Predictions in politics and government are a fool’s game. The systems involved are chaotic and complex. The players change motive or exit the game unexpectedly. Choices are made for reasons that are often hidden, illogical or against one’s own self interest.
Despite this, last year I went out on a limb with 10 perilous predictions for 2011.
Surprisingly, eight of the ten guesses are generally correct, albeit some achieving the predicted result in different ways than envisaged. For instance, Stephen Harper did get his majority, but at the expense of the Liberals, rather than through NDP losses.
Gas prices failed to rise. China is certainly more wobbly than a year ago, but Beijing is managing to contain the evidence of that better than expected. And the biggest story of the year – the collapse of multiple Middle Eastern dictatorships – wasn’t on my radar at all.
It is incredibly unlikely that my guesses will be as reliable for 2012, but here goes anyway. Some of these are comfortable picks (Romney, Redford, polarization) while others are long-shots (Huckabee, Iran) or tough calls (Obama, Europe.)
1. Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee
The post-caucus coverage from Iowa seems to say Mitt Romney had a bad day, when the opposite is true.
The Iowa caucus is only worth a total of 25 delegates for the Republican nomination, and winning it is essentially meaningless in predicting the nominee. What it does is serve to winnow the field of its pretenders. With a fifth-place finish, Rick Perry is seriously damaged, and throwing everything into South Carolina. A fourth-place finish robbed Newt Gingrich of his momentum and leaves him in the race essentially as an anti-Romney spoiler. Ron Paul is not viable. Rick Santorum has emerged as the consensus choice for the social conservatives, but he lacks the infrastructure, fundraising or scars from the media onslaught to sustain his rise.
There are plenty of ways Romney can be injured or even crippled in a long nomination fight, but he will be the nominee. His support among the Republican establishment, financial advantages and experience in running in 2008 give him too many advantages. It may not even be a long nomination, given Romney now leads the latest polls out of the third primary state, South Carolina.
2. Romney will pick Mike Huckabee for VP
Mitt Romney desperately needs to energize the Republican base to win the election. His single biggest problem will be the 41% of Republican voters who say he is an unacceptable nominee (and that was before negative ads about his record and positions began airing.)
He can’t pick a moderate nominee, as that would further demoralize the very social conservatives he needs, which takes the likes of Mitch Daniels and Rudy Giuliani out of the running. He would be ill-advised to pick a Washington insider in the age of anti-Washington anger, which takes away Paul Ryan or any other senator or Congressional representative of significant stature.
His current nomination opponents – the typical starting point for a VP pick – are a gaggle of weirdos. Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Santorum, Herman Cain, Perry and Paul each alienate a large segment of the coalition of voters Romney needs to win.
He would be crazy to pull another trick like John McCain and nominate an unknown and untested small-state governor or business leader. Sarah Palin was exciting and energizing to the base, but caustic to moderates and independents.
That leaves Romney with a very short list: big state governors or other media tested, nationally known Republicans, who are social conservatives and competent to be president.
Rick Perry would have been perfect on paper: Texas Governor with a good job creation record. Unfortunately, Perry ran and was exposed as a nincompoop. Bobby Jindal, the Governor of Louisiana, would have been great, except for his bizarre resemblance to Kenneth from 30 Rock.
Nikki Haley, the Governor of South Carolina, is a strong candidate, as is Chris Christie of New Jersey. But neither Haley has a low profile and has yet to be tested by the national media, and Christie tends to shoot from the hip, a dangerous habit for a VP candidate.
The most likely choice of the risk-adverse Romney is Mike Huckabee.