‘The thrill is gone’

A report from La Pietra Dialogues: Politics 2012

Francesca York
November 10, 2011

On October 12, New York University's La Pietra Policy Dialogues opened its fourth annual political conference. Held at NYU's Villa La Pietra, for the first time, the conference was held in anticipation of the 2012 U.S. presidential election instead of in its wake. A panel of distinguished speakers assembled to discuss their predictions and forecasts for the course of American politics from both Republican and Democratic perspectives.

 

The first group of panellists, who discussed the state of the Republican party, included Robert Shrum, Democratic political strategist and senior fellow at NYU; Bruce Haynes, Republican political strategist of Purple Strategies; Steve Schmidt, campaign strategist for John McCain; Mario Calvo Platero, journalist and editor for Il Sole 24 Ore; and Chris Caldwell, senior editor of the Weekly Standard. The members of the second panel reflected on Obama's presidency thus far and the challenges he faces in his bid for re-election. Panel members included Paul Begala, Democratic political consultant and commentator; Steve McMahon, Democratic political and public affairs strategist; Nicole Bacharan, political analyst and television consultant; and Marylouise Oates, author, journalist and activist.

 

The conference opened with a dialogue about the climate among the Republican hopefuls. The panellists agreed that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was the current frontrunner and poised to win the candidacy, and Haynes went so far as to call Romney's nomination ‘a bit of an inevitability.'  Backed by such other prominent Republicans as New Jersey governor Chris Christie and with four years of campaign experience, Romney has distinguished himself as a strong, articulate candidate surpassing the more conservative options, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.

 

Caldwell further predicted that it would be impossible for Barack Obama to win back the presidency in a two-sided race: with a current approval rating in the low 40th percentile, he has lost too great a section of the electorate. The Republican Party's task, Caldwell believes, is to maintain unity: the nomination of a candidate like Romney, who may not appeal to members of the Tea Party movement, may result in a bid from another conservative third-party candidate who could siphon enough votes from the GOP to hand Obama the election.

 

The problem seems to be a total breakdown of trust in government institutions and general disillusionment, especially among Republicans but also the American people at large. Tea Party members in particular are frustrated that their GOP candidates have not kept their promises: ‘The GOP cut taxes as if they had cut spending,' Caldwell said, and the result has left the base both angry and wary.

 

Schmidt summarized the general analysis of the Republican position, observing that ‘Barack Obama can't win the election, but the GOP can still lose.'

 

The second panel had a similar, but more optimistic forecast for President Obama, agreeing that, ideally, the president must alter his discourse with a more contrastive tone. Begala suggested his platform must approach issues of the economy, unemployment and healthcare reform by asking ‘How are we doing, compared to what?' to avoid placing his presidential actions in the same negative light in which many have begun to view them. All agreed, however, that ‘Things could have been worse' would not be the best choice for a campaign slogan.

 

McMahon similarly predicted a shift in Obama's approach, saying that the 2012 election may look much more like the Kerry versus Bush race than the energetic, hope-fuelled election of 2008. Additionally, Obama's positions and platform will solidify once a Republican nominee has been locked-in.

 

Even after a day of reflection on the last three years, the only surety seems to be that the upcoming American elections will be one of changes-for the Republicans as a unified party, for the United States as a whole, and for Barack Obama as a politician with three controversial years of office behind him. Marylouise Oates quoted the famous B.B. King song, ‘The thrill is gone.' Only time will tell whether or not America is over Obama.

 

 

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