Last Friday, I spoke to a local chapter of the Optimist Club. This Friday, I’m going to make sure no one who reads my blog can possibly have any shred of optimism remaining.
Just kidding. Sort of.
In an election season in which the presidential campaigns take turns making mistakes, making one wonder if either candidate really wants to win this thing, Sean Trende at Real Clear Politics lays out a case that neither side should want to win.
It’s the third in a three-part series; the first two installments were an argument for why Barack Obama will be re-elected, and an argument for why Mitt Romney will unseat him. The third piece boils down to: Be careful what you wish for.
Trende cites four factors that, at this point in time, suggest the winner of this election will see his party (or, in Romney’s case, himself) get rocked in the 2014 midterms and 2016 presidential election.
1. The economy. After reviewing the way we have not sprung back from the most recent recession the way we have from previous downturns, Trende notes:
Now consider that the average post-war business cycle lasts about six years from trough to trough. We hit our last trough in mid-2009, which means we should be due for another recession in the next few years.
We could easily begin to contract before we have fully recovered from the last recession. There are already signs that slowdowns in Europe and China are spilling over to our shores. This is probably too late to affect Obama’s re-election chances, but if it turns into a full-blown recession, it would greatly impact 2014 (when 11 Democrats are facing re-election in states that went for George W. Bush).
2. Debt. Here, Trende writes:
The current CBO projection assumes that we will add $3 trillion in debt over the next decade. But the reality is actually much, much worse than that. This assumes that we go off the famous “fiscal cliff” in December and allow all of the Bush tax cuts to expire, allow the full force of the alternative minimum tax to kick in, allow all of the spending cuts agreed to earlier this Congress to kick in, and greatly slash money paid to Medicare providers. Needless to say, if people see their taxes raised, their doctors stop accepting them for care, and we go into a recession, none of this will be popular.
If we assume Congress won’t allow this to occur, then we are looking at the CBO’s “alternate scenario.” It involves an additional $11 trillion in debt over the next few decades.
Even this latter scenario, he notes, is dependent on CBO’s rosy economic growth projections coming true — even though the economy has consistently underperformed CBO forecasts in recent years.
3. Health care. Trende notes that Obamacare is set to get cranked up in earnest in 2014. He imagines two scenarios:
If Obamacare doesn’t work — if seniors really suffer as a result of the benefit cuts to Medicare; if more people get thrown off their employer-sponsored insurance than expected; if insurers get put out of business because people opt to pay the tax rather than get insurance — it will not be a pretty political situation for Democrats.
Even if it works well, there will be problems. Unlike Medicare and Social Security, Obamacare creates obvious winners and losers. We then get to issues of salience: If people who are tossed onto the exchanges are angrier than people who are no longer denied care for pre-existing conditions are happy, there is a political problem for Democrats. If seniors strongly perceive the cuts to Medicare Advantage, but quickly forget about the “donut hole” being closed, there is a political problem for Democrats. There are dozens of such examples. Maybe they cancel each other out, but I wouldn’t bet the proverbial farm on it.
As for Republicans, Trende only maps out a scenario in which a President Romney and Congress repeal the law but don’t replace it with other reforms. Personally, I don’t think that’s the most realistic GOP scenario. But either way, he is probably right that Democrats will claim any shortcomings would have been better under Obamacare and will swing that club against Republicans early and often.
4. Iran. This, Trende says, doesn’t require a lot of theorizing:
In the next few years, one of two things will happen. Either Iran will develop a nuclear weapon, or Israel and the United States will forcibly stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
No American president wants to be the one who oversees the former. And the disruptions that could ensue from the latter would be massive, especially in combination with any of the other factors listed above. Add in the continued difficulties we face in the region in general (as we saw last week), and the problems there are similarly insurmountable.
What does all this mean? Is Trende right that either Democrats or Republicans could “win by losing”?
From a purely electoral-politics perspective, maybe. Of course, that would mean neither man is up to the task of creating better outcomes to these challenges. Which is a pretty depressing thought.
But is it a correct thought? Should we really believe America is doomed for the next four years no matter what happens in November?
Let’s hear your arguments why Obama or Romney would avoid disaster on any or all of these four issues. Think of it as a Poll Position without the poll. Just answer in the thread below.
– By Kyle Wingfield