Presidential Care

Michigan’s voice in the 2012 presidential race could decide the election.

I have this pet theory about presidential politics. It seems to me, after almost 30 years of covering politics, that the candidate who raises the MOST MONEY tends to go on to win the election. It sounds crazy, but look it up.

OK, so that’s beyond obvious. But here’s where I believe the misread comes into play in many elections, and certainly in the 2008 edition: The money doesn’t come in merely as faith and commitment to ideas; it comes in more as a wager on a winner. It’s less church and more Vegas.

So when I hear the now-tired observation that Barack Obama was the chief beneficiary of Wall Street contributors the last time around and is, therefore, the darling — and, less flatteringly, the operative — of big business and the still largely unruly banking industry, my hunch is that the money poured in because of what had become glaringly obvious to the moneyed (who generally hope to remain so): Obama was a far better bet than McCain.

The victors don’t win because they raise the most money. They raise the most money because they’re going to win. Support the winner even though he doesn’t share your outlook, and you can still get some face-time every once in a while. Support a noble, but lost, cause? That’s not even romantic anymore.

When the tallies in June showed the Wall Street money lining up behind Mitt Romney at a rate of 6 to 1, what did it really mean? Had Wall Street suddenly fallen out of love with the president? In a manner of speaking, yes — not with his politics, but with Obama’s prospects of winning in November.

It’s a lot like watching the stock market. Each day’s spending is just a snapshot, a single moment in an otherwise very changeable and highly charged atmosphere. And there’s a thrilling pair of wild cards that have been shuffled into the deck — especially for Michigan, which is setting up as one of the swing states so many desire to be.

A swing state? Are we really having this conversation with a Michigan-born son of a Michigan governor in the race? This should be an easy layup. But you can turn a layup into a difficult, left-handed, 30-foot jump shot when you’ve penned a New York Times column titled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” (never mind that the headline didn’t quite match the copy).

Even stickier has been Romney’s inelegant effort to take credit for the eventual resurgent outcome. But the bellwether worth watching on the auto bailout political calculus has been Bob Lutz. The former GM vice chairman took on Romney with sneering gusto this spring, as GM and Chrysler were doing a kind of Lazarus dance around the bailout critics.

Perhaps predictably, by early summer Lutz had returned to the family of Romney supporters, saying: “All is forgiven.” Where else is there for a devout conservative to go? One of my political mentors used to say, “There is no such thing as permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests” — a very helpful lens through which to view the to-and-fro of money and endorsements in any campaign.

And that’s why the other wild card is so intriguing. In late June, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts gave us a whiplash ending worthy of Keyser Soze, the Turkish criminal mastermind in the movie, The Usual Suspects. Obamacare gives us a cause that sets up nicely for those who prefer single-issue campaigns. And yet, that one issue, which so galvanizes conservatives, finds in Mitt Romney an imperfect servant. Just as with the auto bailout, Romney is left with a cumbersome and untidy position against his own past.

The Massachusetts health care plan he ferried through as governor requires an exhaustive and Byzantine defense against its comparisons to the Obama healthcare reform law. (It’s never a good sign when you have to explain why your position is what it is, instead of what others believe it appears to be.)

But as you listen for the endorsements and praises that come forth from the business community, be mindful of my mentor’s admonition. A banker I know recently confided that the dirty little secret of the health care debate is the relish that some CEOs are quietly feeling over the potential for clearing employee health care off of their spreadsheets — a possibility that will evaporate if GOP victories in November lead to a full repeal of the law.

I’m not suggesting that the nation’s business leaders will align themselves with the president. I’m merely pointing out that while friends and enemies move around like the old midway game of balls and cups, the interests stay the same. db

Devin Scillian is an anchor for Local 4 WDIV-TV and hosts the Sunday morning news show, “Flashpoint.”