January 26, 2011
The 40-Percent President: Obama's Cruise to ReelectionBy Paul Kengor
We're at the halfway mark of Barack Obama's first term as president. I say "first term" because I'm confident that this isn't his last. Conservatives will not want to hear this, but I've felt all along that Obama will be a two-term president, and nothing I've seen dispels that notion.
My thinking is grounded primarily in two sets of data.
The first is expressed in the title of this article: 40 percent. President Barack Obama does not dip below 40-percent approval. Period.
Liberals called Ronald Reagan the Teflon President. No matter what Reagan did, nothing undermined his presidency. Well, Barack Obama is the 40-Percent President. No matter what Obama does, nothing undermines his presidency -- or at least nothing drops it below 40-percent approval.
Of course, Reagan achieved record approvals, which is how he was reelected by winning 49 states and taking the Electoral College 525-13. I don't expect Obama to get anywhere near that; his disapproval ratings are too sizable. Of course, Obama doesn't need 525 Electoral votes; he needs only enough to win.
It will be difficult to defeat a presidential incumbent who can't seem to ever slip below 40 percent and, in essence, merely needs to muster another 10 percent at election time. Picking up that 10 percent shouldn't be terribly difficult with a public that prefers to know about who's prancing around half-naked on "Dancing with the Stars" or who's stripping on "Desperate Housewives" over bothering with trifling concepts like wealth redistribution, nationalization, progressivism, or negative liberties. One hilarious video clip shows Obama's own supporters literally not knowing the difference between a Kenyan and Keynesian (click here).
It frustrates me when I hear conservative talk show hosts (Sean Hannity especially) shouting, "Obama's approval is dropping like a rock!" Each time I've heard that, I've paused patiently to listen for the information that followed, only to discover that the president's numbers weren't dropping, or were barely dropping, and never below the 40-percent range.
Dropping like a rock? No.
Barack Obama has an incredibly devout base, made up of a handful of super-loyal constituencies. This includes the roughly 20-23 percent of Americans who are genuine liberals. Alas, that's another frustration: Conservatives occasionally claim that Obama's angry left-wing base has turned on him. Nonsense. Sure, liberals fume at Obama now and then, but they're usually angry. In the end, those liberals will never vote for a Republican as president and against Obama. The left is too disciplined.
In short, Obama can do practically anything, including worsen an already awful economy, generate unimaginable debts, and retain a lock on a significant portion of the electorate. Beyond that portion, it's simply a matter of Obama again duping enough of the oblivious -- who pay attention to presidential politics only about four weeks every four years -- and enough of our nation's exalted "moderates" and "independents." These folks are incredibly fickle, often not making up their mind for president until they're in that voting booth, as they did in November 2008.
As I wrote here at the time and have reiterated elsewhere since (click here), these were the dupes that made Obama president. Will they again? They've certainly done nothing to fill me with optimism.
I know the counter-response to this: Kengor, you're wrong -- the moderates and independents that elected Obama in November 2008 bailed on the Democrats in November 2010. Yes, they spurned the Democratic majority in the House in 2010, but that will not necessarily extend to Obama in 2012. Besides, Obama doesn't need all of them. He needs just enough of them.
If Americans were willing to elect a man as far to the left as Obama in November 2008 -- despite his background, his remarkably radical associations, and his highly troubling and still mysterious background -- enough of them will again.
Finally, that brings me to my second set of data: Obama is again surging in the polls, just when it looked like he might dip below 40 percent. (I recall one poll had him momentarily at 39 percent.) As I write, Obama's RealClearPolitics cumulative job approval is 51%. Yes, 51 percent.
That's stunning. After everything that has happened during this man's presidency, from nearly $1 trillion in blown stimulus to nationalizing GM to persistent 10-percent unemployment, and after the Democrats' trouncing in the November midterm, how could Obama suddenly pop above 50%? Was it the rally-round-the-president after the Tucson shooting and Obama's (admittedly) well-done speech? Was it Obama's compromise to extend the Bush tax cuts?
Maybe, in part. But those positives shouldn't outweigh all the negatives. And yet, the negatives haven't sunk Obama. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright may have damned America, but he couldn't damn Obama.
Again, conservatives will not want to hear this. But unlike liberals, we conservatives are supposed to base our judgment not on emotion, but on cold, hard facts, and I fear that my pessimistic appraisal may fall in the category of cold, hard fact.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying conservatives should lie down, roll over, and accept this as a fait accompli. Quite the contrary -- that would be un-American. I'm simply not optimistic.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.