Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell predicted on Tuesday that if the president escalates America’s military involvement in Afghanistan he could very well face a primary challenger in 2012.
In an overlooked “Morning Joe” segment on Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Democrat offered his distinct brand of eccentric, conversation-driving political foresight. He couched his statement about the possibility of a primary challenge by stressing that if Obama sticks to his current plans for Afghanistan — a reduced military presence beginning in July of 2011 — there would not be political insurrection within the party.
But Rendell clearly opened up the conversation as to how much capital Obama is working with when it comes to foreign wars. And for perhaps the first time in the course of the Afghanistan debate, the specter was raised that Democrats will really take the president to task for a military commitment that is too long, too costly, or too heavy.
PAT BUCHANAN: [Anti-Vietnam sentiment] drew an anti-war candidate, Eugene McCarthy, first into the New Hampshire primary, and after he did fairly well with 42%, it drew Robert Kennedy in against their own president, tore the Democratic Party apart, and led, of course, to a Republican era. If the president is still hanging in to Afghanistan in 2011, 2012, do you see an anti-war candidate coming out of the Democratic Party?
ED RENDELL: It’s possible, Pat. It really depends on how far it deteriorates [emphasis mine]. But on the other hand, if troop withdrawal begins in 2011, if there’s some signs that we’re trying to get out of there, and I heard, I think you were talking about, if there are only 3,000 American troops, we still have a presence. But if we start to begin to reduce our presence, I think that’s probably enough to keep an anti-war candidate out of the race.”
I think a primary challenge — or at least a serious one — remains highly unlikely. Who would play the part of McCarthy — Dennis Kucinich? (That’s what I mean when I say “serious.”)
But it is inescapable that a high-profile Democrat like Rendell wouldn’t bat down Buchanan’s suggestion immediately. A huge amount of “deterioration” would have to occur by next summer, when any serious challenger would have to emerge.
I don’t see any way to read this other than an underlying discomfort with Obama on the left. That’s pretty surprising since he’s given all of their bad ideas (public option, cap and trade, etc.) a good shot. Sure, he swung and missed on some of them. But who among the Democrats would be more likely to get elected president and accomplish that agenda than Obama, who began his term with sky-high approval ratings and enormous majorities in Congress?
So, the question for me is less about an actual primary challenge, and more about the pressure Obama feels from his left — and how that will shape his approach to 2012. Not to mention Nov. 2, 2010.