Thursday, December 01, 2011

Obama's rocky path to reelection

Jay Cost analyzes the strategy that Obama's aides have recently indicated will be how Obama plans to win reelection. In several recent stories, it's become clear that there are three main goals of the Obama campaign.
1. Do as well with the non-white vote as Obama did in 2008, with the expectation that it continues to increase as a share of the total electorate.

2. Hold steady with upscale white voters, who tend to be more focused on quality of life issues like environmentalism.

3. Mitigate losses among the white working class, but expect to lose this group once again.
I always wonder why aides to candidates are so open about their strategy for victory. Why announce ahead of time what they're trying to do, especially when part of that strategy includes assuming a loss among such a large part of the electorate as the white working class. James Taranto tackles that question and the only reason he can come up with is that the Obama team is trying to indicate that they do indeed have a plan for winning even if having such a plan means they have to indicate that they're planning on losing a big chunk of the electorate. Yeah, it's a lame explanation for a dumb announcement. As Taranto writes, they might indeed write off those voters, but it is gratuitous to make their indifference to those voters so public.

But even with these self-identified goals for the Obama strategy, as Jay Cost demonstrates, it is going to be extremely tough for Obama to win. For example, they might assume that they're going to lose the white working class, but examining the numbers of the vote that he got in 2008 in important swing states in the Midwest, it's clear that the white working class made up close to 50% of his victory. However, right now, his poll numbers are much worse among that group. If he loses 8 to 10% off his vote total in 2008 this time, it is going to be very hard for him to win some of the key states in the Midwest, much less in other parts of the country.

Cost goes on to examine the premise that Obama has it all wrapped up with upscale white voters who, in poor economic times, might not have the luxury of voting on quality of life issues rather than on economic issues. And while Obama is sure to win the African-American vote in a big way, it is not a guarantee that the non-black, non-white vote will go for him in the same numbers as they did in 2008.

So how does Obama appeal to these disparate groups of minority voters and high-income white voters. The best he can do is attack the Republicans and try to emulate the Truman 1948 strategy. But it is pretty difficult to duplicate a strategy that worked over 60 years ago. The situation is just not the same. For one thing, Obama is less popular than Harry Truman was at a similar point in his presidency - remember Truman had just presided over victory in a world war and could count on most of the New Deal coalition sticking with him. Labor support meant a lot more in 1948 than it means today.

And, as Karl Rove points out, it is going to be difficult to campaign against a "do-nothing" Congress" when the Democrats control one-half of Congress and have refused to pass a budget in several years. And Obama had a "do-something" Congress with a filibuster-proof majority for the first two years of his presidency and people didn't like the things that they did. What does he have to promise people other than more of the same stuff that the public wasn't pleased about at the time?

So Obama's path to reelection is indeed rocky. But we can't project in a straight line from today to next year. The economy could dramatically improve and Obama could claim credit for that. There could be some foreign policy breakthrough such as the fall of Iran's ayatollahs that Obama could claim credit for.

Or, and this is his best hope, the GOP could nominate someone who would be so unappealing that he would make Obama look good. And that is what I'm afraid of. It makes me heartsick that, in an election year when things are looking so good to defeat Obama, the Republicans main choices are now between Mitt and Newt, neither of whom is all that appealing. Mitt's weaknesses as a flip-flopper are well-known and the DNC is already trying to soften him up and perhaps take him out by putting up in key states an ad targeting him on abortion and Romneycare. It's an ad that could be run by any of his GOP opponents. And that's no coincidence. The DNC and Obama team are paying him the compliment by indicating he is the candidate they fear most.

But today Ron Paul launched an even more devastating attack on Newt Gingrich.
Romney must be so thankful to Paul for doing his dirty work against Gingrich.

History is full of "if only's," but gosh, think of what it would look like if Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan had overcome their personal and family's objections and run this year. Or Jeb Bush. Or Bobby Jindal. If Obama wins next year, I fear it will be due to GOP weakness rather than Obama's own appeal. And that would be just a dang shame. I'm used to voting for the candidate who repels me the least, but I'm also full of daydreams about the "if only's" that would have both made Obama's path to reelection even more rocky and given us hope for much more promising future president in January, 2013.