Chances are, Mitt Romney will win the Republican nomination for president, and the Mittens will be ecstatic. Chances are, Mitt Romney will lose to President Obama, and the Mittens will be devastated.
Exactly four years ago in this January column I predicted that the junior senator from Illinois was going to grab the Democrat nomination and beat the pants off any Republican who ran against him.
As a campaigner, Barack Obama came across as a likable fella with a fresh vision for America, his compelling speeches promising "hope and change." There wasn't a lot of substance, just the hyperbolic promise of liberating Americans from the oppression and ineptitude of the Bush presidency. It turned out to be a winning campaign strategy.
In flattering imitation, Mitt Romney is campaigning as a likeable fella with a restorationist vision for America, the promise of a future America like the good old days. There isn't a lot of substance, just the hyperbolic promise of liberating Americans from the oppression and ineptitude of the Obama presidency.
There's other parallels between the two men. Barack Obama preceded his presidency with three years of service as a U.S. senator representing the 5th largest state in the Union. Mitt Romney political preparations consists of a single term as the governor of the 15th-largest state in the Union. And that was eight years ago. Both guys believe they can be president of the United States without a whole lot of experience.
During the campaign there will be charges that Obama has used government to destroy jobs. And there will be charges that Romney has used capitalism to destroy jobs.
Given the similarities between the president and his presumptive rival for the real deal this fall, we can expect a close election.
Democrats won't be able to attack Romney's record as governor because he was a liberal back then. Romney used to have an abiding testimony of such progressive articles of faith as socialized healthcare, abortion for birth control, and raising taxes.
Still, Romney's progressive past is the great hope for the Democrats.
This mid-term election, like some in recent years, is likely to be won by a few percentage points of the popular vote. It doesn't take much.
In 1992 President Bush senior lost his mid-term election to Bill Clinton by about 5 million popular votes. But Clinton didn't win because he had voter support. Rather, Bush senior lost because 19 million mostly conservative voters threw the election to the Democrats by voting for a third party candidate, Ross Perot.
In the 1996 mid-term election Clinton did better, beating Republican Bob Dole by 8 million votes. Well, maybe not all that much better. Another 8 million from the right-wing voted for Perot.
In 2000, Al Gore lost a squeaker to the second president Bush not because of hanging chads in Florida, but because Ralph Nader's candidacy diverted close to 3 million votes away from the Democrats.
This year Democrats won't be able to place their hopes on an official 3rd party candidate from the right-wing diluting the Republican base, but the political dynamic is still there.
In this anybody-but-Romney Republican primary season one runner up has been getting far too much traction from a Republican party that apparently has no memory: Ron Paul.
When Ron Paul didn't get his way four years ago he reacted with a series of bizarre endorsements. Rather than support the McCain/Palin ticket, he exhortted his faithful to choose Bob Barr, which sort of makes sense since he's Libertarian. However, Paul also gave the nod to Chuck Baldwin, a racist who believes the South should have won the Civil War. But worst of all, Paul endorsed Cynthia McKinney, a nutcase anti-semite who says agents of the U.S. government assassinated President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcom X.
It's said that elephants never forget, but Republicans sure do.
The best hope for the president's re-election is the success of the un-Romney candidates, particularly those most ardent in their support of Ron Paul. If the extreme Paulites and Tea Partiers don't become Mittens and support the 2012 Republican ticket, they will deliver the same results of past elections that have been influenced by a third party: the candidate they should have voted for will lose.
How likely is that outcome? I think it's a sure thing.