Less than four months from now, the mid-term elections will determine if the Democrats lose control of the Senate and their ability to set the national agenda. The November balloting will also lay the foundation for President Obama’s next two years in office – and his re-election campaign. Any number of scenarios could undermine Obama in 2012. If (God forbid) a 9/11-style attack hits the United States that summer, or, say, the economy goes into a deep tailspin, then Obama will become the first one-term president since George H.W. Bush. In Obama’s wake, the Republican Piranha who’ve been circling the White House since 2008 (Palin, Romney, et al.) will feast on the Democrats’ political carcass. Here are three scenarios:
** President Whitman: After narrowly beating Jerry Brown for the California governorship in 2010, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman gets drafted for the 2012 presidential campaign and reluctantly accepts – then steamrolls her way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Whitman’s appeal – the first woman Republican to head the ticket; her success in Silicon Valley; her (anti-Palinesque) ability to speak coherently about the economy, foreign affairs, and her vision for America – makes her the surprising choice for independents and conservative liberals who helped springboard Obama in 2008. Whitman’s running mate, Newt Gingrich, secures her standing among Conservatives, especially in the South, and – like Joe Biden in 2008 with Obama – he reassures a potentially jittery public that his ticket has the necessary experience.
** War in Iran: The Republicans’ ascension marks the return of chickenhawk diplomacy. Instead of the Obama administration’s reasoned approach to Iran, the new administration relies on all-or-nothing antagonism, leading to the third Gulf War in two decades. What ensues are thousands of new military deaths, a dangerously destabilized Middle East, and an oil crisis that shocks Western economies for years. As in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. tries to shepherd in a friendlier government, but now all three countries – connected geographically, religiously and historically – become the world’s leading front for insurgency against the United States.
** Hillary Re-Emerges: Free from her role in Team Obama, Hillary Clinton writes her second memoir and takes a teaching position at Columbia University. In both her class and new book, she talks of the irony that her groundbreaking 2008 campaign paved the way for U.S. voters to accept . . . a Meg Whitman presidency. Mulling a run in 2016, Clinton starts a bipartisan think-tank, which launches her into a new phase of political respectability. Eventually, she and Bill get their own CNN talk-show, which becomes the highest-rated political talk show on cable.
As for Obama, he walks away with his head held high, his historic presidency less than his supporters wanted but more than his detractors thought possible. For the most part, America survived and thrived under Obama’s watch, but it still wasn’t enough to keep him in high office.
Hmmm. Prognostication is easier said than done. Other scenarios would put Obama in the White House through 2016, when Hillary, Meg and others would challenge for the open seat that all politicians seem to crave, even if (hello Jeb Bush) they can’t bring themselves to admit it.