Capitol Idea: To Get Re-elected, It’s Not The Republicans Obama Has To Worry About

Every American president’s worst re-election nightmare isn’t an economy that’s tanking as November approaches, or even having to face a popular opponent of the other party.

No, what presidents fear most is having to face a challenge to renomination from his own party. That’s because having to defeat a primary opponent splits a president’s base and certainly dooms his chances in the general election.

Ronald Reagan’s 1976 challenge from the Right certainly sealed Jerry Ford’s fate that November, while just four years later Democrat Ted Kennedy’s campaign against Jimmy Carter assured Carter’s miserable 1980 loss. Even conservative Pat Buchanan’s 1992 GOP campaign mortally wounded President George H.W. Bush’s chances for a second term.

Bill Clinton took this particular bit of history to heart leading up to his 1996 re-election, and assiduously discouraged any Democrat from challenging him on his way to a second term.

But, for Barack Obama, it already may be too late if Ed Rendell has anything to say about it.

The always-outspoken Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, Rendell raised the threat of a 2012 primary challenge against the president on the “Morning Joe” television program.

Specifically, Rendell warned of a Democratic challenge over Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, a policy which is unpopular with much of the Democratic base.

Rendell also poked Obama over the president’s recent appearance on the daytime program, “The View,” calling it undignified for the office.

It bears recalling that Rendell was one of the staunchest supporters of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign against Obama, and that the governor only endorsed Obama after Clinton tossed in her towel.

And Rendell’s no local politician unexperienced in national politics. He’s a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and he understands how Washington politics works. That means he knows full well what he’s doing by taking these kinds of shots at a president of his own party.

Is Rendell laying the groundwork to be the Democrat who stands in the way of Obama’s renomination? Rendell is at the end of his second term in Harrisburg, and soon will have plenty of time on his hands. Is he looking for his next job?

The governor, of course, didn’t come right out at this point and declare against Obama, sounding more coy by speculating whether fellow former DNC chairman Howard Dean might choose to challenge the president.

To be fair, Rendell’s criticism of Obama could amount to nothing. Rendell’s talkative and sometimes too-candid nature makes him gaffe-prone. (He famously remarked in 2008 that Janet Napolitano was a perfect choice for homeland security secretary because she had no family and could “devote, literally, 19, 20 hours a day” to the job.)

If Rendell’s criticisms of Obama amount to just more idle talk, the president will have dodged a dangerous bullet indeed. But it ought to serve as a warning to the president and his political operatives in the months ahead.

Obama could either follow Bill Clinton’s example of quashing any threat of a lethal challenge from the Left now, or leave it all up to change and go the way of Jimmy Carter.

Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade. This article was first published as To Get Re-elected, It’s Not The Republicans Obama Has To Worry About on Blogcritics.


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One Response to Capitol Idea: To Get Re-elected, It’s Not The Republicans Obama Has To Worry About

  1. Joyful says:

    Ed Rendell has a chronic case of foot in mouth disease. He was not only a huge Clinton booster but also the one who smeared all Pennsylvanians by saying the state’s voters wouldn’t support a candidate of color. Wrong! Moreover, he was a huge booster of Sam Alito for SCOTUS, apparently because they’re social friends and Sam uses the right fork and laughs at Ed’s jokes, and we can see where that went. His endorsements are like that.

    The president might well be challenged from the left, but I can’t think of anyone who could do that with a chance of success. I think Ed is to the right of Obama, a faithful DLCer. I don’t see any space to the right for a challenge with a chance of success. And Ed can’t challenge Obama. In Pennsylvania, his popularity rates are abysmal, and he’d lose his home state in a primary. There’s a lot of dirt to be dug on Ed that wasn’t exploited in his gubernatorial runs.

    And who’s he to be constantly going on talk shows and shooting off his mouth and calling others undignified for going on talk shows?

    However, he has been dieting and lost a lot of weight. Supposedly, that meant, in the case of Newt Gingrich, a run for the presidency. It turned out to mean that Newt had yet another new girlfriend. I suspect that in Ed’s case losing weight means throwing his hat in the ring for neither the presidency nor a girlfriend but rather a strong warning from his doctor. But I could be wrong.