A reader recently took me to task for an article I wrote a month ago -- "What Will Be The Big Issue A Year And A Day From Now?" His complaint was that I had asked a bunch of questions, but hadn't provided any answers. He directed me to a radio interview on The World with the editor of the Economist, and asked what I thought about his predictions. So I have decided to accept the challenge and will now confidently predict what will happen in American politics next year.
[Warning: these all have absolutely no basis in reality, and are all merely the product of an overactive imagination. I am not a psychic nor do I pretend to be one. So there.]
The one thing I won't predict right now is who will be the nominee on either side of the aisle. I'm saving that for later -- probably right before the Iowa caucuses. But in more general terms, I think the Democratic race will be closer than expected in the early states, with John Edwards surprising the media by doing much better than predicted in Iowa. But I think the Democrats' race will essentially be over on February 6th, the day after mega-super-duper-tsunami-Tuesday (when almost half of the state primaries will take place). One candidate will emerge as the frontrunner in a big way, and although they may not formally "win" the nomination until later in the primary schedule, I think at this point Democratic voters will line up behind their apparent nominee.
On the Republican side, the opposite will happen. Historically, GOP voters line up behind their candidates very early in the process, and the Democratic race is usually where the late action is. Just to be contrarian about it (and because I can't resist the irony), I predict that two (or even three) GOP candidates come out of February 5th still in competition. This leads to a reversal of the media's expectations, and suddenly the later states become the big and important primaries. While I won't go so far as predicting a convention fight, I will predict that the Republicans won't know who their nominee is until late in the spring. This will have the effect of making the "money race" extremely important, as everyone still in the race will have to come up with a lot of dough in such a long campaign. This will help weaken the eventual GOP candidate for the general election race (since they'll start the general election with no money in the bank).
With the sheer volume of congressional investigations both ongoing and scheduled, President Bush will continue to have dismal approval ratings throughout next year. This will only get worse if either a Special Counsel or an Independent Counsel is appointed for any of these scandals. If Rudy Giuliani is the GOP nominee, he'll also have Bernard Kerik's trial to contend with. The only thing that could distract people from a constant drumbeat of Republican misdeeds would be some Hollywood type "pulling an O.J." and having their own trial splashed across the front page. This may even come in the form of O.J. himself, facing serious charges in Las Vegas.
Bush's standing in the polls will have a brief upswing, though, when his daughter Jenna surprises everyone by announcing that she's going to have a White House wedding after all. For the first time since Tricia Nixon tied the knot in the Rose Garden, America will be mesmerized by our own version of royalty -- the pomp and circumstance of a formal White House wedding. Bush's numbers will shoot up 10 points in the polls as a result of all the gauzy good feelings this generates... but then he will do or say something monumentally stupid, and his numbers will fall back again.
Ron Paul surprises no one except his hard-core supporters when he loses the Republican race and announces as the Libertarian Party's candidate. All that money has to go somewhere, and Paul figures he can use it to make a run for it as a third-party candidate. After they get over their shock, his supporters decide it's a great idea and rally around.
Surprising many, Vice President Cheney's push for a war with Iran fails. Surprising everyone, Bush (mindful of his legacy) attempts a "Nixon goes to China" moment and reaches out to Iran in an effort to calm the Middle East. This happens as his Israel / Palestine talks fall apart. While Iran turns Bush down, his offer does much to improve America's general image in the region. [OK, this whole paragraph's a long shot, but one can hope...] As a result, oil prices stop their climb. Oil prices stay high, but much more stable.
Iraq will fade as an issue for most voters. It'll still be on their minds, but not their biggest concern. This is due to a number of factors. Voters usually vote their hopes for the future, and the war will be yesterday's news by next fall (as they see it). Troops will slowly come out of Iraq over the summer (the "surge" will end), and this will contribute to the feeling that America's involvement in Iraq is slowly winding down. A surprise will be that the candidates themselves won't be too far apart on the Iraq issue. The Republicans will be claiming victory, the Democrats will be calling it an ongoing disaster -- but both will talk of drawing down troops even further in 2009. Whichever label they want to slap on it, they'll essentially be on the same page about what to do next. One contentious issue will come next summer, when Bush and Maliki hammer out some sort of permanent bases agreement. This news will not help the Republican candidate with a war-weary public.
Terrorism, as always, is a wild card that cannot be predicted. The best I can do is say that if a terrorist attack on America happens, how it plays politically will depend on the timing of the attack. Now, conventional wisdom is that terrorism would likely help the Republican candidate, since America usually moves right on military issues. If a terrorist attack happens just before the election, this will most likely be the case. But if it happens earlier, say two months before the election, then voters may have enough time to consider how Republicans handled the last crisis (and how, as a result, Osama Bin Laden is still at large) and may decide to try the Democrats' approach this time. But like I said, the whole issue is a wild card that defies prediction.
Rather than Iran or Iraq, a foreign policy crisis appears in an area of the world that America is completely ignoring. This could happen in any number of ways. Here's one example: China has been preparing for the Olympics for decades now, and they see it as a gigantic PR exercise to showcase their country to the world. Because of this, Taiwan realizes that it is the perfect time to act, and makes a big step toward independence... two weeks before the Olympics start. What can China do at this point? Start lobbing missiles while the television cameras of the world are watching? America is caught by surprise, as is everyone else in the world. Now, I have no idea how that would play out, but remember, that's just one example of many possibilities.
As the election season gets underway in the fall, the Republicans (pushed by a very vocal faction of their base) decide that the wedge issue for this election is illegal immigration. Immigrants are demonized at the GOP convention, and the candidate continues this rhetoric on the campaign trail. This is mostly due to the "tough on terror" issue not having much traction with the voters anymore. The GOP calculates they can peel off blue-collar Democrats with the issue, but they have badly misjudged how the issue resonates and wind up dividing their own party over the issue. Moderate Republican voters in the suburbs and independent voters turn away from the GOP in droves.
While the immigration issue isn't a priority for voters, the economic issues are. This helps the Democratic nominee immensely, since given a choice between "Health care is broken, I have an idea for how to fix it" and the Republican line of "We can't change a single thing, health care is doing just fine," voters are going to gravitate towards the Democrat, even if they don't agree fully with their plan to fix it. This same scenario plays out on all kinds of economic issues, since voters trust Democrats to do a much better job on economics than Republicans. Congress, entering the home stretch before the election, starts forcing votes on all kinds of things Republicans hate (but voters love) to drive this point home.
The election finally rolls around, after eighteen gazillion dollars' worth of television ads have been aired. The country breathes a sigh of relief, and elects the Democratic nominee President. Democrats pick up 15-30 seats in the House, and 6-8 seats in the Senate. Republicans contest the election, claiming the Democrats were using charisma-enhancing substances, but nobody (except late night comics) pays them any attention. Joe Lieberman, realizing how marginalized he's become, announces in a huff that he's switching parties and becomes a Republican. Nobody at all pays any attention whatsoever -- further annoying Lieberman.
The President-elect announces their first action will be to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The world breathes a sign of relief. Actually, so does America, as we realize the Bush era is just about over.
Oh, and the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series. Heh heh.
Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com