Back in the 1976 presidential race—Jimmy Carter’s team anticipated a simple political phenomenon: after Vietnam and in the midst of the Watergate Scandal, the American voter wanted the ‘opposite’ of President Nixon.
Whereas Nixon was seen as a liar, dour, an insider and ‘part of the problem,’ Team Carter created the Mirror Opposite: Jimmy Carter was made into a smiling outsider who “will never lie to the American people.”
That simple strategy worked - and Carter pulled off the greatest upset in primary history when he won the Democratic nomination in the spring of 1976. Carter was a former one-term Governor of Georgia - and an almost complete unknown outside his home state.
But he worked Iowa house by house, farm by farm and when he won the caucuses he got the Big Mo and off he went.
His message - that he was the ‘opposite of Nixon’ - propelled him to the White House.
2008 is a similar situation: the nation is sick and tired of the Iraq War and over 60% believe President Bush is “not honest and trustworthy.” And - since Katrina and Iraq - they no longer think he is even competent to run the federal government.
The GOP scandals - from Mark Foley to Attorney General Gonzalez to Valerie Plame to Jack Abramoff to missing emails to Haliburton and on and on - have stripped the GOP of any ethical or moral advantage we used to have over the Clinton-dominated Democratic Party.
No wonder so many more people now declare themselves to be Democrats: in the latest Pew Survey, 50% say they are Democrats, and only 29% as Republicans. Back in 2002, it was 43-43.
So there has been huge erosion for the Republicans - and that saddles the GOP with Big Trouble going into 2008.
The Democrat with the best chance is - using the 1976 model as an example - the Mirror Opposite of Bush: an outsider, a new political person, who is seen as honest and trustworthy and competent.
Hillary - contrary to Rush Limbaugh’s wild prediction that it is 80% likely she will be the next president - does not fill the bill as the Mirror Opposite. In fact, she is having trouble in the Democratic primary states precisely because she is so like Bush: Can’t be trusted, comes from an ‘insider political family’ and was for the Iraq War.
Barack Obama is - so far - the most ‘opposite of Bush’ candidate.
But will this country elect an African American man president in 2008? Doubtful.
So we still have yet to find the Mirror Opposite candidate who can win in 2008.
It is possible that candidate could be an Independent Third Candidate - a true outsider who runs against both parties; we have to consider the possibility that in a year, when the two nominees have been picked, the nation will be sick of them and still facing eight months more of campaigning. Perhaps a fresh face could invigorate an electorate still thirsting for change.
Or perhaps another GOP candidate this year will step forward. So far, it is clear that none of the Republican candidates are catching on: McCain is fading (thank goodness!), Giuliani is not as ‘hot’ as he was a month ago and seems headed down a bit (don’t trust him - there is more dirt to come), Romney can raise money but his flip-flopping has really crippled him. Fred Thompson is about to enter the race and will zoom upwards right away - more out of a thirst for a new candidate than anything he brings to the table. His problems: tied-to-the-hip with John McCain for a decade on all of McCain’s issues, including McCain/Feingold; already too close to the neo-cons; lazy during his time in the Senate and not hungry to change the country. Yes, he does have the TV/Hollywood angle going for him - and, the minute he announces, he will have tons of attention. But can he sustain and hold that attention? Will he want to play the Mirror Opposite of Bush? Doubtful.
We still have a long way to go.
Keep looking for the Mirror Opposite - as that might be the next President.