Despite the trouble President Obama has brought upon himself in the course of his first term, it is very likely he will be reelected in 2012. Election results from the last three generations bear this out.
George W. Bush served two terms in spite of being bogged down in Iraq and delivering painfully embarrassing debate performances. Of course, John Kerry was a godsend for him.
Bill Clinton went two terms despite a stream of scandals. Granted, he had Bob Dole campaigning for him.
The elder Bush went down after just one term in 1992. But he didn't really want to win, and Ross Perot's candidacy allowed Clinton to squeak in with less than majority support.
Ronald Reagan won his'84 landslide with an economy trembling toward recovery. But Walter Mondale's youth and inexperience helped.
Look what it took to unseat Jimmy Carter. Runaway inflation and through-the-roof interest rates, gas shortages, hostages in Iran, people burning our embassies around the world, and a challenge from within his own party by Ted Kennedy. But even given all that, he still might have won had it not been for the "Debacle in the Desert," his failed attempt to rescue the 53 American hostages in Tehran. It also took a master campaigner ("Let's make America great again," "There he goes again") to dislodge him.
It took the fallout from Watergate to defeat Gerald Ford, including his pardon of Richard Nixon.
Speaking of Nixon, he won reelection in the midst of Vietnam . . . and big time! George McGovern and his 3 a.m. convention acceptance speech is not enough to explain the win.
Lyndon Johnson declined to run for a second complete term.
John F. Kennedy? It's too sad to mention.
Dwight D. Eisenhower: two terms. No problem.
So, barring hyperinflation brought on by wildly reckless government spending, which we should pray will not happen, we can expect a second term for Barack Obama.
But if there is someone on the GOP side who can beat him, it may be Texas Gov. Rick Perry. It did not take much to generate wide excitement last week over a possible Perry run. Asked whether he might seek the Republican nomination after the end of this state legislative session, the governor responded, "Yes sir, I'm going to think about it. But I think about a lot of things."
Perry is strong with the Tea Party folks on account of his active defense of the 10th Amendment in the face of Obamacare's encroachments and his record as a budget-cutter.
In a field of candidates crowded with governors, Perry's executive experience is in one of the largest states in the union. He has shown that he can win-an unprecedented three terms with a strong victory in 2010-and in a growing state with a large Hispanic population.
He also passes the Katie Couric test. He reads. And he reads the right stuff. In a Wall Street Journal interview not long ago, he highlighted Friedrich Hayek's classic of political and economic liberty, The Road to Serfdom, and The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes, her account of how Franklin D. Roosevelt's interventionist policies actually deepened and lengthened the Depression. "Amity's book is very eye-opening-scary-for me," he said. You can judge a man by what scares him.
Shelby Steele says the problem for any candidate facing Barack Obama is that he or she must run against not only Obama the man, but also Obama the icon. This means that whoever leads the Republican ticket has to be somehow larger than life. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is a good man with good principles, but he's a man of quite human proportions. Others in the race are all-too-human. At the South Carolina debate, I saw men who were trying hard to convince us that they belong on the stage. Sarah Palin was not there, though she seems made for the stage. But one wonders what kind of stage. Like everything in Texas, Rick Perry seems be a large enough character to fill any stage, even one he would share with a sitting president, perhaps even an iconic sitting president.
It's still early and I'm skeptical. Political leaders are rarely as good as they seem, if they seem good at all. It is, after all, their business to seem better than they are. But I'm watching.
Perry may decide to serve out his third term as governor, which has only just begun, and then hit the campaign trail for 2016. But he knows that by that time the damage to the country may run so deep that what we have always known as America may be unsalvageable.