The conventional wisdom these days says that the 2012 election will be all about the economy. In this case, that conventional wisdom might be right - although world events have a way of interrupting things when we least expect it. So who knows what might happen in the next 12 months?
Of course the reason the economy is likely to dominate the election is that things are still pretty bad in that arena. Whether or not the Republicans can garner much support for their ideas that got us into this mess in the first place remains to be seen.
But not often mentioned is the fact that another reason the economy will be front and center is that the other areas where Republicans usually focus have been pretty much taken off the table.
First and foremost of these is that Republicans have usually been given a lot of credit (undeserved in my opinion) for foreign policy and President Obama has taken that issue away from them. On everything from Osama bin Laden to trade deals, he's shown mastery in his ability to promote our security by being an effective world partner rather than a bully.
Of course he had an "assist" in all of that from Bush/Cheney with their colossal failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even now as the few remaining neo-cons try to ramp up fear about Iran, its clear that the American public is war-weary and not likely to respond to any ideas about starting up yet another one.
The other staple Republicans have used in past elections is to pick wedge issues and inflame culture wars. As we saw this week in Mississippi with the so-called "personhood amendment", that one isn't likely to work for them either. At this point, picking on gay rights is - at best - a 50/50 proposition in this country and could lose them as much support as it might gain. So I don't think they'll go there either.
During this primary season most of the Republican candidates have decided it is in their interest to play to the nativistic instincts in their base by going after immigrants. But I suspect that if Romney is the eventual nominee, he'll play that one down in the general election. As we saw this week in the Univision poll, he's only getting 24% of the Latino vote in critical states and another form of conventional wisdom says that Republicans need close to 40% to win a national election.
Of course on the broader issue of racism, I imagine that the dog whistles to the white working class will continue. As I've written about before, their strategy seems to be that they've conceded votes from people of color and will try to keep President Obama from getting the 40% of the white vote he needs to win.
So absent any world-changing events - it IS likely to be all about the economy (and dog whistles), stupid. Over the next year as the Republicans focus on restoring defense cuts from the deficit reduction deal and extending the Bush tax cuts, it will become increasingly obvious that they don't really care about the deficit. And then the question becomes: other than tax cuts for the wealthy (combined with tax increases for the poor and middle class) and deregulation (which got us into this mess in the first place), what is it exactly that the Republicans have going for them?