Two (Disastrous) Scenarios for a 2012 Democratic Primary.

This is delusional:

But there is a real way to save the Obama presidency: by challenging him in the 2012 presidential primaries with a candidate who would unambiguously commit to a well-defined progressive agenda and contrast it with the Obama administration's policies. [...]

Far from weakening his chances for reelection, this kind of progressive primary challenge could save Obama if he moves in the desired direction. And if he holds firm to his current track, he's a goner anyway.

Progressives who look at a primary challenge against Obama and think, "Why not?" should really think twice about the idea; Obama isn't perfect, but a primary challenge would sharply divide the Democratic Party and destroy any chance Democrats have at holding the presidency in 2012.

Here's why: Within the party, Barack Obama draws his strongest support from African Americans and liberal whites, while his weakest support comes from the white moderates and conservatives that are the party's majority. This alone means that a 2012 Democratic primary would be a racially divisive affair -- far more than 2008 -- with African Americans (and some white liberals) lining up to support Obama, while the remaining white majority lines up behind Obama's (likely) white challenger.

Moreover, there are two ways a primary challenge from the left could turn out. The first, and most probable, is that Obama tacks right to capture the moderate and conservative Democrats integral to any primary victory. With those and African American votes in tow, Obama would win the primary without any semblance of an obligation to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Odds are very good that he would lose a general election (see: Jimmy Carter), but if he didn't, progressives risk shutting themselves out from his administration, to say nothing of future Democratic presidencies.

The other possibility is that Obama moves to capture the left, alienating his already shaky support among Democratic moderates and conservatives and giving his opponent a wide opening. Obama's challenger would occupy the center and right flank of the Democratic Party, capturing a majority of white votes and winning the primary. In this scenario, the ostensibly "progressive" challenger would finish well to the right of Obama, leaving progressives without a real voice in the general election. Worse, once the general election came, there's a good chance that alienated black voters would sit out. After all, why should they support the party that supported the white Democrats who attacked the first African American president? Without black voters to volunteer, organize, and form the margin of victory in crucial states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, the new Democratic candidate would fall easily to his GOP challenger, himself/herself propelled by an eager and unified Republican base.

Either way, progressives lose in a big way. So, instead of fantasizing about a primary challenge against Obama, disgruntled liberals should work to reform the Senate and challenge the conservatives and moderates who have been the main obstacle to progressive reform in Congress.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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