Yes, The General Election Campaign Is Going To Suck

Get ready for a long, painful ordeal at the end of which we're supposed to pick a President.

If you thought the primary campaign was a painful exercise to watch, Molly Ball reminds us that the General Election is likely to be worse and cites the three factors that are likely to be the most responsible for our collective pain.

The first factor she sites, of course, is the role that money is likely to play in the race. This will be the first Presidential General Election where SuperPACs will play a role and, as we saw during the Republican primary fight, they are likely to have at least some impact in how the race proceeds. But, the money is just  a means to an end, what’s likely to make this year especially painful is how both campaigns are likely to approach it:

Forget the inspiring currents of 2008, when Obama drew tens of thousands to rallies all over the country, filled with inspiration for a better future. Sarah Palin, too, for all her polarizing qualities, represented something new, exciting, and to many on the cultural right, inspirational. This time around, no figure or theme quite so fresh looms on the horizon. Three bruising years of economic doldrums and legislative gridlock have pushed the president’s approval rating at times into the low 40s, though it’s nowrebounded to 49 percent. Romney, never the type of politician to sweep crowds off their feet with soaring oratory, has seen his image further dented by a tough Republican primary and a preemptive Democratic campaign; he now appears to be the most unpopular presidential nominee in modern history. And so two candidates of whom the public is generally skeptical and a bit weary will devote their energy to tearing one another down, seeking to terrify voters into casting votes for the lesser evil — or just staying home.

This is nothing new, of course. Negative campaigning has been a part of American politics since our first contested Presidential election in 1796 and it many ways it was probably worse in the days when campaigns were covered by newspapers that did nothing to hide their political allegiances and pamphleteers who thought nothing of spreading vicious lies about a candidate for money. Moreover, as I’ve noted in the past much of the elite hand-wringing over “negative campaigning”  is really quite over-wrought:

The whole issue of “negative campaigning” strikes me as a non-issue. For one thing, he phrase “negative ad” is meaningless because it can be used to mean anything and ends becoming a pejorative to use against your opponent when he does something you don’t like. It is typically something that a candidate who is losing an election and doesn’t have the resources to respond to the attacks against him complains about, and it plays well with the candidate’s base, especially when that candidate is someone who likes to play up the victimization card the way Gingrich does. Outside of pundits and losing candidates, though, I still haven’t seen any evidence that voters actually care about the fact that a candidate runs “negative ads.”  They care about things like jobs and the economy, not process stories that political reporters commiserate about while sharing cocktails at the end of the day.

More importantly, a “negative ad” can be helpful to voters who might be unaware of some aspect of a candidates record or previous statements. Of course, if the last couple months have been any indication, we’re likely to see more concentration on silly issues like Etch-A-Sketch’s, Rush Limbaugh, Hillary Rosen, and the so-called War On Women/War On Moms than on substantive issues. Which is ironic since this will mostly be done by the same political media that will also be spending much of it’s time between now and November bemoaning “negative campaigning.” Nonetheless, Ball is largely correct. Since we are approaching an election that is likely to be hard fought over a relatively small number of voters in swing states, 2012 is not going to be a campaign about “Hope and Change” and grand visions for the country, it’s going to be a knockdown, drag out, dirty street fight.

Another factor Ball points to is the fact that the race is likely to be one of the longest we’ve ever seen:

With each side flush with cash and focused on its opponent, there will be no down time from the presidential campaign in the next six and a half months. The recent kerfuffle over Democratic pundit Hilary Rosen’s comments on Ann Romney was a perfect example of the kind of intensive, day-in-day-out trench warfare the campaign is likely to consist of, with torrents of surrogate statements, press releases and diversionary tactics as each side seeks to gain some nebulous, incremental advantage from a fleeting, ginned-up controversy.

Truthfully, you might say that the General Election campaign has been going on for months now. Notwithstanding the vicissitudes of the Republican primary battle, it was fairly apparent as early as February that Mitt Romney was going to be the Republican nominee, which is why the Obama campaign has been targeting him in press releases, surrogate appearances, and ad campaigns for months now.  Except for a brief time when Rick Santorum’s name got added into the mix, Romney is the only candidate that the Obama campaign has ever mentioned by name. So even though most pundits are saying the General Election campaign ended the day Rick Santorum dropped out of the race last week, in reality it’s been going on for at least two months now.

It wasn’t always this way. It used to be the case that there was somewhat of a summer interregnum during which campaigns would slow down just a bit, the political media would back off, and Americans would go on vacation instead of having to worry about constantly being bombarded by political messaging. Even four years ago, there was a bit of a pause between the end of the Democratic primary campaign and the beginning of battle between McCain and Obama, but that’s unlikely to happen this time. In today’s hyperpolitical world with a 365/24/7 news cycle, the odds that we’ll see any kind of a break from either political coverage or campaigning is next to zero. Both campaigns are going to take advantage of the time between now and the conventions to set the agenda and beginning laying the groundwork for their respective negative campaigns. It will be a long, unrelenting ordeal. My advice? Go outside and enjoy the summer, because there’s little these two guys will be talking about that’ll be worth paying attention to.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Tillman says:

    The famous nerd question: would you prefer to live during the ascendancy of a civilization or its decline?

