One Word Campaigns

by Patrick Appel

Ruffini lists the major themes of the last 13 presidential elections. His bottom line:

I don't know that a very clear theme for 2012 suggests itself from these patterns. If the economy turns around, Obama will seek to execute the classic change-continuity pivot that has traditionally been hard to beat. If we really are in Great Depression II, there is an opportunity for a Reagan-like mandate to emerge from 2012 because at some point the "hope" has to actually kick in.

Whenever that opportunity emerges, however, what is clear from these historic patterns is that the Republican nominee be in a position to seek a broad change-driven mandate for conservative principles. If we want not just two-term Presidents, but popular two-term Presidents, you need someone who can lay claim to defining an era from its outset, aggressively re-assert that agenda for re-election, and ride it straight through eight years. Minimalist agendas of experience or personal integrity or pragmatism might work in individual elections, but they cost you in the long run once the immediate problems they were designed to fix are solved.

This is what today was about. Defining an era. It's a big gamble, and one that could blow up in Obama's face. But the theatrics are needed to give cover to big policy changes in a political system where change is designed to be difficult.