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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Madison and the 2012 Election

James Madison is a player in the 2012 election. As Dan Balz explains in The Washington Post, three constraints facing GOP presidential candidates are federalism, bicameralism, and the separation of powers:

Will congressional Republicans smartly navigate these battles in a way that wins public support or misplay their hand in ways that damage the party’s presidential nominee in 2012?

The presidential candidates are mostly powerless to affect to how these events play out. In the meantime, they will have to decide whether to stand with those in the party who call for confrontation or those willing to try to negotiate a real agreement with Obama and the Democrats.

Republican presidential candidates have faced this problem before. In 1996, Bob Dole was hostage to the House Republicans, led by then-Speaker (and now likely 2012 candidate) Newt Gingrich, in the showdown with then-President Bill Clinton. Dole advisers watched helplessly as Gingrich helped force a government shutdown that helped boost Clinton’s standing and make the general election a foregone conclusion. Four years later, George W. Bush outlined his disagreements with House Republicans to appeal to swing voters.

The second arena where events are playing out with broad implications for 2012 is the states. Here, too, Republican presidential candidates are mostly bystanders to battles that will shape the 2012 landscape.

Republican governors and legislators are showing the public an undiluted model of conservative governance, which could come to Washington in 2013 if the GOP were to win the White House, pick up the Senate and hold the House.


Prospective presidential candidates have applauded the governors’ actions but have little power over how effectively those state executives manage their politics. Polls show the public has greater sympathy for the position of the unions than the governors. With possible recall elections coming in Wisconsin and a possible referendum in Ohio, the battle for public opinion is far from over.