Presidential Predictions

The new edition of Private Eye arrives. It offers a rather wonderful collection of journalistic bad predictions regarding the US Presidential election. A brief digest:

In 1 January 2007, Tim Hames of the Times predicted that Barack Obama would decide not to run for president. A month later he wrote that "the Democrats might was well nominate Kermit the Frog" and promised to eat a copy of his article with a dash of tabasco sauce if Obama won.

That September Tony Harnden, US editor at the Telegraph, predicted a sweeping win for Hillary Clinton in the primaries, Rudy Giuliani gaining the Republican nomination (with McCain not even contesting it) followed by a victory for Hillary in the general election. At least he got the right party, unlike Bruce Anderson who last New Year's Eve wrote in the Independent that Hillary would be defeated by Mitt Romney (anyone remember him?).

Into 2008 and it doesn't get much better, with Janet Daley asserting that "for all the inspirational value of his candidacy, Obama will not win the presidency" and William "Mystic" Rees-Mogg intoning that "the actual contest is most likely to be Clinton-Huckabee". Daley was holding to the same line in June. "If anything, the events of the past few days have confirmed my view...[Obama's] coalition of the young, the urban liberal and the black community has already maxed out and is going nowhere".

Anatole Kaletsky in the Times (April): "This election has all the makings of a Greek tragedy...If there was ever an election the Democrats ought to win this is the one. Yet on the basis of the primary results so far tehy are all too likely to lose it."

Even Simon Schama - who has been beating the drum for Obama for months and whose recent TV series only made any sense on the assumption of a Democrat victory - apparently told the Radio Times in September that "I think McCain will win" - momentarily, I assume, he was swept away by the evanescent Palin effect.

These people could set up as astrologers. But did the Heresiarch do any better?

On 21 Feb I wrote that Obama "has the Democrat nomination (almost) in the bag" and that "None of the mud will stick." I also commented - long before the banking crisis really got going - that "Today, with the world economy facing potential crisis, we need a figure at the helm exuding optimism and belief. Depression is, after all, a condition of the mind."

On 4th June, shortly after Obama secured the nomination, I wrote as follows

So the result in November is in the balance, despite the less-than-inspiring choice of John McCain - by far their best candidate - by the Republicans. Obama repels almost as many people as he inspires. But inspirational he undoubtedly is. It may be all he is, or most of what it he is, but it could just be enough.

Of course, I was all at sea over Sarah Palin. But then who wasn't - or isn't?

Speculation is already rife about 2012, with Palin dropping heavy hints that she'd be up for a shot at the top job. The pre-emptive strike by the Republican old guard, accusing her of sabotaging the McCain campaign by behaving "like a diva" and not knowing that Africa was a continent, has clearly backfired by giving her the opportunity to burnish her most attractive selling point: her status as an outsider taking on the party establishment. And after all, those same party hacks now bad-mouthing her are the very people who plucked her from obscurity and decided, without properly vetting her, that she would be the ideal running mate. Hardly surprising that she bought into their initial over-estimation of her talents. And now they even want her clothes back.

It should never be forgotten that Sarah Palin worked her way up from a local council seat to state governorship in little more than a decade, an achievement so startling that it might well be attributed to divine intervention. Isolated from the rest of the United States, Alaska has something of the feel of an independent country - and one with twice the population of Iceland. She might well look upon the White House as just the next logical progression in her inevitable God-ordained rise.

That's why I don't believe she is likely to accept the offers she has apparently been getting to become a talk show host, any more than she will be taking up the opportunity to star in a porn film ($2 million for her, new snowmobile for putative co-star Todd). Even with her irreducible self-belief she must realise that the interview format is not one that best shows off her talents. It's true that the domestic feature run by Fox News to accompany their sympathetic chat with her suggests that la famille Palin would make terrific car-crash TV, but few people would vote for Ozzie Osbourne. And power, rather than fame, is what drives her.

Does she have any chance in 2012? Of the nomination, yes: parties who have suffered a bad defeat often collapse into pessimism and self-loathing, as the Tories did after 1997, and fall back on the hard-core support. It's no long-term solution, of course, and die-hard supporters don't swing elections. The more intelligent Republicans - including McCain himself, before he was captured by the party hacks - realise that reclaiming the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt (and, indeed, Reagan) from the religious nutters will be the first vital step back towards political relevance. But knowing something and making it happen are two different things. Furthermore, if Barack Obama doesn't screw up spectacularly - or if the chill winds of recession don't bring him undeserved unpopularity - he should win re-election fairly comfortably in 2012. So it really won't matter who the Republican candidate is and weightier candidates might not even bother to run. In such an atmosphere, Sarah Palin might just find herself standing opposite President Obama in the next series of presidential debates.

It would be almost too painful to watch.


Anonymous said…
Backing Bam for 2012 I see? long long way off, but my initial thoughts is this is an election to lose, whatever Bam does he will make it worse, so unless he can learn to do as little as possible, I think the unpopularity will be deserved.

Remember American has projected its hopes on to him and he has not enlightened them on which ones are false and which ones are his too. I can see a fall coming, he may be a Blair but this is not a Blair era.

PJO has some interesting things to say about all things conservative this week. I think the hunger for power will point the GOP in his direction. I hope.
Heresiarch said…
I don't think he's a Blair, but no doubt we will find out soon enough. Yes, of course expectations have been absurdly inflated: but I think, by and large, we're talking about media expectations, rather than the expectations of ordinary voters, who I suspect are much less carried away.

It's to Obama's advantage that the recession will already be fairly deep by the time he takes office. So he won't be blamed for causing it - which is one reason Gordon Brown can take no comfort from America's imagined "leftward turn".

But yes, of course it's too early to tell.

As for PJ O'Rourke: great writer, but he's more Jeremy Clarkson than Simon Jenkins, isn't he?
Anonymous said…
>s for PJ O'Rourke: great writer, but he's more Jeremy Clarkson than Simon Jenkins, isn't he?

No, he isn't. He has made sure that he understands politics and economics before making jokes about them; and he makes sure that his jokes make a point. Try reading the article linked to by your commenter. Especially the bit about the bathroom scale.
WeepingCross said…
It's a brilliant article, so brilliant you don't notice it makes next to no sense (not no sense at all, just almost none). I - and this, at least, is relevant to the Heresiarch's post - have heard too often pundits opining that an event is the death of this or the end of that, the demise of a country or the last gasp of an ideology. It usually isn't. Sometimes it is, but when it is nobody has commonly seen it coming at all. The truth is that none of us knows what the hell is going on, and when we get it right it's by accident.
WeepingCross said…
Which is, of course, the best argument there could be for limited government.
Zork4 said…
Her big problem is that the fans of the hard religious right top out at about 40% of the electorate and it's hard to see where she'd get the rest. Given that Obama seems set to govern from the centre and won't be bothered by an internal challenge from Hillary Clinton, things would have to be very very bad for an ethically challenged Fundamentalist/Populist to even get through the nomination process. The economic conservatives who are tired of all the social conservatism would likely back Romney. Many pundits here are putting up Religious conservatives like Jindal and Huckabee but the electorate isn't as socially conservative as even ten years ago and in 4 years there will be another crop of young voters raised on The Simpsons and South Park and Harry Potter who will be more interested in how they are going to pay for college than a Theocratic definition of how the country should be run.

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