Barely Good Enough for Obama
In the main, I don't think the GOP did so badly in 2012. The House was retained, and Mitt Romney ran very closely in all the battleground states. As a candidate, he was excellent in debate, on the stump and raising money. His team in Boston sadly was not so great, ran vapid TV spots, cloistered the candidate and his VP, and developed no pithy responses to stale Democrat talking points, like "It's still Bush's fault."
That said, 2012 posed a severe challenge for any Republican, and it wasn't the demographics. Obama did better in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two oldest and whitest battleground states, than Virginia and Colorado, supposedly hip and Latino. In fact, the era of Mexican illegal immigration is now ending, mostly due to a 30-year collapse in birthrates. (Expect panicky Democrats to cry for an amnesty bill and Ruy Teixeira to start taking Mandarin lessons)
What really saved Obama's bacon was the employment recovery in the second half of 2012. As slow as the economy has been, it at least moved in the right direction. Gallup's raw unemployment data is especially instructive, being the real day-to-day numbers; not the byzantine, highly revised numbers the government puts out. As late as August 19 of this year, their rolling average was a still pretty dismal 8.4%; but amazingly, on Election Day, it was down to only 7.1%! (Gallup's underemployment trend the last 3 months was equally good) Just enough -- given the adulatory media, no major scandals or 3rd party distractions -- for most presidential incumbents to squeak by; which is what happened.
What explains such a lucky break? Part of it was due to the Fed's easy money; and part to backing off Iran, so no Middle East crisis jacked up gasoline prices. With unemployment, it was also immensely helpful to Obama the worst hit were minorities, who would vote for him in any event.
Unfortunately then, 2012 was not like 1980 where Reagan rode in on a recession, but like 1936, where there was a smidgeon of economic improvement during the year to keep voters with FDR. The 1936 historical analogy gets rather unhappy, however, after the election. Egged on by his lefty advisors, (Harry Hopkins was the Valerie Jarrett of that time) FDR went full-bore socialist and the economy tanked again. There then followed the bloodiest conflict in world history. So I guess along with the high school years of Malia and Sasha, we have all that to look forward to.
Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, Ky.