Getting Primaried Does It?

November 22, 2010 9:55 a.m.

We’ve gotten a flood of responses to my post on the presidency and the power of incumbency. If I can say so, quite a few have written in before reading the whole post. The best critique I think is to ask whether incumbency hasn’t been becoming less important in recent decades. After all, Carter and Bush I were both pretty recent. But TPM Reader MS raises a different point …

You’re on target, but the common denominator that removes squishiness from the Ford/Johnson types and the Carter/Bush types -at least in the “modern” era, say, post-1960, when the democratization of the nominating process really began, is whether the incumbent gets a primary challenger. Johnson had McCarthy; Ford had Reagan; Carter had Kennedy; Bush had Buchanan. Nominating contests split and demoralize parties and reveal political weakness for the incumbent. So the White House should be working to ensure nobody primaries Obama.

An interesting question, of course, is who would be tempted to? Somebody from the left, obviously. Feingold, Kucinich? Others?

In most respects, I think that we’re talking about a confusion of causes and effects. Presidents who are politically wounded and/or leading fractured coalitions get primaried. Which is another way of stating that getting primaried is a symptom of weakness, not a cause. But these things can catalyze each other and cause and effect in the political world isn’t always so clear cut. But yes, if I were Obama, I’d be watching this front very closely.

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