’ll be very interesting to see how much of the middle has awoken from its reality coma. Of course that’ll be the case regardless of the identity of the GOP nominee.

    Romney’s Mormonism would be a fascinating subplot. Can a Mormon actually win the presidency? In the greater scheme of things it wasn’t that long ago Mormons had to flee to the western deserts simply to escape literal persecution. Even in 2011 there’s a large segment of the body politic out there who considers them to be members of a cult. A win by Romney would go a long way further towards marginalizing the extreme Protestant wing of the electorate. This would be a good thing, at least in my view.

    With regards to policy there indeed would be fundamental distinctions between Obama’s 2nd term and a prospective Romney administration. Substantial dichotomies would apply to the likes of the ultimate fate of Obamacare, the lower federal judiciary, the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, tax reform, regulatory reform and relations with various allies, most notably Israel. The greatest similarity, ironically enough, would be in connection with the war against Islamo-terrorism. Regardless whether Obama or Romney is on the switch we’ll continue to incinerate terrorists wherever we find them. Fortunately.

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  15. ponce says:

    But he’s running under much less favorable circumstances than he was in 2008.

    I disagree.

    Obama has done a great job of being President.

    The Republicans have never been so exposed as the racist catamites of the rich they are as they have been this year…and it’s only going to get worse for them as we near the election.

    On top of that, Mitt Romney is the most clumsy candidate the Republicans have put forth since Jerry Ford.

    Romney makes John Kerry look like a political prima ballerina.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Tlaloc says:

    The best thing for the country would be to have a True Believer defeated by Obama in 2012. Here’s why… Our government works best when the two parties work in opposition tempered with pragmatism. As long as the Republicans continue on their current nihilistic path, no good government will come of it.

    You left out “…and the dems enable and reward the GOP’s nihilism.”

    Depending on the VP and what Romney says between now and 2012 I could see myself voting for him. Given how very progressive my politics are that should tell you something about how weak Obama’s position is. He can’t win on the right and he’s pissed off a goodly number on the left. If the republican candidate can contest the center i don;t see Obama having much of a chance, honestly. Then again he is charismatic, and that has a lot of sway with some people.

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  17. Scott F. says:

    @Tlaloc:

    If your politics are “very progressive” and you’d still consider voting for Romney, then what’s there to say. You’ll have to explain how, regardless of Obama’s perceived weakness, Romney furthers your progressive goals.

    I’m a Pragmatist, first and foremost, and in Obama I’ve gotten pretty much what I voted for. I’ve got my beefs (I’d hoped for better civil liberties positions from him), but I’m with ponce – he’s delivered remarkably well, especially considering the obstruction he’s faced.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. ponce says:

    Given how very progressive my politics are that should tell you something about how weak Obama’s position is. He can’t win on the right and he’s pissed off a goodly number on the left.

    The plural of anecdote isn’t data.

    About 80% of Democrats approve of the job Obama is doing, and, really, how many of the 20% who don’t are so petulant they’d vote for somebody like Romney?

    To appeal to the Republican base, Romney is going to have to start awkwardly pandering to racist crackers, which will lose him far more Republicans than it will gain him confused Democrats.

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  19. sam says:

    @JJ

    “He’s by no means my ideal candidate but he’s reasonable, competent, and generally plausible as president.”

    You got that last part right. Nobody, but nobody, works as hard to make himself “plausible” — under any conceivable set of circumstances — as Multiple-Choice Mitt. Kevin Drum said he really couldn’t understand the antipathy to Romney from the right because this guy will do anything you want, anything.

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  20. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: 75% may think the country is headed in the wrong direction, but these polls don’t distinguish between TP types who think Obama’s a Kenyan anti-colonial socialist and people like me. I think Republicans are still leading us toward becoming a failed empire with a corporatist oligarchy and sham elections despite Obama’s best efforts. Guess who I’ll be voting for.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. James Joyner says:

    @sam: I think that overstates things but I’ve had those same issues with Romney. My current sense of the matter is that the phenomenon is partly a version of Al Gore’s slight hamhandedness in incorporating political stage management, the disconnect from running in Massachusetts vs. a national Republican contest, and genuine learning.

    My own views aren’t entirely consistent between 2003, when Romney first became governor, and 2011. But I’ve actually been involved in some significant sense grappling with the national issues since my high school days; I’m not sure that Romney really started paying all that much attention until much later. And he’s a pragmatic wonk rather than a Movement guy, anyway.

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  22. Stan says:

    @Tlaloc: Maybe you could cast a write-in vote for Ralph Nader.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. Scott says:

    The only way I would vote for Romney is if he runs on his rather admirable record as Governor of Massachusetts.

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  24. Racehorse says:

    Tweedle dee and Tweedle dum.

    “Not a dime’s worth of difference”

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  25. Fiona says:

    I feel pretty much the way Michael Reynolds does. I won’t vote for Romney, but he doesn’t make me want to flee the country. The rest of the Republican candidates, save Huntsman, do.

    I do think Romney’s Mormonism will turn off the evangelical base. Hence, his inability to rise above 25 percent in the polls and the rise and fall of a number of anti-Romney’s. But, given the deep hatred these people have for Obama, I’m guessing they’ll hold their nose and vote for the Mittster, especially if he panders to them with his vice-presidential selection.

    Both Obama and Romney are basically technocrats. We’ll see if Obama gets back any of his fire as the election heats up, but in a contest of technocrat vs. technocrat, the one perceived most likely to be successful wins.

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