Amateur Hour at the White House
The president's 2012 ship is sinking fast. Over the past several months, things have not been looking very good for President Obama's reelection chances. The president's poll numbers have been the worst of his presidency. The Gallup daily tracking poll has shown the president sink as low as 38% approval with disapproval numbers in the mid- to low 50s. Polling done by Scott Rasmussen shows that only about 42-43% approve of the president's job performance, and a Zogby poll recently showed Obama with a 40% approval rating.
Low numbers in the polls do not mean that a reelection campaign is completely doomed. Obama's team will point to the fact that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were both at one point in the 30s in Gallup and still won their reelection races. They will also mention how President George H.W. Bush's numbers skyrocketed after Operation Desert Storm, and yet he lost his reelection battle in 1992. It requires an amazing amount of wishful thinking and/or political naïveté to look at these examples and think that Obama's race in 2012 is comparable.
Ronald Reagan fell to 35% in the polls in early 1983. This is not exactly prime position to start launching a re-election campaign. The economy, however, was about to begin an incredible expansion with growth at 4.3% in 1983 and 7.3% in 1984. Today, no one is talking about a surge in economic growth and many observers believe we could be headed into a double dip recession. For the Obama team to lean on Reagan's reelection race as a positive example completely ignores the direction of the economy, stupid.
The Clinton example isn't any better. After Clinton suffered a major setback to his health care initiative and lost both Houses of Congress to the GOP for the first time in decades, it appeared he too would limp into his reelection campaign. However, he decided to work with the Republicans in Congress and "triangulate." Passing popular legislation like welfare reform was a reminder that good policy is good politics.
Clinton also faced Bob Dole, the majority leader of the Republican-controlled Senate. The matchup in 1996 was very much a showdown between the White House and the GOP-led Congress. Clinton was able to tie Dole to New Gingrich and other unpopular Republicans in his bid for reelection. With the GOP nominee appearing more and more likely to be former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, or current Texas Governor Rick Perry, President Obama will have difficulty connecting either man to unpopular figures in Congress. The president also has a disadvantage with blaming the legislative branch because his party still remains in control of the Senate.
George H.W. Bush saw the opposite happen to him. For most of his first term he enjoyed strong approval ratings after scoring several foreign policy victories that included the breakup of the Soviet Union and Operation Desert Storm. These ratings were good enough to keep some heavy-hitting Democratic contenders like New York Governor Mario Cuomo out of the race. In the end, however, a weak economy was President Bush's undoing. Bill Clinton was able to connect on a more personal level when it came to bread-and-butter issues at a time when foreign policy was not much of a concern to the American people since the Cold War had ended.
The current president and his team have brought a lot of this trouble upon themselves. He was someone who brought many independents and moderate Republicans to vote for him in 2008 because he ran a very positive uplifting campaign. He promised to be "post-partisan." Yet, when the midterm elections were over and the new Congress came to power, the president chose to point fingers while trying to paint the conservatives in the House of Representatives as extremists and "fringe," politicians. While Bill Clinton worked with Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott to make honey, Barack Obama has decided instead to shake the beehive.
When the Obama 2012 campaign asks itself what accomplishments it can run on, the answer is not much. The ObamaCare legislation remains extremely unpopular and the administration's stimulus plan has simply failed. As a result, President Obama is going to have to run an extremely negative campaign to damage the GOP House and the republican nominee. This strategy will not work. Congressional approval is extremely low, so there is not much he can do to lower it, and negative attacks on his presidential opponent will show voters that Obama is not really the "post-partisan" man he once said he was. Instead, they will just see him as another Washington politician who will do or say anything to get elected. That kind of sentiment will drive down enthusiasm for his reelection campaign and cost him votes in key battleground states.
After President George W. Bush left office in January 2009 with very low approval ratings, many were willing to give President Obama, a man with very little experience and few accomplishments, a chance. There was a time when many liberal supporters were gleefully expressing that the adults were finally back in charge. Now it's 2011, and after a few years of President Obama driving up the national debt and the budget deficit while presiding over nothing but feeble economic growth, it's beginning to look more and more like amateur hour at the White House. It's time to hope for more change.
John Stapleton received his MA in comparative politics from American University in 2009 and is currently the Deputy Editor of The New Guard, a quarterly magazine published by Young Americans for Freedom. He lives in North Bethesda, Maryland with his wife Nealey.