President Obama will win re-election in 2012 by default. My prediction is somewhere around 51-49 or 52-48, but the actual margin is irrelevant. He either wins or he doesn’t.

He wins.

There are two or three specific, identifiable reasons he’ll win.

The first and most important is the absolute lack of a truly credible, defect-free Republican challenger. Every potential Republican opponent of Obama has at least one highly-visible shortcoming that the liberal MSM will trumpet loud and long. Remember, this election—like every Presidential election—will be decided by the “mushy middle” 20%: the so-called swing voters, most of whom are only casually-attentive and only somewhat familiar with the details and particulars of the issues. The Liberals and Conservatives can count on their respective loyal 40% each, like always.

A quick rundown:

Mike Huckabee—Well-spoken, presents well, works the MSM reasonably well, but regarded by many hard-core Conservatives as too soft and accommodating on certain issues and would be portrayed by the MSM as somewhat unserious, not true Presidential material, a great talk show host but do you want him as President?

Mitt Romney—The MSM will bend over backwards to play up his Mormon religion, all the while saying “it shouldn’t matter.” His MA healthcare experience will be an anchor around his foot, and again, the MSM will be only too happy to highlight that aspect of his past. His apparent flip-flop on abortion is another gift to the MSM. Lots of “ups” (business acumen, Presidential appearance/demeanor, executive experience, decision-making ability, etc.), but lots of easily-exploited “downs.”

Newt Gingrich—A brilliant man who would never get past the MSM’s smear campaign. From his multiple infidelities (and his tortured explanations of same) to his role as the anti-Clinton to his “causing” the 1995 Government Shutdown, Gingrich will be torpedoed before he ever sets sail. He’ll never get half-plus-one of that middle 20%. Never.

Tim Pawlenty—Solid Conservative bonafides, wrapped up in a too-boyish exterior, combined with near-zero national visibility and topped off with a forgettable, sleep-inducing presentation style. Other than that, perfect.

Donald Trump—Has the right positions on every issue. Has great populist appeal. His recent exposure on O’Reilly boosted him to near-serious status. But again, the MSM will have an absolute field day with his cartoonish-like resume, his playboy past, his total lack of political experience. He has undeniable strengths, but also undeniable—and most likely, insurmountable—vulnerabilities.

The Bachmanns, Palins, Rands, et. al. are even less viable on the national stage. Think in terms of that middle 20%–can anyone of them get that group? No.

The Pences, Jindals, Rubios aren’t yet ready for prime time. In 2016, any of that group would be regarded as a very strong contender. But not in 2012.

Reason number two:
Things are getting better. At least a bit. They’re not getting demonstrably worse. Unemployment is down, job creation is up, and the overall outlook is a little more optimistic. The old saw, “Are you better off than you were four years ago” won’t really apply. What people will ask themselves is, “Are you better off—or at least more optimistic—than you were at the lowest depths of a few years ago?” It doesn’t matter that the lowest depths of a few years ago was during Obama’s first term. Obama will spin this—and the MSM will buttress this—to come across as, “Things have improved since I’ve been in charge.”

It’s a much tougher communications proposition for the Republicans to convince the public of this: “Yes, things might be a little bit better, but they’d be even better than they are if we’d been in charge.” That’s a very difficult needle to thread, communications-wise. It’s like a drowning man being pulled to safety in a life preserver that’s just been thrown to him. He’s ecstatic and grateful. Someone standing on the shore next to the rescuer, shouting out, “We’re glad you’re safe, but we could have rescued you 11 minutes faster,” won’t have much effect. As the economy continues to improve and the employment situation continues to solidify, that’s the position Republicans will find themselves in.

Reason number three:
The spending/deficit “crisis” is too vague and oblique to the average casually-attentive voter (that middle 20%) to have any real impact. The Republican Party—as usual—has done their customary poor job of distilling important issues down into terms the average voter can grab onto. Paul Ryan may have an understanding of this country’s finances well beyond anyone else in the Government (he does, actually), but if the importance and relevance of those issues isn’t being communicated to the public in understandable terms that they can relate to in their day-to-day lives, it doesn’t matter one whit. This is the Republicans’ biggest issue, and they haven’t meaningfully communicated its importance at all. This is completely Boehner’s fault.

There is still plenty of chance for Obama to blow it: If gasoline pricing goes over $4.50/gal and his poor/non energy policy gets the blame, if he continues to look too soft and indecisive in foreign affairs, if the economy slips back and the recovery stalls, if he has a “Poland isn’t dominated by the Soviets” moment in the debates—there are a lot of things that may still sour his re-election chances. But if both sides play to form and the economy and world affairs don’t fly off the charts, Obama wins.