In the election for president, the campaigns of President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will focus their efforts on framing the choice for Americans. After all, the framing of the question will more likely than not decide how the election turns out.
Unquestionably, Romney will attempt to keep voters laser focused on the economy. Every day that the election is about the economy, Romney believes he is winning.
Incumbents do not fare very well when jobs are in short supply and times are tough. Indeed, French President Nicholas Sarkozy learned this lesson just recently.
Yet, in the world of presidential politics, talking about controlling the message is very different than actually doing it. The president has an almost unmatched ability to dictate and dominate news cycles.
In just the last two weeks, Obama has traveled to Afghanistan and announced his change in opinion in favor of same-sex marriages. The impact has been days and days of news cycles about things that do not involve even the mention of the word or concept of the "economy" — and that for the Obama team is a win.
In fact, every day that the 2012 election is about anything other than the economy, Obama avoids losing and increases his chances of winning. Incumbent presidents have enormous advantages. So, if he can avoid losing, Obama has to believe he will win in the end.
One of the "anything other than the economy" topics for Obama’s team will almost certainly be Romney himself. As a result, Obama’s team will try hard to make the election a choice — with Romney as a worse choice than another four years of Obama.
As different as every presidential election is, these are the contests that have been fought in presidential politics since George Washington. The future of presidencies turn on exactly how the election was framed. If the election was a referendum on an unacceptable economy, then incumbent presidents (of both parties) lost.
If the election was a choice with one candidate becoming unacceptable, then incumbent presidents won — even amidst tough economic times. But, some elections involve more and the 2012 presidential election appears to be one of those elections. Over the course of American history, there are elections in which a fundamental realignment of the electorate happens that can last for decades.
After all, the Democratic Party was not always the home of most African-American voters. It was Republican President Abraham Lincoln that signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
And, the South was not always friendly territory for Republicans. In the days of Sens. Richard Russell and Herman Talmadge, Democrats ruled. But, transformational elections changed all of that.
It is not just the Internet and cable news that make this election different. Instead, there is a transformational undercurrent in the 2012 election that involves the roles of women and faith in the modern political world.
In modern political history, Republicans have relied heavily on social conservatives to win national and state elections including the presidency in 2000 and 2004. On the other hand, Democrats have increasingly relied on a noticeable gender gap among voters with growing support among women helping elect Obama in 2008.
The 2012 political gambit by Obama and Democrats is to force women to chose between their faith and selective women’s issues in hopes that Republicans lose part of their base, and Democrats create another reliable political constituency.
To create this dynamic, the Obama Administration orders all institutions to provide free contraceptives, even religious institutions whose faith does not permit it.
In the high stakes game of presidential politics, the goal is simple — a political wedge aimed at breaking women from their faith using narrowly defined issues. Ultimately, the long term political goal is to break the historic role of faith as a critical factor in American politics by separating women from other social conservatives.
Women have comprised a majority of eligible voters in the U.S. since 1964. In 1980, the number of women who actually voted comprised a majority in the presidential election for the first time. And, while women do not, like some groups, vote as a monolith, gender gaps among women can, and often do decide elections.
The election of the president is big enough. But, as President Richard Nixon’s election in 1968 proved, bigger dynamics can be at play when one of these transformational moments comes along in the course of national politics.
No Democratic presidential candidate has carried the South since 1968. Watch for the role of women in 2012.
Randy Evans is an Atlanta attorney with McKenna Long & Aldrige LLP. He is the former general counsel of the Georgia Republican Party and remains active in the party on both the state and national level. He can be reached at www.mckennalong.com or McKenna Long & Aldrige LLP, Suite 5300, 303 Peachtree St., Atlanta, Ga. 30308.