Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

Summary: We continue ZDNet Government's in-depth political coverage of the upcoming 2012 election cycle with this historical retrospective and forward-looking analysis.

TOPICS: Health

1968 was a volatile year, coming near the end of a volatile decade. The 1960s was a decade that had seen a President assassinated, the escalation of the seemingly never-ending Vietnam War (itself far shorter than our current presence in Iraq and Afghanistan), race riots, landmark civil rights legislation, and -- through it all -- nationwide unrest.

Although there have been many instances where a sitting President has sought and lost reelection, the winning challenger has almost always been from the opposing party. Jimmy Carter lost to Ronald Reagan. George Herbert Walker Bush lost to Bill Clinton. And, earlier, serving in the middle of the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover lost to Franklin Roosevelt.

See also: Hillary Clinton's strategic mistake (and Barack Obama's brilliant chess move)

As far as I can tell, there has been no incident of a sitting President who ran for reelection, and lost to a member of his own party.

Then, of course, there's Lyndon Johnson.

Johnson was a powerful leader in the Democratic Party, having started as a Congressional aide, he worked his way up to Senate Majority Leader. Famously, LBJ became President on the death by assassination of JFK.

In 1964, Johnson then ran for election as President in his own right, and won a landslide victory over Barry Goldwater, capturing more than 60% of the vote and winning all but five states.

By 1968, Johnson's heart didn't seem in the game. He didn't actually go to New Hampshire to campaign in the first Democratic primary. Even so, it was assumed he'd win, and he did.

But not by much.

Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy ran against Johnson in New Hampshire on a solid anti-war platform. While McCarthy didn't win the primary, the shocker was just how strong his showing was. He took 42% of the vote to Johnson's 49%.

Less than a week later, seeing that Johnson was far more vulnerable than expected, Senator Robert F. Kennedy entered the race. RFK, of course, was the brother of the assassinated JFK. Less known was that he was not a friend of Johnson, having effectively sidelined Johnson during the later's term as VP during the short-lived Kennedy administration.

A little over two weeks after RFK entered the race, Johnson backed out of the 1968 campaign, stating "I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President."

All this leads us to President Obama and the upcoming 2012 elections.

Mr. Obama can't seem to catch a break. While he can hang his hat on the capture of Osama bin Laden, even that clear victory has been tarnished by yesterday's helicopter shoot down by the Taliban that resulted in the death of nearly two dozen members of SEAL Team Six. Our condolences go out to the families.

Obama seems to be living under a storm of bad news. Whether it's the historical, if disputed downgrading of America's credit rating, the continued lack of job growth, the never-ending war, or his almost constantly low national approval ratings, President Obama's "Yes, we can" campaign promise seems increasingly less promising.

At the beginning of this column, I asked if President Obama is vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party? Here's my answer.

I call it as highly unlikely. First, there's no compelling alternative Democratic candidate waiting in the wings. Certainly Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid aren't competitors. Hillary Clinton is far too smart to chance running in this election climate. Joe Biden knows he's a non-starter.

There are some (not many, though) promising up-and-coming Democrats, like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, but most rising stars know not to challenge a sitting President in their own party. Other formerly rising stars have been sidelined by their unhealthy fascination with Twitter.

It's also unlikely that President Obama will bow out of the 2012 election. LBJ, while hugely ambitious, never seemed to like the Executive Branch nearly as much as the Legislative Branch. There were also rumors that his health was rocky (he died on January 22, 1973).

On the other hand, the only thing questionable about Barack Obama's health is his convoluted Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which the President signed into law on March 30, 2010. Having turned 50 just last week, President Obama is certainly healthy enough to run again.

Unless Mr. Obama simply gets fed up with Washington politics and decides to retire (a highly, highly unlikely scenario), he's going to seek, and will accept, the nomination of his party for another term as our President.

So, no. President Obama is not vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party.

On the other hand, the Republicans are soiling themselves in anticipation, because they believe President Obama is deeply vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from the GOP. For this, however, the GOP should take a lesson from 1968 as well. The Democrats of 1968 were highly fragmented, and that fragmentation (along with the RFK assassination and Hubert Humphrey's lackluster candidacy) led to the election of Richard Nixon.

The GOP of today is also quite fragmented and unless the fringe elements can be reigned in, the Republicans might field someone far too right-of-center and the critical swing votes of centrist independents might swing once again to Mr. Obama.

There, then, is the election lesson for the GOP: crazy does not win Presidential elections.

The GOP needs to field someone sane, sober, centrist, and responsible. That means that while possible candidacies like Rick Perry's evangelical revival tour might play well to the party base, it probably won't get him elected.

Who does that leave? Probably Mitt Romney. Or, you know, perhaps The Donald will change his mind again.

Heh, no matter what happens, it'll be quite a ball game.

Topic: Health


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

    " Lyndon Johnson died on January 22, 1973, which would have been only three years into his second four-year term"<br>small correction: <br>LBJ actually died 2 days *after* Nixon's second inauguration
    David Grober
    • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

      @David Grober

      Fixed. This is why I should never, ever do math before noon. Thanks, David!
      David Gewirtz
  • Who says?

    I haven't seen anyone reporting that the SEALs who were killed in the crash were from Team 6. Where did you pull that from?
    • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

      @Oneota Weirdly enough, the LA Times link is now bad, but here's a CBS News link. I'll replace the link in the article with the CBS News one, which should stay live.
      David Gewirtz
    • What are chances this was a coincidence?

