Six Questions that May Decide the Presidential Contest of 2012

The foreign policy success key requires that a major foreign policy success occur during the president’s term. While an otherwise inept president may always pull a Camp David Accords out of his hat, this administration has been a foreign policy basket case, creating tension with our allies in places like Canada, the United Kingdom, and Israel.

If these seven keys hold, then six questions will decide how 2012 will play out. These  final six keys are stated negatively by Lichtman, so a yes to these questions makes the key false. If three or more of these keys go against President Obama, he may very well  lose in 2012.

1) Will the economy be in recession?

Over the long haul, Obama’s economic policies are bad for the country, but will America be heading into another recession during the election year? Certainly, the president’s policies are job killers, particularly Obama’s plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire. However, as the recession of 1937 proved, the results of bad economic policies don’t always show before the election.

2) Will there be a third party?

While many conservatives feel any third party is bad news for Republicans, this isn’t necessarily so. If the Republicans nominate a conservative, a moderate or libertarian third party could draw away voters who couldn’t bring themselves to support a conservative, but who also couldn’t stand to reelect President Obama. This happened to Jimmy Carter in 1980, with the third party candidacy of John B. Anderson drawing votes from Carter.

That said, a third party candidate will have to be a self-financier in the Ross Perot model or a media superstar. The has-been politicians touted by the press, as well as the unknowns that win most third party nominations, won’t cut it.

3) Will there be sustained social unrest?

4) Will the administration be tainted by major scandal?

These questions are wild cards that can’t be predicted. The warning signs for events like Watergate and the riots of the 1960s are only realized through hindsight.

5) Will there be a major foreign policy failure?

This is similar to the foreign policy success key. While Obama’s foreign policy blunders will have a price, only time will tell whether his administration will be on duty to see it. The road to 9/11 began in 1993 with President Clinton’s failure to respond appropriately to the World Trade Center bombing, but the result of Clinton’s policies didn’t come to fruition during his administration. The question for the next two years is whether Obama will have Clinton’s luck or Carter’s luck. (Carter's presidency was doomed by the Iran hostage crisis.)

6) Will the GOP nominate a national hero or charismatic figure for president?

Other than gaining enough House seats this fall, this key may offer the most opportunity for Republicans to oust Obama. People like heroic leaders such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ulysses S. Grant as well as confident and likable charismatic leaders. National heroes are in short supply, however.

General David Petraeus is often discussed as a possible heroic candidate, but in addition to no one knowing what his political beliefs are, Petraeus doesn’t have the stature of Grant or Eisenhower because a far smaller percentage of the American public has served under him.

In terms of charisma, Huckabee and Palin could take this key for the GOP. Like it or not, charismatic people get more bang for their buck. As Obama will likely raise another billion dollars in 2012, conservatives can use as much bang as they can get.

In the end, 2012 remains a crap shoot that will depend mostly on how much damage the president’s policies do and how soon the damage becomes apparent.