With 2010 Behind Us, A Look Ahead To 2012
NEAL CONAN, host:
Now that the 2010 elections is over, it's time to start thinking about 2012, of course. The Tea Party has shaken up the GOP, and a lot of people wonder how that will affect the field of candidates who will come forth, challenge Barack Obama for re-election. And since the president's policies were punished by the voters last night, could there be a primary challenger to the president. Since there are only 735 days, until the presidential election, left, let's find out.
Our Political Junkie, Ken Rudin, is still with us here in Studio 3A. We're also joined in the studio by Kevin Madden, who served as Mitt Romney's press secretary and senior communications strategist during his 2008 White House run, now partner and executive vice president of public affairs at Jim Dyke & Associates. Thanks very much for coming in.
Mr. KEVIN MADDEN (Executive vice president of public affairs, Jim Dyke & Associates): Nice to be with you.
CONAN: And Margie Omero is here as well. She's the founder and president of Momentum Analysis, and a Democratic consultant. Welcome to you too.
Ms. MARGIE OMERO (Founder, Momentum Analysis): Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And we should say off the top, there's really no way to predict whether the president is going to be re-elected at this point. There are certainly implications from last night's results for the Republican field. And we want to hear from callers as well. We have split lines today. And the splits lines are and they're right here on this computer screen. The number is 800-344-3893 for those of you who voted Republican. If you voted Democratic, call 800-344-3864.
Ken Rudin, what implications do we have for the presidency last night?
RUDIN: Absolutely none. And, of course, I only say that because he didn't go back to history. And we've said this over and over again, go back to 1982. Reagan and the Republicans lost 26 seats in the House. There were at least seven Democrats who were planning to challenge Ronald Reagan in 1984 and, ultimately, Reagan won a second term by winning 49 out of 50 states in 1984. Fast forward to 1994, when the Republicans swept the House and the Senate, the Gingrich revolution, we talked about. How Bill Clinton was wondering whether he was relevant or not, whether he would stand, let alone survive a second term. And, of course, he won easily in over Bob Dole in 1996. So we could talk all we want about the importance of the midterm and, of course, yes, this midterm was very important for the Republican Party. But what it means for 2012 is very debatable.
CONAN: And why don't we go to Kevin Madden.
Mr. MADDEN: Well, I don't think that there is a direct impact on the president, but there is adjacent impact. If you take a look at last night's results, what you can deduce from is that the president's coalition, that he used to win in 2008, has largely disintegrated over the last two years. His base was not necessarily the left in November, 2008, his base was the middle. And the middle abandoned him last night, and has sort of realigned themselves with the Republican voters to reject the Democrat agenda President Obama's agenda, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid. And that has provided the Republicans an opportunity going forward.
We always flourish as a party when we've been a party that has the ideas and infrastructure to persuade the big middle of the electorate towards conservative policies. And I think that we had that success last night. And there is a lot that we can take away to learn going forward through this legislative session and towards 2012.
CONAN: And Margie Omero, was the were the results yesterday a referendum on the president?
Ms. OMERO: I think, first and foremost, it was a referendum on the economy. I mean, the economy is still struggling. It's obviously a bit better than it was in end days of the Bush administration, but people are still hurting. And that's what we saw. And I think it will be a mistake for anyone to look at this results as a referendum on any one person, any one speaker, any one candidate, or even the president.
I mean, if you look at the parties favorability, according to the exit polls, they are equally, identically favorable. Democrats Republicans.
CONAN: So totally identically bad.
Ms. OMERO: Yes. Equal favorable and equal unfavorable to each other, both are more unpopular than popular. It's just that about a quarter of the people who are unfavorable toward Republicans voted for them anyway. And it's those folks who if the economy improves, are going to be back in our camp. And I think that's what we're going to see in 2012.
CONAN: If the economy improves, because it's just as likely to say what they voted against was the party in power which may have done, two years ago as well, and in two years before that. Two years from now, the Democrats are still going to be in power in the White House and the Senate.
