Anna Fifield: What was that about?

by Anna Fifield / 24 November, 2012
Normality – such as it is – returns to the US capital.
Anna Fifield


Washington DC is beginning to get over the hangover from the US$6 billion, year-long advertising assault that was the 2012 election campaign. After all the money, effort and negativity, many people in America (including me) are now wondering: what was that all about? The same guy is in the White House, Democrats keep control of the Senate, the House remains the Republicans’ and legislative gridlock is still on the menu du jour. If 2008 was all about change, 2012 was about the status quo. But there were other clear winners and losers.

Winner: Nate Silver. The psephological whizz-kid who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog correctly predicted the winner of the presidential election in all 50 states. He had angered Republicans by predicting increasingly good odds for an Obama victory – 90% by election day – even as the polls showed Romney gaining on the President. One conservative pollster even belittled him as “a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice”. It turned out Silver was, in fact, not quite rosy enough in his forecasts. He predicted Obama would win 313 electoral college votes but in the end, the President won 332. Suddenly, those critical Republicans are nowhere to be found. Perhaps they’re out there looking for their own Nate Silver for 2016?

Loser: The Republican party. Yes, the Grand Old Party retains control of the House, giving it the power to obstruct Obama’s legislative programme. But for the second election in a row, Republicans failed to take the Senate. In 2010, they fielded oddballs like the self-confessed witch from Delaware, losing what should have been easy seats. This time, candidates in Missouri and Indiana uttered statements about rape that made Mad Men look progressive. The question now is whether the party recognises the path to electoral victory lies through the centre, or if it continues to remain hostage to Tea Party hardliners. My guess is the Tea Party will say it wasn’t conservative enough.

Winner: Hillary Clinton. Having become the undisputed star of the Obama administration, the secretary of state will leave office as one of the most popular politicians in the US. I wonder what odds Nate Silver would give a Hillary 2016 run? As Clinton prepares to leave, Washington’s pundits are speculating about her successor. John Kerry is clearly dying for the job, but the election has thrown up a complication. After a tight race, Democrat Elizabeth Warren ousted Scott Brown, the moderate Republican who won Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts two years ago. Democrats are going to be loath to risk Brown winning Kerry’s seat in a special election. That may spell more political disappointment for the former presidential hopeful.

Loser: David Petraeus. Oh, America’s favourite general, what were you thinking? After a glorious military career and plaudits for his work in Iraq and Afghanistan, Petraeus was installed as head of the CIA and was said to have presidential ambitions. But all that came crashing down with revelations of his affair with Paula Broadwell, the army reservist, iron woman and Harvard graduate who wrote a hagiography of the general, unfortunately titled All In. The salacious tale has prompted commentators inside the Beltway to indulge in a little armchair psychology. Was it the loneliness of being out of the military cocoon? Did he come to believe his own good press? Whatever the reasons, it’s a good old-fashioned sex-and-spying scandal that is acting as post-election methadone to Washington’s political junkies.
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