Can you feel it? It feels familiar. It reeks of desperation. There is something stale to all of it. The daily tweets capturing the state of the race. The wide open field leaves room for jostling and fluctuating among candidates. The outsider stands at or near the top of many polls. It is a repeat of 2016! No. Go one cycle back. It’s 2012 all over again! We are in a reboot of the political world of a decade ago.
The 2012 presidential cycle started in 2011 with Obama ordering the OBL raid, which he tried to kick off his re-election campaign as a ‘gutsy call’. One can read Seymour Hersh to learn how 180 that was from the truth, but that sparked the start of his campaign. The base was not happy, with the disillusioned Democrats finding their Tea Party via the great psy op known as Occupy Wall Street. This was where all the frustration with Obama and his failure to address the American financial wipe-out came to a head. For weeks, the demands shifted from a laser like focus on the big banks, to expand to the entire 1% to expand to a weird progressive identity stack, which now rules our discourse. The year saw Obama’s approval numbers hit the low 40s or even high 30s in random polls, and the GOP congressional leaders tossed aside a grand spending-Social Security bargain because they expected to beat Obama in ’12.
People can deny it all they want, but Obama trailed “Generic Republican” in head to head polling. The GOP had just come off the ’10 midterm Tea Party wave that won them the House, and was feeling good about their chances. The 2012 GOP cycle started in 2011 with debates with a huge selection of candidates standing on debate stages. The front-runner was as generic a Republican as one could find, Mitt Romney, and the other clowns were there to make it look like a fight. There was a lack of star-power because the GOP had been wiped out in state-wide races in ’06 and ’08. There was also the quirky outsider who had run four years earlier and had fanatics for fans.
Stop for a moment and think about all of this in relation to today. This is a repeat. Trump had a disillusioned base last year, creating great memes like potato Trump. Trump droned not one but two high profile, foreign policy targets. The Democrats failed to extract any bargains, and in their hubris, tried an impeachment that actually helped the beleaguered commander in chief. The Democrats did this after a wave year midterm secured them the House. Any generic Democrat could beat Trump in poll after poll. We have not even touched on the presidential race!
Take a look at the 2012 GOP field again, review the front-runner, the outsider and stare at the reflection that looks back at you an awful lot like the 2020 Democrats do. Biden is an establishment anointed front-runner. He has a troubling history for the base, so did Romney. Bernie is trying to rework the 2016 magic from the outside with a nationwide infrastructure, so did Ron Paul. The Democrats lack a deep bench because they were destroyed in state-wide races from ’10-’16. Romney used Bachmann as a proxy to attack contenders just as we have seen proxy attacks by undercard figures on behalf of Bernie or Biden.
The similarities continue if you look at early primaries. Rick Santorum, a man out of office for years wearing sweater vests, won Iowa, or did he, as no one is quite sure who won Iowa in 2012. Same for Pete Buttigieg, a no name mayor of a small city, who was declared winner despite no one besides him and his supporters believing it. The front-runner looks wobbly, and other big name politicians (John Kerry, Hillary Clinton) are rumored to be waiting in the wings to jump in if needed. This is why no one should count out Biden. Biden may find his way if the black vote banks stay in his fold. Romney’s path looked weak as he could not nail down the South or Midwest, and consultants all spread the noise that if he did not win Michigan, Jeb Bush would enter to wrestle the nomination from the loons. The GOP in February of 2012 looked just as lame and ineffectual as the Democrats do now. This was all despite the massive dislike of Obama. The simulation masters are getting lazy with all the similarities.
There are differences of course, and differences to 2016 for Bernie fans hoping his early wins signal a Trumpian run. If you look at polling, he is acting more like Romney than Trump. The Democrats do not have winner take all primaries. They allot delegates to those who earn more than 15% of the vote proportionally. This hurts Bernie’s ability to rack up delegates with plurality wins a la Trump 2016. The proportionate allocation helps Biden out as he can pluck delegates with poor showings in white states, but rack up bigger allocations if his black vote banks hold.
The big difference though is Bloomberg. He foolishly did not file for South Carolina, and must wait until Super Tuesday to enter the race. Bernie has the edge in the many northern and western states, but Bloomberg’s money makes things unpredictable. No politician has ever spent what he has spent before running in a primary. Even with all his spending, he is struggling to pull away in states. Bloomberg does blunt Bernie’s chances, but as long as the Buttigieg-Klobuchar-Biden-Warren quartet stays in, the more it divides the non-Bernie camp.
The players’ and their positioning are where the ’16 parallel makes sense. In ’12, Romney righted the ship and everyone else went broke. It was wrapped up in a few weeks. Romney had a brief lead on Obama after the first debate. The circumstances, mood and global situation seem ’12, but the way the Democrat field looks is a bit ’16. The narcissism needed to run for president also means contenders are unlikely to bow out for the greater good. In ’16, Kasich, Rubio and Cruz all did this, which sabotaged one another from coalescing the anti-Trump vote. Biden has always wanted the presidency, and can call in big donors to keep him afloat into Super Tuesday. This is Buttigieg’s chance for anything in DC. Klobuchar could end up a Minnesota nice compromise or even a VP. Warren is an AWFL, and lacks any self-awareness to see that her campaign is done.
It may all come down to Milwaukee. Unlike Manafort’s maneuvers to stymie any convention floor rebellion, could Bernie have a deal-maker to secure the corporate flank?If he can’t reach the minimum as Trump did, how far does he have to be from it to be denied? The DNC and their new benefactor Mike Bloomberg may decide to make a deal and spin the wheel. Can they still be with her? No matter the choice, the nominee, like Romney, will likely enter the general with half to two-thirds of the base voting for someone else to represent the party. The ’16 DNC had a lot of boos audible on the telecasts, and the base is far more psychotic now.
Maybe… maybe the political reboot we get to see is Chicago ’68.