Ms. OMERO: Well, I think the economy is better now than it was a few years ago. And the people have said it's not really getting better fast enough for me. And it's just a real question of whether Republicans can come to the table and compromise and try to work together with the president and with Democrats in the Senate. You're getting mixed reviews, mixed opinions. Some folks are saying no compromise and some folks are saying, you know, let's discuss.
Mr. MADDEN: Well, as a Republican, I would say that the idea that Democrats would take away from last night that Republicans have to compromise, I would say that that - I would encourage my opponents on the other side of the aisle to take that lesson, because I think that would be a very big mistake and would help elect Republicans with more electoral gains in the future.
I do think that it's right to say that the election last night was a referendum on the economy. But I think there are very - there are structural deficiencies, I think, for the Democrats going forward, and particularly the president.
There's all the empirical and anecdotal evidence that the president has lost favor with the American public, not only on his policies but on a lot of key attributes, whether or not they believe that he is a strong leader, whether or not he has the executive ability, whether or not he has the vision, whether or not he has the optimism.
CONAN: But these are subjective, perceptive and can change very quickly.
Mr. MADDEN: They are. They are. But I do think that what happens is now that it's a - that it will be interesting to see if the president reacts in a way where he thinks he can post up against Republicans and essentially find a way to triangulate, or is he going to try and find ways where he can agree and then start to rebuild those attributes, start to rebuild some confidence with the American public in the economy?
CONAN: Ken Rudin, we've been talking about the president and the Democrats. Is there a possibility of a challenger emerging to Pres. Barack Obama?
RUDIN: Well, sure. I mean, again, 2012 is a lifetime away. But I did see - and I did see a poll this week. I don't know if it was Pew poll but -or a Marist poll, whatever it was, saying that a large percentage of Democrats would love to see a challenge to President Obama.
But look, Democrats are clearly discouraged. Their numbers have not been looking good for weeks, if not months. And obviously, they knew - they were almost prepared for a rout on Election Day yesterday. But whether that portends difficulty for Obama getting re-nominated, who? I mean, are we talking about Dennis Kucinich? Are we talking about Hillary Clinton? I mean, I think these are pipedreams that many people would love to have and political junkies love to talk about such fights, but ultimately, I can't imagine that happening.
CONAN: Going to the Republican side, you look at yesterday's elections, and there were two people particularly active as kingmakers, distributors of funds and endorsements. And they were Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential candidate and the former governor of Alaska, of course, a lot of people would like to see her for president. And Jim DeMint, the senator from South Carolina.
RUDIN: Yeah, I haven't heard any Jim DeMint presidential rumors at all or whispers. But clearly, Jim DeMint has become a big power in the Senate. But you know, a lot of the Tea Party folks that would have shown allegiance to Jim DeMint, like a Sharron Angle in Nevada, perhaps Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, they did not make it, so you wonder whether he has the clout. I mean, he certainly is very powerful and he might be little rival to Mitch McConnell. But ultimately, I don't think he's going to be the kingmaker that many people thought going into the election.
CONAN: And Sarah Palin?
RUDIN: Sarah Palin also had a mixed message. I mean, she knows she backed conservatives and she backed moderates. She backed Terry Branstad in Iowa. She backed Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire. Both of whom who won, but neither of whom is a strong conservative. And the question is what she really wants. Does she just want to make money and give speeches and be a player or does she want to be serious and run for president? And a lot of people are questioning whether that's what she really wants to do.
CONAN: Kevin Madden, what does the field look like right now?
Mr. MADDEN: Well, I think the field is wide open. I mean, it's very early right now that - I mean, I think - look, I think the speculation is driven by formula, right? Anybody who is in it in the last time and has gone out there and campaigned over 2010 like my old boss, Mitt Romney, for example, then everybody is going to speculate that he may -that that candidate may look like - potentially be, again, be looking at 2012.
