I can’t believe it was a simpler time for politics back in 2012. It felt like there was really something boiling under the lid, something about to spill over and really harm the country. Of course, that feeling ended up proving true in 2016, when the forces under the surface of the prior election cycle became the ultimate symbol of chaos and division for the United States.
The GOP presidential primaries that year were a battle for the soul of the party, where Tea Party demagogues like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum dueled against the big business establishment of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich and against the libertarian populism of Ron Paul. A holy war was being waged, and the eventual result, four years later, was that all three of these factions would collide into the socially conservative, big business populist known as, uh, that one guy who became President in 2016.
But despite the dramatic, almost spiritual conflict that changed the face of an entire party, it was clear pretty much from the onset that the winner would be Mitt Romney, and he won pretty handily. While Mitt’s entire campaign revolved around the strange, Fox News-driven idea that President Obama had been running the country into the ground (clearly he hadn’t), the entire narrative quickly became about Mitt the businessman, and that was something that fueled his entire persona.
Poor guy never really stood a chance. Obama may have been unpopular, but in the midst of Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movement, both focused on overthrowing or rising up against the perceived corrupt status quo that threw the world into the Great Recession, Mitt was THE icon of the establishment.
The Obama reelection campaign leaned so hard into the Romney-as-a-heartless-businessman idea that it fully defined the 2012 campaign. Nevermind that, in retrospect, Obama was part of many of those same elite, big business circles. Mitt was a symbol who existed almost solely to be destroyed.
So the 2012 presidential campaign, then, took a somewhat… interesting turn when it came to the dynamics between our two leading candidates.
I’m talking about Obama x Romney fan works.
Maybe it was because the internet, already predisposed to ship any two men or any two women who come within a yard of each other, saw the two campaign against each other as heated, but not bitter, rivals. Everyone knows rivals make a good pair. Maybe it was because they were both relatively handsome; Mitt, especially, looked far younger than his age, while Obama had aged the most gracefully of any first-term President (barring Jimmy Carter <3). Maybe it was more just the absurdity of presidential campaigns leads to absurd things spawning forth in response.
Whatever it was, here we got the first, and as far as I can find, only widespread example of Presidential Candidate Shipping.
My personal theory is that this was due to happen at some point, but factors were just never right for any other election. McCain x Obama in 2008 would have been weird and off-putting due to the large age gap and McCain’s inability to raise his arms above his chest hampering most sexual encounters. Bush x Kerry may have existed in 2004, but not enough for me to find any evidence of it (though those miniclip flash games sure were fun). Before that, the internet wasn’t used enough and our hyper-ironic self-mocking culture had not advanced quite as far as it needed for there to be such a moronic and great thing such as Presidential Candidate Shipping. Once we reached that point, though, it was only a matter of time.
The recurring meme that Obama was a secret weeaboo also played into this:
If Obama had wall scrolls of underaged anime girls on the wall of his bedroom, perhaps he was also interested in kissing his main political rival, too!
Things never got so prominent that news outlets would report on it. Nerd culture had become increasingly mainstream by 2012, but they were not yet to the point where the Times and the Post would report on memes (sadly that would take another four years). So Obama x Romney languished in relative obscurity, never to fully reappear after Romney’s closer-than-expected defeat that November.
Even so… I still cherish it.
It really feels like a simpler, happier time back then. We just didn’t know how good we had it, when even as contentious as the 2012 election was, it was so much more civil, so much more “wholesome” than what came after.
I actually had some 2012 fan fiction myself, back in the day. After one of the debates, I released the EP called Horses & Bayonets, featuring some of my most allegorical, most terrible music to date. Then later, I wrote an Obama x Romney short story called First Debate, which I will release to the public for I believe the very first time now. Read it here and feel what it was like to be both politically active and a teenager eight years ago.
The whole endeavor was so ridiculous and silly to me that it directly inspired the creation of the 2016 Election: The Series short story series written on Home Clipart Animal Deer for the duration of that campaign. So I am very glad it happened.
We may never again fall into the graces of a presidential campaign whose candidates are shipped together by teens. The 2016 election, consisting of Clinton and that one other guy, was toxic far beyond the point where ironic shipping could be possible (plus heterosexual ships are boring). 2020 looks to be the same way, and depending on its outcome, we may not ever reach a point of “civility” where two men (or two women!) of differing political party, of differing backgrounds, can come together and… er, yeah.