|Francesca York, NYU Student
New York University’s La Pietra Dialogues launched its fourth annual politics conference on Wednesday, October 12, at its Florentine campus at Villa La Pietra. This marks the first year that the conference was held in anticipation of the American presidential election instead of in its wake. A panel of distinguished speakers assembled to discuss their predictions and forecasts for the course of American politics from both a Republican and Democratic perspective.
Panelists participating in the first section of the conference, discussing the state of the Republican party, included Robert Shrum, Democratic political strategist and senior fellow at NYU; Bruce Haynes, Republican political strategist of Purple Strategies; Steve Schmidt, campaign strategist for John McCain; Mario Calvo Platero, journalist and editor for il Sole 24 Ore; and Chris Caldwell, senior editor of The Weekly Standard. On the second panel, reflecting on Obama’s presidency thus far and the challenges he faces in his bid for re-election, was Paul Begala, Democratic political consultant and commentator; Steve McMahon, Democratic political and public affairs strategist; Nicole Bacharan, political analyst and television consultant; Marylouise Oates, author, journalist and activist; and Steve Schmidt.
The conference opened with a dialogue about the climate among the Republican hopefuls. The panelists agreed that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was the current frontrunner and poised to win the candidacy, and Haynes went so far as to call Romney’s nomination “a bit of an inevitability.” Backed by other prominent Republican like Chris Christie, and with four years of campaign experience, Romney has distinguished himself as a strong, articulate candidate surpassing the more conservative options, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.
Caldwell further asserted that it was impossible for Barack Obama to win back the presidency in a two-sided race. With a current approval rating in the low fortieth percentile, he has lost too great a section of the electorate. The Republican party’s task, he believes, is to maintain unity: the nomination of a candidate like Romney, who may not appeal to members of the Tea Party movement, may result in a bid from another conservative third party candidate who could siphon enough votes from the GOP to hand Obama the election.
The problem seems to be that there has been a total breakdown of trust in government institutions and general disillusionment especially for Republicans but also the American people at large. Tea Party members in particular are frustrated that their GOP candidates have not kept their promises—“The GOP cut taxes as if they had cut spending,” Caldwell said, and the result has left the base both angry and wary.
Schmidt summarized the general analysis of the Republican position at this point when he explained, “Barack Obama can’t win the election, but the GOP can still lose.”
The second panel had a similar, but more optimistic forecast for President Obama. Ideally, the president must alter his discourse to a more contrastive tone. Begala suggested his platform must approach issues of the economy, unemployment, and healthcare reform with a refrain of, “How are we doing, compared to what?” to avoid framing his actions during his presidency in the negative light that many people have begun to view him in. All agreed, however, that “things could have been worse” would not be the best choice for a campaign slogan.
McMahon similarly predicted a shift in Obama’s approach, saying that the 2012 election may look much more like the Kerry versus Bush race than the energetic, hope-fueled election of 2008. Additionally, Obama’s positions and platform will solidify once a Republican nominee has been locked-in.
Even after a day of reflection on the last three years, the only surety seems to be that the upcoming American elections will be one of changes—for the Republicans as a unified party, for the United States as a whole, and for Barack Obama as a politician with three controversial years of office under his belt. Marylouise Oates quoted the famous B.B. King song, “The thrill is gone, baby.” Only time will tell whether or not America is over Obama.