The American Election is only months away, but with both party bases in disrepair it's going to take some tactful politicking in the swing states to win back the White House.
The title of this piece is a sort of three part play on words, a funny little line that might be construed as a blatant mistake but is in all seriousness the heart of the Republican matter. What is Left or left of the American Right? The party is in shambles, with a base as politically divided by values as it is by venues to entertain them. It is a party of punches thrown, in the middle of an arduous trench war across the early states leaving frontline faces battered and bruised and it is a party with a questionable future, the next generation or two having extremely limited public and in turn presidential appeal.
But what’s politically Left of the Right is a Democratic donkey party, whose base, while intact, is also a shadow of its former self, lacking the once-fledging support that swept them back to power in 2008.
What’s in between is what’s in question today and every day leading up to the November election; with both bases broken this race has turned more than ever into a fight for the American middle ground, the people with no party ties who flee fast from high rhetoric and partisan political extremes. These are the people who will ultimately decide the fate of this two party system with two parties on the brink; the people with no party at all are suddenly the people who mean the most to both of them.
The Mad Kings: The Republican Base
At some point, sometime around the rise of the Super PACs, the Republican Party found a funnel for both money and ideas. The problem is that the funnel worked both ways; the money poured into the party when it needed to but the ideas poured out, into a hundred little jars of self-contained (and independently funded) political thought. The Faith Family Freedom Fund and Citizens for Prosperity and Good Government, The Christian Temperance League, each with its own small fortune and unique brand of Republicanism. The results were hollowing; the party was reduced to a well-financed shell that could still win elections by sheer force but without any centralized governing ideals or beliefs.
The longer these rogue groups were left to stew, the longer their ideas were validated by the money pouring in, the more entrenched (and in some cases unhinged) the ideas became and the harder it was to unify them under one banner or behind one leader. It wasn’t noticeable at first, the Grand Old Dogs of the party still held court, but the cracks became evident in 2010 when races went un-won, when Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell and Carl Paladino wouldn’t cater to anybody let alone their electorate and two or three or maybe ten different narratives began to emerge within the party, each with Republican ties but none really relating to one another and impossible for the average voter to adopt en masse.
What’s happened is that unhampered but hyper-funded ideology has taken precedence over the polls; the divided factions of the party would rather throw an election to the wind than cull or incorporate their beliefs. And worse than the mere steadfastness of it all is the proliferation of those beliefs at the expense of well-rooted Republican ideas; these candidates would rather grandstand with their far right and at times far-fetched ideals in the forefront than speak to the talking points on which all Republicans, including themselves, can agree.
This is of course not how electoral politics are played; if the tide turns you turn with it, but if you all turn a different direction, the ship pulls apart…
Into and Out of Thin Air: The Democratic Base
Across the great, seemingly insurmountable divide, things are no better.
Four years ago Barack Obama received the most votes for a presidential candidate in American history and he did it with relative ease. In the Hispanic communities he promised sweeping reform to immigration legislation that had been trampled on by the Republican machine. In predominantly black urban centers, he pledged greater social and economic programs to increase employment opportunities, reduce taxes and provide better services, to all around relieve the burden. And for the youth, he simply tuned into their demographic, becoming what would later be called the first ‘Facebook’ president. He spoke of high ideals, and he spoke well; he captured the imagination of millions who had either lost faith in or had never known their political system and built a base out of thin air.
Voter turnout that year was the highest it’s been in 40 years. African-American voter turnout jumped two percentage points, with 95 per cent voting Democrat. 66 per cent of Hispanic voters turned out to support Obama—the best ever return for a Democratic candidate—and 71 per cent of first-time voters sided with the American Left.
But four years later he has accomplished little on these fronts. Immigration reform has yet to materialize into anything more than that once-pledged promise with no comprehensive bill in sight. Unemployment among African-Americans hovered for a long time at 25-year high, hitting heights of 16.7 per cent and twice the national average, and losses in the House have forced Obama to compromise on a repeal of Bush Era tax cuts that lay a heavy financial burden on lower-income Americans while barely skimming the pockets of the wealthy. Promises made couldn’t be delivered fast enough under the weight of a slow-moving and at times stalled Democracy; between economic crisis, two foreign wars and a rash of political infighting his fragile base corroded, disillusioned or bored by what they perceived as inactivity and at times backwards mobility.
Maybe politics didn’t agree with them. Maybe they didn’t understand or maybe they held to tightly to the promise of Hope and Change. Whatever it was, they stayed home in 2010; Obama lost the midterm referendum along with 63 seats in the house, six seats in the senate and the base he had built out of thin air vanished back into it.
The Fight For Middle America
With both bases in relative disrepair, 2012 becomes a fight for America’s independents, the middle ground that holds no allegiance and on which neither side holds an edge. This election will be won and lost in places like Ohio, Indiana, Florida and North Carolina, the swing states, past, present and future.
For Obama it’s an uphill battle; he spent much of 2008 campaigning on Hope and Change in America’s battlegrounds and beat John McCain by an average of only 1.9 per cent. A second time around, loose rhetoric might be a hard sell after four years of doom and gloom and pitted against a more moderate candidate, the votes could fall against him.
But that more moderate candidate, let’s call him Mitt Romney, has problems of his own. Assuming it is Romney, he has spent the past ten months as part of the traveling circus, tangled in the twenty different Republican lines born of their base and has set no clear agenda. Mitt Romney the man has the resume and pedigree of a president, but Mitt Romney the candidate is a mystery so slung by mud thrown by his own party that it will be difficult for any undecided voter to like him let alone discern what his candidacy is all about.
Indeed there is work to be done from both ends. What both parties lack is landslide-like support but what the Republican Party lacks is more deep seated than that. They did themselves a disservice when they favored infighting over forward thinking; not only have they missed an opportunity to seize upon Obama’s wandering political base and subpar approval rating (below 50 per cent and falling among independents) but they have decimated the party from within, leaving no prospects, clarity or cohesion for the future. Mitt Romney represents one of the last moderate and maybe electable Republicans we might see on a national stage for a while; a win and the crowning of a definitive leader might be enough to bring this tea party back from the brink but to do so he will have to reboot his campaign on his terms. To win the swing states, the middle ground, Romney will have to run more than an “Anyone But Obama’ campaign. Obama will have to offer more than just words to do the same.