By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Now that it’s almost certain that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will emerge as the Republican Party’s nominee for America’s next presidential election, I am compelled to revise my April 2, 2011 prediction that President Barack Obama was “headed to be a one-term president.”
There are at least five reasons why I think Obama may yet win a second term, not because of himself but in spite of himself.
First, in more ways than any presidential nominee in recent times, Mitt Romney is encumbered with a lot of cultural and political baggage. For instance, there is a growing public perception of him as a notoriously shameless “flip-flopper.” Flip flopping is a term Americans use to denote opportunistic and arbitrary shifting of positions to suit the expectations of different constituencies.
When he is in the northeast, the most liberal region of the United States, Romney sounds moderate and reasonable. (In fact, while running for governor in 2003, he once described himself as “moderate” and “progressive,” two devil terms in conservative Republican circles, which he now regrets uttering). But the moment he goes to campaign in the culturally conservative south, he changes to extremist, intolerant rhetoric to appeal to the base emotions of the vulgar herd.
Another example of his flop-flopping is his volte face on public policies. He now viciously attacks the very policies he executed when he was governor of the highly liberal northeastern state of Massachusetts. For instance, Obama’s healthcare plan, which Republicans now derisively call “Obamacare,” is modeled after Romney’s when he was Massachusetts governor. But he is now a brutal critic of “Obamacare.”
Because of his notoriety as a flip-flopper, it came as no surprise when it came to light that he spent millions of dollars to wipe his record as Massachusetts governor between 2003 and 2007. But that story will haunt and oppress him like an incubus during the presidential election. Americans traditionally punish flip-floppers at the polls.
The second reason Obama may win is that Romney, his opponent, has really no “base.” He is hated by conservatives, loathed by liberals, and disdained by independents. And here is why. When he won election as governor of the heavily Democratic state of Massachusetts in 2003, he did so because he was thought to be a moderate, reasonable Republican. And he was—for the most part. But that image posed a credibility deficit for him in conservative circles. They think he is too liberal to be a conservative and therefore doesn’t belong in their fold.
Now, in order to warm his heart to conservatives, especially in the South, he goes to ridiculous extremes to prove his bona fides through toxic, bigoted rhetoric, which turns off liberals and independents, and does little to inspire confidence in the minds of the conservatives he is trying to impress and court.
The third biggest reason Romney won’t make a huge dent on Obama’s electoral chances is his religion. He is a Mormon, a heretical Christian sect some of whose unorthodox teachings rile conservative American Christians to no end. Several polls have shown that most American Christians would choose a Muslim or a Hindu over a Mormon. Mormons are to conservative American Christians what, for example, the Bahai are to Muslims in Iran: a heterodox, scorn-worthy, blasphemous cult.
With only two exceptions, American presidents have historically been WASPs, that is, White Anglo Saxon Protestants. The first exception was John F. Kennedy, who was a Catholic. So we might call him a WASC, that is, a White Anglo Saxon Catholic. The other exception is Obama, who is part black. We might therefore also call him a BASP, that is, a Black Anglo Saxon (since his mom had an Anglo-Saxon heritage) Protestant. Can America elect a WASM, that is, a White Anglo Saxon Mormon? Current opinion polls say no.
The fourth thing going for Obama is that the American economy has recovered remarkably in the last few months. The economy witnessed more job growth in the last few months than it has ever seen in more than a decade. That’s no mean feat. As you would expect, this has raised his approval numbers and put him in a superior position in all hypothetical matchups with all his potential contenders, including Mitt Romney, the potential Republican nominee.
Lastly, Obama has the power of incumbency going for him. Of course, I do not mean this in the crude and vulgar way it is understood in Nigeria. Political scientists have long noted that in American presidential politics, voters tend to be content reelecting incumbent presidents if the records of such presidents are not abysmally dismal. This attitude is often borne out of an instinctive resistance to disruption and discontinuity. This is often more so in moments of great national strife.
Part of the reason George Bush won a second term in spite of his obvious incompetence was that many voters didn’t want a change of guard in the aftermath of the September 11terrorist attacks. Many voters may think that since Obama is piloting the economy from a devastating depression to a recovery, he deserves more time to consolidate his efforts.
But whatever it is, it seems obvious to me that this year’s presidential election would be one of the least exciting elections in America’s history. I predict a historically low turn-out. Obama’s base—women, blacks, young people, white liberals, etc.—aren’t as fired up about him now as they were in 2008. So, most of them probably won’t turn out to vote.
Romney, as I pointed out earlier, has no base. The traditional Republican base—white blue-collar workers, conservative Christians, Southern whites, etc.—hasn’t and will not accept him as one of them. Nor will they ever vote for Obama. So, they, too, may boycott the election.
Only independents and political junkies are likely to come out to vote. That demographic category, fortunately for Obama, is unlikely to vote for Romney.