The answer is yes. If.
If means that just about anything that doesn't violate the laws of physics is possible. Whether it can be done or not depends on how hard and how well people are willing to work for it.
In short incumbents lose for one reason. They no longer enjoy the public's confidence. But even if that happens, the incumbent is still favored to win if their opponent is not a credible candidate. In recent political history, Americans are usually dissatisfied with whoever is in the White House by the end of term one. But they're also willing to play the game of "Better the devil we know", if the other party can't bring a serious competitor to the table. And that's what often happens. Second term elections often get thrown by the other party. A political hack is trotted out by party loyalists to give him a shot at the big time while preserving their dignity. The serious ammunition is saved for the next election.
The one overriding reason in recent political history that incumbents win is because the other side doesn't even bother showing up. Defeat is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Campaigns cost money and no one is going to put down serious money on your side if they don't think you can win. Low energy campaigns plus a candidate who's out there because it seems like it's his time and no one else wanted this badly enough are a white flag being waved before the battle has even been joined.
Let's list some names here. George McGovern. Walter Mondale. Bob Dole. If we go that route, then we're toast. And deservedly so.
Now let's list two more names. George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Strip away the party affiliation of these two incumbents who lost their second term races and what do you have in common? They were both weak candidates. Two men who had more in common with the names on that first list. They still might have made it to a second term, but they faced opponents who were strong and bold personalities. Men who registered on a national stage the way they didn't. And the rest is history.
Incumbency has its weaknesses and its strengths. Its chief strength is that unless you completely outrage and disgust 51 percent of the country as distributed across key battleground states, the voters may be disappointed in you, but they will still let you stay. That is unless your opponent beats your name recognition and familiarity factor and comes in like a breath of fresh air. And that is the chief weakness.
Voter complacency is the chief strength of the incumbent. That is why Obama's campaign opening video looked so bland. He's not out there to win, just to stay ahead of the competition. And voter dissatisfaction is the chief strength of his opponent. Not the mob with pitchforks kind, but the "We could use something better about now" type.
So back to the original question. Can Obama be beaten? Yes he can. The economy is in a bad way. The wars are unresolved. The issues that made voters want to trade in the Republican years are not only out there, they've been filled out by entirely new issues. 51 percent of the public does not hate Obama. But they would like a change. Our job is to give it to them.
It sounds simple. But it's not. Remember this can't be a close race. If it's a close race, then we can go home now. There was extensive voter fraud last time around. There will be plenty of it this time too. Unless Obama loses by Ahmadinejad numbers, he will win. If he can't win when the polls close, he'll win in the courts. And remember what the media did last time around. They'll do it this time around too. Whoever goes up against Obama has to be able to take month after month of that. To be ridiculed and demonized day in and day out. And still walk out for the next campaign rally with flag flying high and public image untouched.
How they'll do that is up to them. But they will have to do it. Not just for the faithful, but for the average man or woman on the street who just know what they read in the newspaper or see on TV. And when they see our candidate interviewed, they'll have to come away with the impression that despite whatever dirty tricks got played and leading questions got asked, that our candidate made a favorable impression on them. This isn't asking the impossible. But it is asking the very difficult. But both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were able to do it. And anyone who can't is not going to win.
Go back to Doug Hoffman and NY-23 back in 2009. Then look at the 2010 election again. And imagine that you had a product. How many of these people would you hire to sell it to strangers? And if you wouldn't, then what makes you think they can win an election. It's a cynical way to look at politics, but those are the rules of the game. And they can't be set aside, just because they reward all the wrong things. There's no innate contradiction between presentability in person and on television, people skills, a good speaking voice... and a passion for the Constitution and an understanding of the reforms this country needs. And anyone who wants to accomplish those things by running for public office will need to learn those skills. And they are skills that can be learned.
In 2008, Obama sold the country on himself. He's got less of an uphill battle now because the sale has been made. Plenty of people want to ask for a refund, but not a strong majority yet, and what they're being offered is a trade-in. Give back your Obama, for a Romney, a Pawlenty, a Herman Cain or Sarah Palin. Now are they going to want to make that trade-in? That's where the salesmanship comes in. It doesn't all come down to the public impression that the candidate makes. But that's the core that any campaign has to work with. The public's impression of the candidate defines their reaction. That impression can be shaped, spun, marketed and telemarketed-- but there has to be a core there to work with.
It's not about the haircut, the set of the jaw or even the delivery. Plenty of candidates work with what they have. Bush fumbled lines over and over again, and no matter how often he was ridiculed for it, it came off as a mark of sincerity and authenticity. An awkward sincerity that cut directly against the slick deceptive speechifying of the Clinton years and Gore's awkward verbosity that the public was sick of. The ability to do that. To turn your flaws into assets that actually adds value to your message is what makes all the difference in the world. It's not about finding a clone of presidents past, but a man who can dominate a stage and get his message across on his own terms.
And the message is at the heart of it. The candidate is the message bearer. If he bears it well enough, then he may get a chance to be its message-implementer. The essential parameters of the message are very simple. It is the same message in every election. "The country is going the wrong way. We are in big trouble and I want to step in and put us on the right track." That framework isn't hard to put over now. But it's not enough.
Few people are really happy with the way things are now. That includes liberals and most of O's own grassroots. It won't mean that they will go out and vote Republican. All that may do is limit turnout. And it doesn't mean that much of the country which is unhappy with Obama will do so either. The car salesman can point out that your car is in bad shape, leaking fuel and costs more to run than buying a new car would. But does saying that put you in a new car? It doesn't. Pointing out the problem is only halfway to a solution. The solution's positives have to offer hope for a better future and its negatives have to be ones that people can live with. That's easy sell for Democrats who can just promise more goodies, harder for Republicans who have to talk about reforms.
We won't be dealing with a single demographic or people who agree with us. They're the easy ones. The ones who don't agree or don't know what they believe or just want some assurance that everything will be alright is where the hard work goes. We are dealing with multiple demographics even within the Republican party. And then the independent voters who distrust both parties. Working class Democrats who don't like a lot of what Obama has done, but want to protect union power and maintain entitlements. Growing numbers of minorities who are told that Republicans want to destroy them. We won't win all of them over, but we need to be competitive, without compromising on the core issues. It is doable. Whether we will do it is another matter.
If we bring together the candidate and the message, back it with real organization and hard work, than we can win. If we don't, then we won't. That's the big 'If'. And it's not the only 'If' either.
The Republican establishment has its own thoughts on the candidate and the message. And that's like to be Romney with the slogan, "Change for the Better". A safe and inoffensive candidacy that may alienate some of the base, but is meant to bring over wavering voters. The safe alternative. Who knows it may even work. I wouldn't count it out.
Those would be victories over Obama, but in the long run they would look a lot like defeats. The Republican revival wasn't just about winning the short game, but the long game. That doesn't mean losing the short game. It means winning it in a way that meets long term goals. Republicans have played to win the short game, compromising on everything just to come out as the safe moderate alternative. Now we'll need someone who can do both.
That's what everything hinges on. A candidate who is as good with patriots as he is with the public. Who can navigate both worlds, bringing authentic conservative ideology to the table and project real popular appeal at the same time. Who combines faith with the skill to win. I would love to be able to point at the possible candidates and say that I found the man or woman who can do it. But no, I haven't. And that's the challenge. We have the product. Now we need someone who can sell the country on it. That is what it will take to beat Obama.