Aug. 21–The presidential candidate who survives the primary season slugfest will do so by quietly avoiding controversy and allowing the more outspoken GOP candidates to take turns surging ahead and then burning out like shooting stars.
That’s a prediction by Danielle Sarver Coombs, a Kent State political professor who made many cautious comments to the Akron Roundtable crowd on Thursday. And, she said, it is likely that Gov. John Kasich — for his centrism and allure among Ohiovoters — will appear on the presidential ballot come November 2016.
Coombs periodically read from Last Man Standing: Media, Framing, and the 2012 Republican Primaries, a post-election analysis she authored. She explained the parallels and pitfalls of the 2012 and 2016 primaries, the latter in full campaign mode with debates underway and the first caucus in Iowa in six months.
Coombs is working on two more books, one on female fans of NFL teams and another on digital media and politics. She joked about the laborious task of rehashing another Republican primary, noting that the lack of an incumbent would require additional chapters on Hillary Clinton, her husband and the Democratic field, which she thinks might yet grow.
In her succinct, fact-packed speech, Coombs rattled off a buffet of political musings, predictions, observations and connections, which follow.
–“We’re pretty good at picking a president,” Coombs said of Ohio. For more than a half century, Ohioans have voted within 1.3 percentage points of national election counts, a predictive accuracy five times better than the average state.
–The 2012 primary appeared promising for Republicans: an economic recession, a strong 2010 mid-term Republican rally and the rise of the tea party. “And [President Barack] Obama was considered to be vulnerable.”
–But, the election “wasn’t even close. It was a pretty decisive victory” over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who mainstream conservatives considered to be drawn too far right by the tea party and damaged by challenges from late-entryRick Perry, a former Texas governor.
–The plight of the 2012 Republican presidential campaigns, both primary and general, was exacerbated by 27 grueling debates, after which Romney stood as the last, best choice. He made the fewest gaffes. But the media and the public, nonetheless, began collecting damaging sound bites as Romney made contradictory statements and failed to energize or connect with middle-America. “He was a shape-shifting, flip-flopping, millionaire robot,” Coombs characterized.
–Coombs said the 2012 and 2016 GOP primary fields can be dissected into mainstream, tea party and Libertarian candidates. She connected “vanity candidates” Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, and Donald Trump, a blistering billionaire, for their heated rhetoric. Trump is much like Michele Bachmann, the only female candidate in 2012. Both are genuine about their feelings but make numerous gaffes.
–The current primary requires seasoned professionals to prove their political worth while Trump and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson ignore conventional wisdom and embrace an anti-politician platform.
— Fox News, not the candidates, received the largest bump in the first presidential debate in Cleveland. The conservative news agency, Coombs said, holds the most sway in the primary season as viewers are likely to be Republican voters.
–Fact-checking and background checks on candidates are time consuming, and with 17 candidates, media resources are stretched, Coombs said. So, the loudest front-runners are the ones who receive the most scrutiny. Just ask Carson, she said, recalling how the only black candidate is currently polling in the top three but he joked in the debate about how few questions he was asked.
–Then there’s the two candidates who lead a pack of five Democratic candidates: Clinton, a former U.S. senator and secretary of state, and Bernie Sanders, a leftist Vermont senator. Clinton has baggage. Coombs said if controversies over an attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi and the mixing of personal and federal emails continue to plague her, other Democrats may see her as vulnerable.
–Legacies, too, could hurt some candidates. The Bush and Clinton families have dominated politics for nearly three decades. As candidates, Clinton and Bush “have to answer for other people,” Coombs said, referring to President Bill Clinton’s sex scandal and George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, which former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who trails only Trump in the polls, has disagreed with after being prodded by reporters and debate moderators.
–And then there’s Ohio Gov. Kasich, who made perhaps his first gaffe Wednesday, saying in an interview that he would abolish school teacher lounges because union sympathizers go there to gripe. Coombs said Kasich stands the best chance of merely surviving the primary season. If he doesn’t come out on top, she said, he’d make a good No. 2 on the ticket, that is, if the nominee isn’t also a white governor — a description that fits much of the GOP field.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @DougLivingstonABJ.
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