Never underestimate the power of incumbency. That’s my biggest takeaway from election day 2012. I also learned one other thing: Donald Trump apparently has a problem with free elections.
Never underestimate the power of incumbency.
That’s my biggest takeaway from election day 2012. I also learned one other thing: Donald Trump apparently has a problem with free elections.
The advantages that come with holding the reigns of power while fighting for re-election should not be underestimated. And by the way, Republicans benefited from this as well, as they easily held on to control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Probably the best example of the advantage an incumbent has was the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. While Mitt Romney was essentially frozen out of news coverage for four or five days, President Barack Obama was very visible as he led the federal effort to aid storm victims. The president was featured working together with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican. There is nothing independent voters like more than bipartisan cooperation.
Christie made matters even worse for Romney when he said the president was doing “a great job” in regards to the storm.
The president also controls the levers of power. Two key decisions Obama made this year demonstrate the advantages a sitting president has in a re-election race.
During the summer, Obama issued an executive order allowing children of illegal immigrants to obtain a visa, permitting them to live and work in the U.S. legally for two years, if they meet certain criteria. Obviously, this type of action was unavailable to a challenger who has no ability to set policy until he is elected. This was a key move and solidified the president’s advantage among Latino voters.
Another important decision, which was not necessarily limited to the incumbent, was the president’s move last May to support gay marriage, the first sitting president to do so. Again, the president used the power and prestige of his office to hand an important symbolic victory to a key constituency.
In a January column, I suggested Obama’s ability to avoid a primary opponent - a challenger from within his own party, from his left or right, could be the difference in handing him a second term.
I wrote the following in January: “In my lifetime the only sitting presidents to lose their re-election bid or drop out before the election are those who faced tough, tricky or embarrassing primary challenges from within their own party. Since 1964, presidents who have made it to the general election without facing an intra-party challenge have gone on to win. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Barack Obama.”
Republicans spent the entire year telling everyone that the 2012 race was exactly like the 1980 campaign when Ronald Reagan ousted President Carter. The comparison was wrong. Jimmy Carter was weakened by a strong primary challenge from Ted Kennedy. Obama had clear sailing to his re-nomination while Romney, as a member of the party out of power, naturally had to fight and scratch to secure the Republican nod.
It seems like Republicans tried to fool themselves all the way through Nov. 6.
In the real world (where Republican prognosticators never seem to tread), Obama won a slim popular vote majority while taking Romney to the cleaners in the Electoral College.
Most of the pollsters had a great night. A majority of pre-election polls showed Obama with a slim national lead and an even more comfortable advantage in the Electoral College.
The final numbers practically mirrored the final polls: With a few votes left to count, Obama is ahead by about 3 million votes nationally, and after adding Florida to his column, will defeat Romney in the Electoral College 332-206.
Trump tweeted incorrectly at about 11:30 election night that Romney was the popular vote winner. I guess it’s easy to forget that California is still part of the union and was just beginning to add their votes to the total.
Trump called our free and fair elections, which are the envy of the world, “a total sham and a travesty.” He also suggested it may be time for a “revolution” because Obama won. Donald Trump is a sham and a travesty.
Trump aside, there were plenty of people shocked at the final results of the presidential election.
Romney supporters thought they detected an undercurrent of movement toward the Republican nominee in the final days of the race. They noted Romney was attracting the largest and most enthusiastic crowds of his entire campaign in the last days before the election.
Those are nice observations, but they are certainly not evidence that the pollsters are about to get it all wrong.
Neal Simon is a staff writer for the Evening Tribune in Hornell, N.Y.