And then there are all the folks that on the conservative side of things, there are folks that are rising stars, and everybody is going to speculate and say, well, these are candidates that make it into the ring in 2012. But I don't think there's really any presumptive frontrunner like that there had been in past years. And then a lot of it is still going to have to play out over the next couple of months.
CONAN: We should note, Mike Pence, the congressman from Indiana, left his position as the - as part of the House leadership for the Republicans today, saying he wanted to concentrate on other ways to serve the country. He just won a straw poll recently in one of the various places (unintelligible).
Mr. MADDEN: And there's a lot of talk about him running for governor in Indiana as well.
CONAN: Let's see if we get some callers in on the conversation. Again, we have split lines today. 800-344-3893 for Republicans, if you voted for one of those yesterday. If you voted Democratic, 800-344-3864. We'll go to the Republican line. And Blair(ph) is on the line from Phoenix.
BLAIR (Caller): Hi. I am a young voter. I recently moved to Phoenix from Indiana. And I usually vote Republican. Interestingly enough, I found myself voting for quite a few libertarian candidates this time around because I really felt disenfranchised with the party. And I think, you know, two years ago, we saw the Democrats take over because Republicans weren't delivering to their supporters. And the same thing can still be true, you know. With this victory for the Republicans, if the candidates aren't able to deliver within the next two years, we could see something similar happen, I think, in 2012.
CONAN: And what do you think - you mean by deliver, Blair? What do you -what would you like to see?
BLAIR: Well, traditionally, the Republican Party has been for small government and fiscal conservative. You know, as far as the economy is concerned, we've promoted conservative spending. That has not been the case with the Republicans, but it also hasn't been the case with the Democrats. So I think we need to tighten our belts. And it's interesting to see who is going to be able to deliver that to the American people and who's going to take that responsibility.
CONAN: And Kevin, do you think the Republicans have learned their lesson from Medicare part-D and large defense spending? Are there going to be cuts to the budget if they have any say at that?
Mr. MADDEN: I think they have. I think that the last two years have been quite a learning process for us. I think Blair is, in many ways, a microcosm of some of the challenges that we have as a party. First of all, I think the - she's also emblematic of the volatility of the electorate. That - you know, she's voted for Republicans in the past and is now starting to vote a little bit libertarian. And is wanting to, quite frankly, send a message to the Republican Party around key issues.
And then also, Blair is a work in progress. The party has to make sure that we get younger voters and that we continue to remind those voters that we are a party of small government, that we're party of fiscal conservatism. Because the perception was in 2006, one of the reasons we paid to the polls was because we didn't do a good enough job of persuading not only Republican voters but independent voters that we were still with those core principles.
CONAN: Blair, thanks very much for the call.
BLAIR: Thank you.
CONAN: We're looking ahead to 2012, the day after, the day before. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's go to a Democratic line. And Kim(ph), Kim is calling from Akron.
KIM (Caller): Hello?
CONAN: You're on the air, Kim. Go ahead, please.
KIM: Oh, thank you so much for taking my call. Well, I voted Democrat yesterday. And I feel that President Obama, all he has to do is stick with who it is that embraces him. His policies are right on time for this country. And the minority vote, the Hispanic, women, whoever is progressive. He needs to stick with us, stick with his base, embrace...
KIM: ...and he will be the president in 2012.
CONAN: Margie Omero, what do you think?
Ms. OMERO: Well, I think there are few things. I think, first, that call shows what we've seen a lot, that some of this heat of - and intensity of opposition toward Obama that - sometimes in the media you can get swept up in thinking is really pervasive. It's really not quite that pervasive.
The second thing is it is true that if you look at the exit polls now versus 2008 and 2006, the biggest drop is really among white voters, while Latinos voted really about similar numbers, and we're talking about this earlier.
CONAN: About two-thirds supporting Democrats, yeah.
Ms. OMERO: And that similar numbers, similar percentage of the electorate and similar percentage voting for Democrats. So the real drop off has been with white voters and more - and that's regional. That's rural areas and smaller towns where that's really happened.
