Looking ahead: Obama facing unrest on the Left?

It’s a given that Republicans, conservatives, and many right-leaning moderates are looking forward to running a candidate against President Obama in 2012. What may not have been as noticed, however, is the discontent bubbling just under the surface on his Left flank, the simmering anger of Progressives who feel used and then cast away. There’s even talk about a primary challenge to Obama. John Fund discusses this in an interesting article at The Wall St. Journal:

Today, party discontent with the president is real. Last week, leading Democrats were furious when Mr. Obama declined to endorse Rhode Island’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Frank Caprio. This was payback for Lincoln Chafee’s support of Mr. Obama’s candidacy in 2008—Mr. Chafee is running for governor as an independent. “The notion that the leader of the party is being disloyal to his party is I think unprecedented,” Democratic strategist Paul Begala told CNN.

Key donors have told the White House that the president should decide for certain whether he’s running for re-election by the end of December. Should Mr. Obama’s approval ratings slip further next year, there’s talk that some donors may call on him not to run, or promote an independent candidacy by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

It could go further. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told MSNBC in July that a primary challenge to Mr. Obama “is really possible,” especially if he were to go back on his pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year.

A disgruntled peace candidate such as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold or Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich could find the prospect of rallying disgruntled leftists too tempting to resist. All three men forswear any interest in challenging Mr. Obama, yet it’s noteworthy that Mr. Dean is stepping up his speaking schedule around the country after the election.

Fund points out that, while primary challenges to presidents have been generally unsuccessful (the last elected President denied renomination was Franklin Pierce, and there have been none since the modern era of primaries began), they do have the effect of weakening the incumbent and contributing to his defeat in the general election – Buchanan’s challenge of Bush the Elder in 1992, for example, weakened him against Bill Clinton.

But, while I have no doubt that Dean wants to run or that a Kucinich campaign would be amusing, I doubt anyone will “primary” President Obama. He has the Black vote sewn up, and no White candidate is going to want to be the one who “stabbed in the back” the first Black President. While an insurgent might succeed in taking the nomination from him, it would be a Pyrrhic victory, because he would lose a large part of the Black vote and, without bloc voting by African-Americans, Democrats do not win national elections.

More likely, I think, are disgruntled progressives breaking away to support an independent candidate from the Left, such as Bloomberg if he decides America needs him to be its Nanny-in-Chief. While I don’t think such a candidacy would succeed (Henry Wallace failed miserably when he ran on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948), it could fatally weaken Obama vis-a-vis the Republican nominee, in a mirror image of what Perot did to Bush in 1992.

Another possibility, of course, is that no one runs against Obama from the Left, but Progressives still may stay home on election day in 2012 to punish him. Even if Obama goes further to the Left in the next two years, he won’t be able to meet their wishes with Congress at least partially under the control of conservatives. If he tacks to the Center (unlikely), they’ll feel even more betrayed. The only hope he has to keep their votes is if the Republican nominee is one of the Left’s demons, such as Sarah Palin. A “Stop Palin” movement might be the only thing to get the Left to hold their noses and vote for Obama again.

And what a change that would be: from Lightworker to “I’m not as bad as her!”

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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