Lately there has been a lot of talk in liberal circles about mounting a primary challenge to President Obama in 2012, but on CBS’ Face The Nation today, Howard Dean explained why primarying Obama is a terrible idea, “The history of people running against Presidents in their own party as the challenger, you lose and then the President is weakened and loses.”
Here is the video:
When host Bob Schieffer asked Dean about the possibility of Obama facing a primary challenge in 2012, the former DNC Chair explained why this would not be a good thing for the Democratic Party, “I don’t think he’s going to face an opponent in the democratic primary. I think that would be bad thing for the country and I think it would be a bad thing for the Democratic Party. The history of people running against Presidents in their own party as the challenger, you lose and then the President is weakened and loses. Now the President has done some things that I think are terrific. This is not one of them. But I– I think he will not get an opponent.”
Dean is correct. Recent history shows that incumbent presidents are almost certainly dead men walking in the general election if they have to fend off a tough primary challenger. In 1992, President George HW Bush had to tussle Pat Buchanan. This was a primary that weakened an already weak incumbent and blew the door wide open for Bill Clinton to roll into the White House. The most famous example is the bloody primary between Jimmy Carter and Ted Kennedy in 1980, which savaged Jimmy Carter, but you can also go as far back as 1968 with Eugene McCarthy’s strong showing against President Lyndon Johnson in New Hampshire that lead to Johnson deciding not to seek another term in office.
Primary challengers to incumbent presidents only serve to weaken the party and the president. It is a doomsday device that blows up the president’s party. For those on the far left who want to primary Obama, a more rational question is who would challenge him? The talk of Sen. Bernie Sanders challenging Obama is nonsense, because Sanders is not even a member of the Democratic Party. He is an Independent socialist, and no a third party run is not in his future. Contrary to the dreams of the left Sanders has a good relationship with Obama and the White House. He is not a frequent administration critic. In fact, he was endorsed by Obama in 2008.
Sen. Al Franken owes his Senate seat to Obama being on the ticket, and all the help the Obama operation gave his campaign during the recount. Obama campaigned hard for Franken, and the Minnesota senator is not going to forget that. After these two names the bench gets thin pretty quickly. Hillary Clinton is a giant no. Evan Bayh is too conservative for the liberals. The only possibility is that someone like Rep. Dennis Kucinich runs again in order to provide the president with token primary opposition.
Later in the Face The Nation discussion Dean gave his thoughts on why the tax cut deal is a good political move for Obama, “Well, I mean, the– the– this is a– already on down the track. I mean, it’s–you know, once you make the offer and you come to the deal, it’s going to be pretty hard for the President to pull back and then change his mind in the midstream. The truth is I don’t think this is all that bad for the President politically because he– he is going to be seen as acting presidential and bringing both sides together and all that stuff. The thing that bothers me about it is we have yet to deal with the biggest problem that is facing this country, which is the size of the deficit and nobody is doing anything about it. If you just keep it– if you keep doing what people like, which is cutting their taxes, you’re going to have a bigger deficit and we’re going to be weaker in the long term and I– I just don’t see how that contributes to the long-term future of the country.”
Dean is right about the deficit. Everyone campaigned on it then after the election promptly returned to the business of spending money, so much for the fiscal conservatism of the Tea Party. Politically after the furor over this tax cut deal dies down, this will not hurt Obama at all. How many Americans are really NOT going to vote for Obama because he cut their taxes? Even those on the left who are ready to throw Obama out of office right now are going to benefit from the tax cut.
A poor economy, not the tax cut, is Obama’s biggest 2012 threat. I can see being opposed to the tax cut deal based on principle, but no Democrat who could actually damage Obama in a primary will run against him. Everybody understands the consequences of a tough primary, and no Democrat wants their party to lose the White House in 2012.
Jason is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association