January/ February 2012 What If Obama Loses?

Imagining the consequences of a GOP victory.

By The Editors

Illustration: Jason Seiler

It’s a common complaint—we’ve certainly made it over the years—that too much political campaign coverage focuses on the horse race. The packed debate schedule in the current GOP nomination battle has put a bit more focus than usual on the substance of what the candidates are saying, which is good. But even so, most of this coverage has wound up being about whether a given policy position might help or hurt a candidate’s chances of winning. What’s most important has been left largely unexamined: if one of these candidates actually becomes president and advances his or her policies, what would be the consequences for the nation?

Part of the reason this question is seldom addressed is that it’s genuinely hard to do; it requires thinking three steps ahead and accounting for numerous variables. But there’s also a widespread assumption that extreme positions taken in the primaries will fade in the general election as candidates “move to the center,” and will disappear entirely once the serious business of governing begins. Surely President Newt Gingrich would not get rid of child labor laws. Surely President Perry would not seek to eliminate three cabinet departments.

We don’t think that this year, with this GOP, those assumptions are warranted. And so we asked a distinguished group of reporters and scholars to think through the hitherto unthinkable: What if one of these people actually wins?

Campaign Promises

What they say is how they’ll govern. By Jonathan Bernstein

The Tea Party

Picking the candidates and writing the agenda. By Dave Weigel


The good news is… no more gridlock. By Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein

The Courts

The conservative takeover will be complete. By Dahlia Lithwick

Foreign Affairs

The “more enemies, fewer friends” doctrine. By James Traub

The Environment

The end of the EPA as we know it. By David Roberts

Financial Regulation

Back to the good ol’ days of 2008. By Michael Konczal


It’s toast. By Harold Pollack

The Editors can be found on Twitter: @washmonthly.


  • Bob on January 05, 2012 10:27 AM:

    Without having read the series, I'll bet right now that the GOP will overreach like they did in Ohio and try to kill every Dem or liberal policy/law. I guess people need to elect Republicans every few years to remember why they voted them out.

  • @Bob on January 05, 2012 11:37 AM:

    Hmmm... overreach and then getting voted out of office? Sounds a lot more loke Democrats and liberals to me.

  • MDM on January 05, 2012 11:44 AM:

    We have the religious right who by their own admission want to start wars in the middle east to bring about the end of the world so they can be with their god. And we have the teaparty/libertarians who want to drill baby drill to urge global warming to end the world. We are so very screwed.

  • JWnTX on January 05, 2012 11:45 AM:

    Yeah--a Democrat would know best what "overreach" is...

    Every single one of the last three was a prime example of Democrats overreaching--not just overreaching, but passing laws that were totally out of step with the vast majority of Americans.

    And I pray the Tea Party writes the agenda--it's the only hope we have to survive as a relevant nation. Otherwise, we end up like India--lots of people, little wealth, and absolutely no influence.

  • Pete the Streak on January 05, 2012 11:49 AM:

    @MDM - you have any cites for that absurd claim?

  • USA1st on January 05, 2012 11:52 AM:

    MDM--put away the tin foil hat on the Armageddon thing. And while I'll agree that rational people would be for developing our own resources in order to keep wealth in our country instead of importing our energy needs, the green energy you lefties have promised has failed miserably at every turn. It won't be viable for 50 years, so pretending it will happen if we just wish it so is just lefty fantasy, something the left has become far too expert at crafting.

  • MDM on January 05, 2012 11:57 AM:

    Here in Wichita, Ks the Boeing Corp announced they were shutting down and leaving. Cessna starting leaving two years ago with a large plant built in Mexico. Boeing was started in Wichita during WWll. For over 6 years, our congressmen have fought to get a huge Air Force contract. Now they have decided to leave Kansas. Our congressmen say that Boeing promised to build the planes here and have gone back on their word BUT no one made them sign a contract - they relied on their word. The congressmen are furious. But guess what, every congressman is a teaparty candidate. They believe that corporations are people. And look what that corporation /person did. We didn't even get kissed while they were screwing us. CORPORATIONS ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND, MY FRIEND.

  • Kiweagle on January 05, 2012 12:07 PM:

    @USA1st on January 05, 2012 11:52 AM: Are you referring to that "lefty fantasy" that has allowed Germany to supply 20% of its electricity from solar panels alone, most of which comes from individual homes where they not only get free power, but make a profit selling any surplus energy back on to the grid?

    That's okay, much better to hide under the bed covers, deny the existence of climate change and wonder why the next generation hates your guts for choosing instant gain over any investment in the future. Good luck with the power bill this winter...

  • James on January 05, 2012 12:07 PM:

    MDM: Name one (1) credible "religious right" group that is calling for a war in the Middle East to bring about an end to the world . . . and those calling for the U.S. to explore and capture our own natural resources of oil, natural gas and coal are urging and end to our dependence on foreign "friends" and enemies for our energy needs; drill baby drill has nothing to do with a push for "global warming". USA1st is right . . . take the Reynolds Wrap off your head and step back inside for a rest

  • MDM on January 05, 2012 12:09 PM:

    These are the typical teaparty rely on fox news people. If you people would just read and listen to all sides not just one side then you will realize the republicans are hell bent on hurting this nation and its people just so one man won't get reelected. And if you can't see that - then you aren't aware of what's going on. Your hatred for the dems is blinding you. I know that dems have a lot of blue dogs and are coporate owned. We aren't trying to take away the rich's money so that we can be rich. The point is that they too are Americans like us. They have an unfair advantages: our children go to war and theirs do not (we are more patriotic than they, they have unblievable tax advantages that we don't so we end up paying more taxes than them, the income gap is larger than it was in Roman era. They are taking but not giving and a country cannot survive that way. CORPORATIONS ARE NOT OUR FRIEND, MY FRIEND.

  • S. Wolf on January 05, 2012 12:12 PM:

    When Obama loses, not if. He is strictly a one termer. He has over reached and usurped power and has made himself an illegitimate ruler, not a president. When a GOP president moves into the White House the national nightmare of Obama will be over.

  • MDM on January 05, 2012 12:18 PM:

    In regard to sources of religious right groups that want to end the world: Google the religious groups that sponsored and stood with Rick Perry at his religious prayer gathering in Texas last year before he announced his candicacy for president. Then after you get their names, google each and every one of them and find out their beliefs and agenda. Knowledge takes a little time but you can do it. CORPORATIONS ARE NOT OUR FRIEND, MY FRIEND.

  • MDM on January 05, 2012 12:26 PM:

    Obama has not ursurped his powers. George W administration did. And now the Republican congress is. Now I put it in your ball court - start listing the ways and things that Obama has overreached at. I am assuming that the first you will name will be that he's black and smart. After that it will be a list of fox news lies. You aren't fooling anyone. I'm done talking with you - I've got better things to do. But I will say that you are a very good Republican and have done well today by not listening but spouting the untruth.

    [You get the last word on this thread. The policy of the moderators, who have to read every comment that gets posted to the site, is to simply turn off comments on threads when the real, clear ideologues show up.]