2012 isn’t 1992
Some think that 2012 will be like 1992. However, that analogy is problematic.
With Mitch Daniels deciding to refrain from the 2012 fray, there will be renewed discussion of a political savior (so to speak) for the GOP. This hope takes the form of the notion that either one of the current candidates who looks like a loser will end up being said savior, or that some as yet unidentified candidate will emerge.
Especially when it comes to the former scenario (but even, to some degree, the latter), many have cited 1992 as a example. The story goes like this: going into the 1992 campaign cycle it appeared that George H. W. Bush was destined for re-election. Indeed, after the Gulf War he was The Most Popular President EverTM (indeed, 41 held the record for highest popularity until 43 overtook him right after 9/11) . As a result, all of the major Democratic candidates declined to run for their party’s nomination. The zeitgeist of that moment was well captured by an SNL skit called “Campaign ’92: The Race To Avoid Being The Guy Who Loses To Bush” which was a debate-style presentation wherein all the major Democrats of the day (Mario Cuomo, Dick Gephardt, etc.) all were explaining why they they ought not be nominated.
So, as we know, since none of the big time Democrats ran in 1992 the race instead featured what might be called the second-string: Paul Tsongas, Bill Clinton, Jerry Brown and a few others. And, as we know, Bill Clinton went on to win the nomination and two terms in the White House.
Indeed, none of the 1992 candidates had run in 1988. That certainly underscores the attitude that a lot of major Democratic politicos had at the time.
To what degree is 2012 a similar scenario? That is, to what degree have all of the major Reps bailed on the chance to run, leaving the field to back-benchers to face a president who seems likely to be re-elected? The simple answer is: not much. If you look at the current GOP field we have a major candidate from the previous cycle (Romney*) and the flirtations, at least, of the party’s VP nominee (Palin**). Further, you have the last prominent Republican Speaker of the House (Gingrich) in the mix. For the 1992 analogy to hold, the field would have to have to utterly bereft of such figures.
Who are the Republican heavy-hitters who are sitting out this race? Rick Perry of Texas? Jeb Bush? Perry would be an interesting candidate, but he hardly has a national profile. Bush’s problems are obvious (indeed, are contain in this sentence and in every sentence that cites him by name). Daniels might fit the bill, but he isn’t analogous to Mario Cuomo, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore,etc. (all of whom declined to compete in 1992). I guess that maybe Chris Christie might fit the bill for some, but he isn’t a bigger Republican at the moment than is Romney or Palin.
If it appears that the current GOP field looks like the 1992 Democratic field (i.e., like a bunch of second stringers) that is a comment on the current quality of the GOP, not that 2012 is a Republican version of 1992. This is important to note because I think that it speaks to the overall weakness of the Republican field at the moment, and also underscores that the party is currently going through something of an identity crisis.
*Granted, he has not declared yet, but is clear that he is running.
**And yes, the jury is out on whether she will actually run.