President Obama officially kicked off his campaign in Ohio on Sunday. The contest with Romney will be the most expensive yet and it won’t surprise many if it becomes one of the nastiest. Romney takes pleasure in ad hominem attacks and has displayed a mean streak. The President is not averse to throwing elbows and his “cool” masks a Chicago street-fighter.
The economy is the most likely the number one topic – until another issue pushes in (who knew that the early brouhaha was going to be over contraception?). Romney will certainly benefit if the recovery remains modest. But the Republicans will not be able to count on some of their traditional strengths.
They are going to have to explain why it is necessary to cut social programs to give more tax cuts to the wealthy. Gay marriage is now favored by the majority of Americans. And they have lost coherence on foreign policy – lurching from Ron Paul’s isolationism to the neocons’ strategy of bombing everybody.
They are further hamstrung by their antipathy to the President.
For example, the right is upset that the President is launching cruise missiles into Pakistan. Andrew Napolitano, conservative commentator, huffs righteously in The Washington Times that: “Pakistan is a sovereign country that has nuclear weapons and is an American ally”.
National sovereignty didn’t deter our Iraqi adventurism and doesn’t quell our Iranian sword rattling. WMD were one reason given for attacking Iraq. And as for Pakistan’s “ally” status, harboring terrorists - including Osama bin Laden - is not the action of a friend.
But we should expect consistency from the “Obama, always wrong, no matter what” crowd. These are the people who beat up the President for doing something about Libya and are now beating him up for not doing something about Syria; the people who said that the dictator Saddam Hussein had to go, but criticize the President for allowing the dictator Hosni Mubarak to fall.
John McCain is a leader of the “attack everybody, all the time” faction, but at least he has been in action and is consistent. He had demanded that Obama get tougher in Libya and Tunisia and he now demands that we arm the rebels in Syria.
But in doing so McCain ignores the realpolitik of the rest of his party, who prefer to see autocrats of any stripe, rather than a takeover by radical Islamists.
McCain also thinks that we should be tougher on Iran, but the sanctions seem to be having an effect. He has criticized the President for not leaving troops in Iraq and for drawing down too soon in Afghanistan. But the public is sick of war and doesn’t really care what happens there after we leave.
The President may have stumbled with his “end-zone celebration” on the anniversary of bin Laden’s killing, but the fact of the matter is that it was Obama who pulled the trigger on his demise.
It is impossible to say how big an issue foreign policy will be in the election – but it is fair say that it won’t be a big advantage for the Republicans