    My point, Doug, is stop calling all this painful. We’re in the decline (or at least we think we are), we might as well enjoy the ride. As George Bernard Shaw said, “Life does not cease being funny when someone dies anymore that it ceases being serious when someone laughs.”

  2. My advice? Go outside and enjoy the summer, because there’s little these two guys will be talking about that’ll be worth paying attention to.

    Bad advice for a blogger to issue, no? 😉

    Seriously: while I agree that our political system suffers from a variety of maladies, there must be something of interest here, else we wouldn’t write so much about it, yes?

  3. Gustopher says:

    If you thought the primary campaign was a painful exercise to watch

    I’ve quite enjoyed the primary campaign.

    This will be the first Presidential General Election where SuperPACs will play a role

    I eagerly anticipate the Birther SuperPAC. The Democratic fringe differs from the Republican fringe in one critical way — the Democratic fringe are a bunch of smelly hippies with no money, and are easier to ignore. I think there’s every likelihood that we’ll see a right wing SuperPAC go so far and so crazy that it causes voters to recoil in terror.

    It’s like the Republican state legislatures that keep bringing up contraception, abortion and generally being creepy. They can’t help themselves.

    Negative campaigning has been a part of American politics since our first contested Presidential election in 1796 and it many ways it was probably worse in the days when campaigns were covered by newspapers that did nothing to hide their political allegiances and pamphleteers who thought nothing of spreading vicious lies about a candidate for money

    Really, you think things have gotten better since 2004?

  4. Eric says:

    I think what Doug has is a case of politics fatigue. I’m getting that as well, with all this bombardment of silly, irrational behavior expressed on every which side. Though what’s getting to me is the focus on the really annoying and stupid issues and non-issues and the mentality of us vs. them.

    Politics…

  5. @Steven L. Taylor:

    while I agree that our political system suffers from a variety of maladies, there must be something of interest here, else we wouldn’t write so much about it, yes?

    There is always the opportunity for mockery

  6. @Gustopher:

    Really, you think things have gotten better since 2004?

    I didn’t say that. I also don’t think 2004 was any more “negative” than other campaigns.

  7. And so two candidates of whom the public is generally skeptical and a bit weary will devote their energy to tearing one another down, seeking to terrify voters into casting votes for the lesser evil — or just staying home.

    CHOOSE THE FORM OF THE DESTRUCTOR!

  8. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I think most of the “Barack Hussein Obama is a secret Muslim Kenyan Ni-CLANG” people were putting out pamphlets for free, so I’d rule out 2008 from “pamphleteers who thought nothing of spreading vicious lies about a candidate for money”

    That leaves us with the Swift Boat Liars for Truth, in 2004, who cashed in big with books and videos.

    Was there some specific time you were referring to with “the days when campaigns were covered by newspapers that did nothing to hide their political allegiances and pamphleteers who thought nothing of spreading vicious lies about a candidate for money”?

  9. al-Ameda says:

    Not to worry Doug, we’ll get through this upcoming general election campaign season and emerge as unhappy, bitter, spiteful and hypocritical as ever. I’m hopeful.

    That’s right – We’ll be telling ourselves why so-called “independent voters” need a voice (there are hardly any of them), and we’ll still be lying to ourselves about how our politicians should put aside their differences and act in a bipartisan manner (what a joke, we voters cannot have an honest bipartisan discussion about health care.)

    The People are no piece of cake.

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    As bad as it would be, regardless, it does need to be pointed out that elections in this day and age would be a lot more tolerable if we didn’t have such an airheaded media.

    I’m not sure this cycle will be worse than 2004. That year the left was in such a state of frothing rage it boggled the mind. This time around the left is a bit more anesthetized, albeit still as loopy as a lower intestine.

    The dog days of summer might very well be the dog days of summer, but truth be told there will be a lot of very interesting items on which political and news junkies will be able to ruminate. The SCOTUS’ decision on Obamacare alone will be worth its weight in gold, regardless of how it comes down. Romney’s V.P. pick has the potential to be a comedy, a tragedy, a tragicomedy, or a stroke or genius. We really don’t know what he’ll do. Does he pick someone sentient, relevant and useful, or does he get in touch with his inner John McCain? The Democrat Party platform at the convention not only might be priceless it could be a live action SNL skit. Imagine for just a moment that the SCOTUS in June tosses out Obamacare. Then what? Do the Democrats run in support of a statute that not only expunged them in 2010 from majority power in Congress but subsequently was ruled also to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court? Could they possibly be that gauche?

    I always like to look on the bright side. Granted, the American public and the mass media have been dumbed down to a level of near catatonia, but still there are far worse places in which to live. Detroit, Chicago, Philly, Camden, Patterson, Stockton, Newark, New Orleans, Baltimore and Los Angeles come immediately to mind. Oh, right, those are in America. My bad.

    Lastly, concerning the inevitable onslaught of negative campaign ads, there’s an easy and foolproof remedy: Change the channel.

  11. Tillman says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    This time around the left is a bit more anesthetized, albeit still as loopy as a lower intestine.

