Why Obama (Probably) Won't Face a Primary Challenger

Commentators refute a flashy New York Times headline

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Although The New York Times' Matt Bai injected momentum into what's been deemed a "fake" news meme, many other political pundits aren't buying that the president will face a primary challenger in 2012. Their reasoning? Obama's poll numbers among his liberal base aren't that bad, and the challenger would have to pry away a "significant chunk" of Obama's African-American support. There's no name brand entity who has thus far posed a threat. Those who grumbling now only want Obama to move leftward, and will fall in line come election time. And the President still has the resources, fund raising prowess, and organization to tamp down any potential challenger before he/she enters. In other words, the "murmurs" surrounding a potential challenge to Obama within his own party are pure speculation, argue these analysts:

  • The Scenario Is 'Very Hard To Imagine'  notes Ben Smith at Politico. First, serious candidates like Howard Dean and Russ Feingold aren't going to jump into the race. Also: "it's very hard to imagine a primary from the left that has almost no support from the African-American voters who are the heart of the anti-war, pro-government left wing of the Democratic Party. And with his numbers at 90% among African-Americans--and over 80% among liberal Democrats--there's just no space for that challenge."
  • The 'Juicy' Times Headline is 'Pretty Thinly' Sourced  CBS political reporter Brian Montopoli echos the refrain that it's "pretty unlikely" Obama will face a challenger. Although it seems like the president is in political peril right now, he actually might have been in more trouble if he catered "aggressively" to his political base. He notes that Mike Bloomberg's centrist movement as an alternative to the dueling parties: "Mr. Obama's positioning as someone willing to compromise, as displayed most recently in the tax cut deal, makes him less vulnerable to a challenge grounded in that "middle way" philosophy in a general election." Plus, Montopoli notes, the "massive institutional advantage" of the White House will help the president come primary time.
  • Obama is 'Safer Than You Think'  Salon's News Editor Steve Kornacki outlines four reasons why a primary challenge won't happen: 1) Even though the "opinion shapers" on the left have voiced displeasure with the president, those opinions have not substantially affected his popularity among Democrats. 2) Although Afghanistan poses a challenge for liberals, there's no great "ideological divide" threatening to tear apart the party; "Democratic voters still view Obama as a guy who is on their side." 3) There's no "big name" like Teddy Kennedy (in Jimmy Carter's case) to worry about launching a presidential bid. Feingold, Dean, and Kucinich don't pose a challenge. 4) "This is the season for primary challenge chatter." Pundits always love talking about primary challenges at this point in a presidency.
  • More 'Empty Threats' Coming From the Left  The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost writes that although liberals are "grinding their teeth right now" they will be there "full tilt" for the president because they will immediately "detest" the Republican nominee. "And if hatred of the GOP will not be enough, watch Team Obama exploit the memory of the 2000 presidential election," writes Cost, referring to a belief among some liberals Ralph Nader's campaign helped sink Al Gore's bid for president. Cost's prediction: Just like during the health care debate, the left will "gripe about how Obama has been a massive disappointment, then dutifully fall into line behind him....If he wins, they'll weep with joy."

Matt Bai's article also garnered a fair amount of shorter quips:

  • Alex Pareene: "You know you're reading a really great piece of professional political analysis when the thesis is refuted in the first sentence of the second paragraph. 'The idea seems to have little momentum for now,' Bai explains, but then for some reason he continued writing instead of shutting down his MacBook Air and going outside for a nice walk or something."
  • David Weigel: The primary challenge murmurs "are coming from liberals who want to pressure Obama into cutting fewer deals with Republicans, and in many case they are coming from liberals who really, really want Obama out of the White House. But they are not actually a response to political danger."
  • Wonkette's Jack Steuf: "There really is nobody from the left that would run against this man, unless Obama turned into something approximating Joe Lieberman on a severe sigh bender."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.