CONAN: All right. Kim, thanks very much for the phone call.
KIM: Thank you.
CONAN: And as we get a look ahead to 2012, Ken Rudin, we have to accept the fact that the electorate is different in presidential election years than it is in midterms.
RUDIN: It is, although, you know, what we saw this year with the Tea Party, with Christine O'Donnell winning in Delaware and Sharron Angle winning in Nevada, at least in the primaries, you often see that in places like Iowa where the Evangelical vote is very strong. And people like, you know, Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty who may not be appealing to such a conservative audience, whether they could survive in a Tea Party kind of atmosphere in 2012.
CONAN: Interesting, we got this email on that point from Russell(ph) in Forest Ranch, California. The election will push Republican presidential nomination process even further into the hands of the right wing, look for a very interesting Republican nominee, one who cannot win in the general election.
Mr. MADDEN: Look, the idea that opposition to deficits, opposition to wasteful spending, opposition to big government, health care is extreme is just flat-out wrong. The big middle of the electorate is aligned with Republican sentiment on those particular issues. And that was what we saw speak last night.
The reason that Republicans did so well was because we convinced independents. Not only did we energize our base, but independents have now aligned themselves with Republicans on those key issues that are animating the electorate. So the idea that there's going to be an ideological pall, I think, is one that I reject based on what happened last night.
CONAN: All right. Here's an email from Ann(ph) in Littleton, Colorado: I expect the Democratic base will be reenergized by last night's results. This will be true of myself. If Republicans take control of the House, the Senate and the presidency in 2012, the United States will not recover. What do you think, Margie?
Ms. OMERO: Yeah. No, I think that's absolutely true. I think, you know, obviously last night was not a good night for Democrats. I mean, it's hard to sugarcoat it completely, but I do think that we're going to see the real consequences of these elections. And for example, you know, one thing that Republicans have really been talking a lot about is extending the Bush tax cuts for everybody, but exit polls show and consistent polls consistently show that that's not where the electorate is.
And so if you see a fight about that, one - another example might be repealing health care. Well, repealing health care broadly may be divisive. When you talk about repealing mandatory maternity care, then it's going to be a little bit more unpopular. So I think there's a real potential for Republicans to overplay their hand in some real key policies.
CONAN: And it's been apparently true of both parties, Ken, that they've been willing to overplay their hands when presented with power. But we're going to have divided government for the next two years. The most likely outcome of the consensus seems to be today is that less will happen rather than more. And as we look ahead towards 2012, at least, obviously, everybody in the House is going to be up for election. But Democrats are going to have to defend a whole bunch of Senate seats.
RUDIN: Right, of the 33 Senate seats up in 2012, 23 including the two independents, 23 will be held by the Democrats. And so by numbers alone, of course, that should help the Republican Party. But then you also have some Republicans like Olympia Snowe, who may be in a very, very tough primary battle by - from the right. You may see Orrin Hatch, Richard Lugar, people who have worked...
CONAN: Lindsay Graham.
RUDIN: ...Lindsay Graham, exactly - who have worked with Democrats in the past. They may be challenged in the primary so, again, two years is a lifetime away, but these are warning signs for 2012.
CONAN: Well, I will be back with you, I'm sure, to talk about this in the next couple of years. It may come up one or twice in the meantime. But thanks very much for your time today.
Margie Omero is president and founder of Momentus - Momentum Analysis who consults with Democratic campaigns. Kevin Madden, partner and executive vice president of public affairs at Jim Dyke & Associates, former press secretary and communication strategist for the Romney '08 campaign. Thanks very much for your time today.
Ken Rudin, our Political Junkie, is with us every Wednesday. If you haven't had enough of him - seems unlikely - you can go to npr.org/junkie to read his blog, hear his podcast and solve the ScuttleButton puzzle when...
RUDIN: Oh, that's important.
CONAN: ...that comes out on Friday. He'll be back with us here on TALK OF THE NATION as he is every Wednesday.
I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
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