The 2012 presidential race: divided we stand

The 2012 presidential race: divided we stand

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The recent Republican presidential debates suggest that the GOP candidates share almost the same close family feelings as Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz, the two NFL coaches who almost came to blows during the post-game handshake two weeks ago. A respected friend suggested to me that America has not been as polarized since the Civil War.

Last week’s debate in Las Vegas became an internecine, personal battle between former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and current Texas Governor Rick Perry. Only Herman Cain’s humor lightened the mood. Between ad hominem attacks and personal jabbing, Romney and Perry virtually avoided the issues before them, although immigration, border control, and terrorism did enter the discussion. About the only issue which raised no controversy was their almost universal support for Israel, concern for terrorism, and condemnation of Iran. The candidates themselves have avoided playing the Mormon card, although all types of surrogates have been pushing this issue, including evangelical ministers and Tea Party advocates. None of the frontrunners appears to be acting very presidential.

These debates portend a vigorous, dirty, and personal race at least through the beginning of February. The Iowa caucuses (Jan. 3), the New Hampshire primary (which finally appears settled for Jan. 10), the South Carolina primary (Jan. 21), the Florida primary (Jan. 31), and the Nevada primary (Feb. 4) are all set in place over the first weeks of 2012. After these various bloodbaths, those left standing will be a clear frontrunner and perhaps two hopefuls remaining to slug on.

The internal Republican catfight is, unfortunately, nothing compared to the gap between the parties. Gone are the days when President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill would play golf and actually enjoy each other’s Irish humor. It has become a major event now when the Senate can actually conduct the normal business of passing appropriations bills, as they did in the early hours last Friday morning. Congress throughout the past 10 months has not only been unproductive, but has produced truly ugly attacks and recriminations.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats — despite a flimsy positive veneer — do not like and certainly do not respect each other. President Obama will probably raise an unprecedented amount of money during this election cycle, to the surprise and consternation of many of the outside prognosticators. He may well win reelection because he will out-organize a fractured Republican Party, but his second term in office could make his first term look like a cake-walk, if indeed the GOP holds the House and retakes the Senate.

All elections come down to turnout. Over the past 50 years, the turnout has ranged from a high of 63.1 percent of eligible voters (in the 1960 election) to a low of 49.0 percent (in 1996). Turnout in the 2008 election grew to 57.3 percent, continuing a modest upward trend.

Sadly, all this recent effort and public excitement may well dissipate by next November. The 2012 presidential election may ultimately turn on the question of who feels more alienated. Will it be disheartened and discouraged Obama supporters who feel let down after their euphoric victory in 2008, handing a victory to the GOP? Or will Tea Party enthusiasts stay home, feeling their cause was sabotaged by old line Republicans and mainstream conservatives?

We’re still a year away from the presidential election. The truly silly season doesn’t even begin until the spring and summer. It does not look as if it will be very pretty.

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