In looking at my political crystal ball for 2012, I would advise my readers to think back a few election cycles. Because I see 2012 unfolding in more or less the same way.
In 2004, the Democratic party had a choice to make:
They could nominate a fiery, articulate, half-nuts former governor of Vermont for the presidency. This would send the Democratic base into spasms of ecstasy -- and probably go down in crushing defeat come November.
Or they could nominate John Kerry.
Kerry -- a smart guy, a capable guy, a nice guy -- was simply too milquetoast to compete against the likes of George W. Bush. And he went down in defeat, too.
Am I crazy, or is the GOP doing pretty much the same exact thing right now?
The Howard Dean role is this time being played by Herman Cain. He strokes the GOP id in just the right way: He gives angry, half-crazy speeches. He favors a flat tax. (Which is wildly popular with the GOP base, much like Dean's opposition to the Iraq War.) He's socially conservative. And he takes the charge that the tea party is racist off the table.
He is the tea party's dream candidate. And if he were to be nominated, he would give President Obama a 1964-sized landslide victorty.
The John Kerry role is being played by Mitt Romney.
Mitt has three problems that Kerry had.
1) Mitt has taken a few mainstream positions which makes him more electable in a general election, and makes him despised by the base. (The base held their noses because of Kerry's Iraq War vote.)
2) David Brooks said yesterday Romney had a "Stepford problem" -- which, again, was one of Kerry's massive flaws. (Not that he looked like a hot robot, but that he was hopelessly inauthentic.)
3) They were both flip-floppers.
I suppose (2) and (3) are intertwined. I actually think flip flopping can be a good thing. If circumstances changed, it's only sensible that you should change your position. But the fact that all of Mitt Romney's flip flops were very politically convenient, makes nobody believe that he really holds these positions. They think he will govern like a quasi-liberal.
I think this is a mistake.
Whether Mitt Romney really holds pro-life or anti-health care positions is largely irrelevant. If he is elected president, he will have to take big steps to assure the conservatives that he's one of them. The GOP will not allow him to nominate judges to the federal bench that they do not sign off on. For someone who is already distrusted, they will never accept on faith that he is nominating good conservatives. (Don't believe me? Harriet Miers would like a word.)
Does anybody really believe that Romney is a man of political courage, who will stare down the grassroots activists and rainmakers in his party?
All this leads me to think that when Romney is eventually the nominee (tea party spoilers aside) the battle of 2012 will look very much like Kerry versus Bush. Expect a very close electoral map.