Once Americans get a whiff of Gingrich's extremism, the president may easily be re-elected.
NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I'm beginning to think that President Obama may actually be re-elected next November.
I'm serious. He may actually pull it off. But let's be clear about the reason, which really has nothing to do with the man himself. He certainly is not showing any more gumption than he had previously displayed against the Republicans, even though he delivered a nice, populist speech the other day.
Obama stands a reasonably good chance because it's just become official: The president will be running against Barry Goldwater next fall.
I came to the realization that we were going to have a Barry vs. Barry contest when I heard that Newt Gingrich had pandered to Jewish and evangelical voters in a manner that had not been seen since Moses had a one-on-one with the Burning Bush.
In an effort to win over pro-Israel voters, Gingrich went all out to be more Israeli than the Israelis, engaging in the cynical, low-risk stratagem of castigating the Palestinians as an "invented" people. It's hard to think of anything more downright irresponsible. It's like saying that Jews are "invented" because many may not trace their roots back to ancient Judea. (Which, by the way, is just what extremists and anti-Semites do say.)
It was needless, stupid, incendiary rhetoric. Israeli politicians haven't talked like that since the early 1970s, because they know that such statements are inflammatory and achieve no useful purpose. But it was typical of what we've been hearing from the Republican candidates for president. We've been treated to more and more irresponsible extremism and serial stupidity, whether it was Rick Perry's anti-gay TV commercial or Mitt Romney's "I'll bet you $10,000 of my pocket change" or pretty much everything emerging from the phony populist Ron Paul.
What seemed at first to be just another effort to pander to a particular constituency has, I think, a more global implications. It means that the Republican candidates have joined hands and leapt off the charts. After outflanking each other on the right at each succeeding debate and public appearance, they have finally pushed each other so far out of the mainstream that they stand a good chance of repeating the debacle of 1964, in which Lyndon Baines Johnson wiped up the floor with Goldwater, making an issue of the latter's extremism.
And, remarkably, they managed to do this without Sarah Palin being in the race.
As some of us may recall, Goldwater was an Arizona Republican senator who was actually quite a smart man, an author and thinker, a bit in the Ron Paul mold though not being anywhere near as extreme as Paul in his embrace of laissez-faire capitalism. Goldwater, like Paul, opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and famously said that "extremism in the pursuit of liberty is no vice." In the 1964 Republican convention, he triumphed over Nelson Rockefeller to drag his party to one of the worst shellackings in U.S. history.
The 1964 campaign was, mind you, a veritable Lincoln-Douglas debate in comparison with the coarse no-nothingism of the 2012 contest. Johnson's famous "Daisy" TV ad might have been heavy-handed, but it was a reasonably fair representation of the possible consequences of Goldwater's extremism.
President Obama is, of course, no Lyndon Baines Johnson. He faces a Republican House and a de facto Republican-controlled Senate, and he is weak and vacillating. But his numerous shortcomings will fade into the background if his opponent is extremist. And that's precisely how the race is shaping up.
The Republican candidates have already made themselves vulnerable to attack from Democrats by endorsing efforts to weaken Social Security and Medicare -- the two programs that are likely to galvanize senior citizens, and almost-senior citizens, across the nation. Mitt Romney, who distanced himself from Gingrich's Palestinian remarks, has embraced Paul Ryan's Medicare-disembowelment proposal. Gingrich has taken a more moderate stance, leading to attacks from Romney, which I'm sure will push Gingrich to the right on that issue.
If Obama carefully orchestrates his campaign in states like Florida on that issue alone, he is likely to have a major advantage. After all, think about it: Whatever your feelings on those two programs, who is more likely to keep them as they are: Obama, the robo-candidate Romney or the hard-edged, uncompassionate conservative Gingrich?
While Israel is also something of a wedge issue, and Obama has done a poor job on that front, it can be dealt with more easily. Some well-timed gestures, such as a trip to that country, will likely sooth irritated feelings on that issue and counteract grandstanding by Gingrich, et al. Whatever his other shortcomings, keep in mind that Obama is a survivor and a veteran of Chicago Democratic politics. He may not be good at many things, but he knows how to run for office.
The Republicans have gotten themselves into this looming mess all by themselves, without any help from Obama. By all rights, Obama should be facing Jimmy Carter's fate, because he is comparable with our 39th president in many ways.
The Carter-Obama parallels became obvious nearly two years ago, when Obama famously railed against the banks at the same time that a Supreme Court decision ensured that corporate money would flood the campaign coffers of the Republican opposition. By the summer of this year, the parallels between the failed Carter presidency and Obama's had become even clearer.
But thanks to the resurrection of Barry Goldwater, the Carter analogy no longer holds, even though Obama has certainly not morphed into the dealmaker and legislative master that Johnson surely was.
True, these GOP candidates are stumble-bums, and there is an outstanding chance that Gingrich will drop into a sinkhole just as Herman Cain did. My suspicion is that another sex scandal might loom in this gent's past, or perhaps another high-priced lobbying gig may surface. Or maybe he'll stick his Florsheims in his mouth too deeply, so that they cannot be dislodged.
If so, that is likely to leave the Republicans with one of the most dislikeable candidates the party has ever offered up to national office, a man who has staked out positions on many issues that is so extreme that it's hard to see how his legendary flip-flopping is going to save him.
Eleven months from now, I'll bet that voters will overcome their dislike of the president when they confront the extremism of his opponent, and that Obama's machine will do a fine job of highlighting that extremism -- just as Johnson did.
Remember that Johnson was no prize either. Obama, with all his many flaws, is actually extracting us from two wars, not getting us into one. And I'm not aware of him picking up any dogs by their ears.