      @David At the risk of hijacking your Obama 2012 thread.... but why does no one seem to be asking what the odds are that one of the worst days for the US in Afghanistan just randomly happens to the unit that killed Osama Bin Laden? It's frightening to think that this might not have been just a coincidence, eh?
      • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

        check out wired article:
  • How is this IT related?

    I visit ZDNet to read news about latest trends and technology, not politics. Give me one good reason how this kind of article should be posted on a site that deals with tech news?

    Ya fine, it's an interesting topic politically, but ZDNet is a tech site is it not? If I'm going to start seeing political commentary, I'll start reading elsewhere.
    • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

      @quagmire1973 This is ZDNet Government. Our coverage is described as: ZDNet's politics and policy coffeehouse -- where civics lessons meet technology, nothing is sacred, and everything is fair game.

      We'll be covering politics through the entire election season, along with tech, and how those two intersect (which they do, almost always).
      David Gewirtz
      • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

        @David Gewirtz I think his problem was exactly what you just said: "where civics lessons meet technology". You're sort of missing the "technology" part in this article, other than an offhand comment about twitter.
    • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

      I agree, particularly from such a partisan columnist. It has irked me for as long as I've read this site. This one in particular extremely partisan with NO tech content.
      • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

        a lot of us who supported Hillary are still angry at Obama because his activists used the social media to hijack the caucuses and manipulated the media into a frenzy. (the actual vote count in the primaries was about even).

        Using social media to win elections is a computer related theme, and the danger is now if Hillary or another Democrat can do the same against Obama.
  • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

    He is vulnerable big time and his party should consider another candidate. This guy promised nothing and that is what he has delivered.

    As for the Republican Nominee, I know Romney is strong right now but I honestly think that Ron Paul is running the better Campaign right now and he has a history that is very consistent and straight forward working for him.
    • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

      @Peter Perry

      Have to agree; I think if the right candidate stepped forward, Obama could lose the nomination. I know personally, as a democrat, I will not be voting for Obama this time around. He got it last time, since Hillary lost the primary, but there is no way I will support him this time. Now, that's not to say I'll be supporting the republican candiate either as most of them seem to favor the wealthy/corporations too much for my tastes - I think Mickey Mouse may stand a better chance for my vote in 2012. I'm sure I'm not the only one in my party that has become very disappointed with this president's performance, as well as the performance of many of our party's members in general.

      I think it's about time we finally get away from the 2-party system in this country and get some fresh alternatives (and no, I don't consider the Tea party republican-faction an alternative). How 'bout a party that actually supports the working middle class?! This is what we need. I swear; every year I further believe there is no candidate out there that actually represents me. It's just my opinion, but with the amount of disillusioned voters out there in both parties, I think a strong independent candidate could actually stand a chance in 2012.
      • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

        I think it's about time we finally get away from the 1-party system, myself. Neither the left nor the right wing of the Republicratic Party has shown itself worthy of further consideration. Ron Paul is that strong independent candidate you're looking for.
      • As a Democrat, who in the world would you vote for ...

        @NetAdmin1178 ... if you refuse to vote for Obama? The pickin's get pretty slim once you eliminate Obama and Romney from your list.
        M Wagner
      • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

        Yes, I'm well-aware that Obama and whoever wins the Repub nomination are my options for the most part. There are usually the little known 3rd parties (like Nader of previous elections), but it's very unlikely to see one of them win - though I may go with one of them out of principle, even if I know they won't win. In the end, I may make no selection for that part of the ballot; I'm tired of supporting politicans that I doubt will be representative of me.

        I have considered RP, but I believe his corporate stance is a bit relaxed compared to my views (and this is an area I am more concerned about - cheifly, the current offshoring/visa trends). I would prefer seeing more regulations put in place in an attempt to dissuade these practices, while RP's views seem to prefer less regulations.

        I'm still a fairly young guy (in my 30's) in IT; I'd like to think I'll still have a job in the profession for the bulk of my working years (God knows I'll still be paying for the loans for the ed), and the growing use of offshoring/visas threatens me. We've lost enough jobs to other countries already.
      • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

        @mwagner: I'm seriously considering voting Green or Peace and Freedom in the upcoming primary, at least. Obviously neither of those parties has a snowball's chance in Hell of winning the election--the point of voting third party is to cast a protest vote. In this case, the message is that the Democratic party needs to grow a spine and stop acting like an Almost Republican party.
    • Romney will be the nominee and he will lose ...

      @Peter Perry ... because there are no Democrats with the stomach to challenge an incumbent and there are no Republicans currently interested in running with the intellectual chops to beat Obama.
      M Wagner
      • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

        @mwagner@... An inanimate object has the "intellectual chops" to beat Obama. Not that _any_ political party is likely to be fertile ground for even that dubious standard.

        "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results."

        -- often attributed to Einstein, but more likely from Rita Mae Brown.

        Or to put it another way, "hope and change" is _not_ a plan, it's only a slogan.
    • RE: Is Obama vulnerable to a 2012 reelection threat from his own party?

      @Peter Perry This whole issue is just strange and surreal.

      I've just been shaking my head in amazement for the past 2.5 years. It's as if there was a wild frat party in a hotel room which lasted 8 years and completely trashed the place, running up a repair bill so big that it nearly killed the banking, financial, and auto industries, even causing the biggest market crash in history. Then, everyone simply forgot who had the party and instead blamed the poor janitor who came in afterward to try to clean it all up. On top of that, the "janitor" is handcuffed by a big room full of lunatics (Congress) who tack many billions onto the bill every time he tries to take a step toward cleaning it up. Then, the lunatics say that the janitor's spending is out of control and start yelling that he needs to be fired. Huh??

      The lack of logic in all of this just blows my mind.