    The crazy seems to have migrated over to the conservative respiratory system, if the hot air shooting out of their mouths is anything to go by.

  12. Jeremy R says:

    Of course, if the last couple months have been any indication, we’re likely to see more concentration on silly issues like Etch-A-Sketch’s, Rush Limbaugh, Hillary Rosen, and the so-called War On Women/War On Moms than on substantive issues.

    Can you explain why you take issue with this? Is it the term ‘war’ you object to, or do you not see that the tea party/GOP 2010 wave election has lead to a massive uptick in proposed and passed legislation, across the country, that targets women and their lives? Legislating medically unnecessary procedures, requirements that doctors pass on medically false information, slashing of women’s health funding, employer and health provider conscience exemptions, weakening of violence against women legislation, weakening of gender fair pay legislation, legislated abortion wait periods, abortion provider restrictions that force many to close up shop, abortion term restrictions, etc…

    The 2010 Tea Party class came in to power promising fiscal restraint, but instead their primary obsession seems to have actually ended up being micromanaging women’s lives. This phenomena needs a simple, politically powerful name to rally opposition around — if not ‘war on women’ how about suggesting an alternative for opponents to use that you don’t find ‘silly’?

  13. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @the top:

    the so-called War On Women

    The reality of the War on Women has been so well-documented that at this point I have to assume you’re just trolling the readership for pageviews.

  14. Hey Norm says:

    I’m thinking Doug needs to change jobs if he is thinking the next 7 months…certainly the zenith of the political sphere…is going to suck. Of course 7 months of pretending that BOTH SIDES DO IT would definitely suck.

  15. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jeremy R: I think that Doug is mostly objecting to the fact that the voters haven’t finally seen the light and started supporting a genuine Libertarian/Conservative candidate who will loot and pillage the treasury in pursuit of goals that Doug approves of. You know, a government that will stop picking winners and losers–so that Doug’s side can always win.

  16. al-Ameda says:

    @Jeremy R:

    if not ‘war on women’ how about suggesting an alternative for opponents to use that you don’t find ‘silly’?

    I agree with you. When you’re wedded to a ‘both sides do it’ equivalence, that’s the silliness you end up with.

    To your point, how about: “the both sides wage a war on women”?

    Come to think of it, you proposed a good “captioning-type” of contest.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    There is always the opportunity for mockery

    Indeed, your posts constantly present that opportunity…

    I’m not sure this cycle will be worse than 2004. That year the left was in such a state of frothing rage it boggled the mind. This time around the left is a bit more anesthetized, albeit still as loopy as a lower intestine.

    Please, have you taken a good look at your fellow travelers? Just mention the Kenyan Usurper and the righties start foaming at the mouth…and if he wins reelection? Cardiac care units in certain locales will be filled to capacity…

    Detroit, Chicago, Philly, Camden, Patterson, Stockton, Newark, New Orleans, Baltimore and Los Angeles come immediately to mind.

    It’s a real shame you can’t get lost in one for those places for awhile…

    I think that Doug is mostly objecting to the fact that the voters haven’t finally seen the light and started supporting a genuine Libertarian/Conservative candidate who will loot and pillage the treasury in pursuit of goals that Doug approves of.

    This is why Doug can’t lay off the “both sides do it” meme, because he’ll never see the candidates he likes win anything…

  18. Lizbuddie says:

    Help Gov. Gary Johnson get to 15% in the polling and he gets on the general election debate stage with Obama and Romney. He could call out the former as an anti-war/civil libertarian fraud, and the latter as a small government/free market fraud. Now tell me THAT wouldn’t be fun! Even Doug would have fun with THAT. Haha

  19. Mikey says:

    @Jeremy R:

    Is it the term ‘war’ you object to, or do you not see that the tea party/GOP 2010 wave election has lead to a massive uptick in proposed and passed legislation, across the country, that targets women and their lives?

    My gut hunch is that the big wave of GOP success in 2010 has probably emboldened many on the right to push such legislation. However, it could be just increased publicity surrounding such legislation that makes it seem like a massive uptick.

    Probably there’s someone out in the Interwebs who’s done an applicable analysis, but it’s getting late in my time zone and I haven’t the time to search…

  20. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares about the general election? Anyone who believes that Romney is going to win is delusional. The Republicans are doing to have to spend money in Virginia and North Carolina while the Democrats do not have to spend a dollar in states like New Jersey.

    The only question for the general election is whether the Democrats will be able to win control of the House.

    Wonks and wannabes who talk about the 2012 election as if it is going to be competitve are just demonstrating that they either refuse to face reality or do not care what reality is.

  21. Jeremy R says:
  22. Vinny Rod says:

    hey bahama can i use your koran to wipe my ass???

  23. Vinny Rod says:

    true patriots would never have elected a muslim to run this country, watch when he starts filling the fema camps, boy is the lead gonna fly or what

  24. matt says:

    @Vinny Rod: Oh come on dude the FEma camps are so 4 years ago..

  25. Vinny Rod says:

    IM NOT TALKING ABOUT CAMPS FOR MUSLIMS, IM TALKING ABOUT CAM,PS FOR AMERICANS,,,,,