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White House 2012: Three more lessons

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COMMENTS

14 February 2012 12:39

Lessons one and two were posted earlier today.

3. Foreign policy is still a disqualifier

Back in 1992, George HW Bush joked that Bill Clinton had learnt about foreign policy at the International House of Pancakes. The same accusation could have been leveled against Herman Cain, who flubbed a straightforward question over Libya and didn't think that China had nuclear weapons; and Rick Perry, who appeared to think Turkey was run by 'Islamic terrorists'.

In an economy-dominated race, foreign affairs have not loomed large. America's new Marine deployment in northern Australia, for instance, has not been raised in a single GOP debate. The former US diplomat Jon Huntsman, the Republican who had evidently given the most thought to America's position in the world, was among the first to leave the race. Yet as Cain and Perry showed, candidates still have to pass a commander-in-chief test.

4. Presidential peccadilloes

After Bill Clinton left office with the highest approval ratings of any departing president despite his impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair, the thinking was that voters had become a lot more forgiving of even serial philanders.

This campaign has provided evidence for and against that proposition. Cain experienced a spike in fund-raising when allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced. However, they eventually forced him from the race. Gingrich's attack on the media after it aired allegations from his second wife marked the start of his comeback in South Carolina. The downside came in Florida, where he performed particularly badly among married female voters.

5. Pity the poor media darlings

Jon Huntsman joined a long list of candidates who have caught the eye of the media but been dumped from the race early on. It includes Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson in 2008, John McCain in 2000 and John Connally in 1980. Races rarely comport with the narratives reporters like to invent – although the rise of Barack Obama was a notable exception. In the GOP, admiring reviews from a mainly left-leaning press corps can be the kiss of death.

On the media front, it is probably time for news organisations to rethink their approach to Iowa. It has become a terrible form guide, especially for the GOP. Mike Huckabee in 2008. Bob Dole in 1988. George HW Bush in 1980. Rick Santorum, narrowly, in 2012. South Carolina is usually the great GOP bellwether, having picked the party's eventual nominee every time since its inaugural primary in 1980. But Gingrich was the winner this time round, so perhaps it is time to rethink that one, too.

It just goes to show how this is proving to be a break-all-the-rules race. Momentum? Bounce? The aura of inevitability? Not in 2012.

Photo by Flickr user Paul Chenoweth.

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