With a high profile among Republican activists and a strong populist streak, the former Arkansas Governor has been vetted by his 2008 presidential run. He attracted the support of many of the Republican activists who formed the basis for the Tea Party, but carries none of the Tea Party baggage. His positions are not outlandishly conservative, but his “just folks” footing will enjoy broad support across the more conservative elements of the Republican base. The former minister can explain Romney’s Mormon faith and abortion flip-flop in ways evangelicals will understand. Perhaps most importantly in a post-Palin world, he will not embarrass the presidential ticket or make people fear his becoming president who would not already fear Romney.
Huckabee provides a safe choice for VP that would excite the Republicans he needs to excite without risking alienating the moderates and independents needed to win. Their own personal relationship even appears to be warming after the vicious battles of 2008. Unless there is an animosity between the two that is so deep it cannot be healed by time and survival, Huckabee will be the VP candidate.
(As a caveat, trying to pick a single VP nominee from the two hundred potential candidates – before the presidential nomination is established – is a double fool’s errand with a side order of stupid, so triple points for getting this one right.)
3. Barack Obama will retain the presidency
The fundamentals are bad. Democrats trail Republicans in enthusiasm. Unemployment is too high, approval ratings too low, and these things correlate significantly (but not deterministically) to a president’s chances of reelection. Having set expectations far, far, far too high, Barack Obama presidency is the bitter disappointment it was set up to be.
But an election is not a referendum on the president. It is a choice.
As the Republican field winnows down that choice will become more clear. The next month will see Gingrich, Santorum and Paul attacking Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper who believes in nothing. Romney’s likely nomination will leave Republicans uninspired, erasing the enthusiasm gap. (Even a smart pick like Huckabee won’t be able to reverse much of the lack of enthusiasm for Romney.) A billion dollars in political fundraising will leave the Democrats able to saturate the airwaves in critical states with advertising further tearing down Romney.
Come the autumn, the choice will be between two flawed candidates, each with warts and disengaged bases. Here is where the differences will be:
» The Obama campaign is better organized, experienced, and ruthless. Romney’s campaign is untested with significant turnover from 2008.
» Obama will enjoy a significant advantage in fundraising. This will pay for more advertising in key swing states.
·» Obama faces no opposition in the primaries, and a party more or less unified around the President. The Republicans will be publicly divided at least until the summer and perhaps until Election Day.
» There is a vague threat of a third party candidacy on the right (Paul as a Libertarian or a social conservative.) While it’s a small chance, there is no significant third-party threat to Obama’s left.
» The potential for foreign policy challenges in 2012 will allow Obama to lead while Romney does politics.
» Most importantly, the Republican Party has no message of hope for the middle class. The innate negativity of the Tea Party movement makes for excellent opposition obstructionism and terrible Presidential campaigning. Those who campaign for the job of leader of the opposition will get it, as Paul Wells says.
All of this adds up to four more years for the Democrat in the White House.
4. The Democrats will lose the Senate
It seems a bit illogical, but while Obama will win the presidency, his party will lose control of the Senate. The President’s party holds 23 of the 33 seats up for election. Seven Democratic incumbents are retiring, including Kent Conrad in North Dakota and Ben Nelson in Nebraska, two states Obama will lose by a wide margin. The Democrats have to defend rookie Senators in Montana, West Virginia and Missouri, states Obama lost in 2008. They face tough races in swing states like Ohio, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin.