Less than two months ago, buzzing from the president’s gutsy call to eliminate Osama bin Laden, liberal pontificators had practically sworn in Barack Obama for his second term. “For the GOP the sands are rushing through the hourglass,” Roger Simon wrote in a column whose title had wondered whether the president was “invincible.” He claimed that with Geronimo KIA, “the Republican field has been fried like an egg.” In reality, the president’s short-term popularity boost had fried the long-term judgment of his supporters.
The reasons to believe Obama a one-term president are many and well-grounded.
10. The Declaration of Independents
Candidate Obama attracted independents. President Obama repulses them. The president entered office with the approval of 62 percent of independents. The latest Gallup poll shows support of just 42 percent of independents. Similarly, the political moderates key to his election have deserted the president as immoderate policies have emerged. There simply aren’t enough liberals for Democrats to lose moderates and win elections. No Democratic candidate over the last half century has won the presidency without winning moderates.
9. A Redder America
Barack Obama faces a redder electoral map than he did in 2008. The 2012 presidential election is more than a year away, but the Electoral College has already shifted twelve votes away from blue states and toward red states. Most of the states gaining electoral votes in the census reapportionment voted for McCain. Almost all of the states losing electoral votes voted for Obama. Even the states that Obama carried that added electoral votes—Nevada and Florida, to name two—don’t seem locks to go for the president in 2012. The loss of electoral votes isn’t fatal to Obama. It is a handicap.
8. The Issues Have Changed
Gallup’s “Monthly Most Important Problem” survey is a problem for the president. What is troubling the American people? Over the first five months of 2011, Americans point to the economy (29%), unemployment (26%), the deficit (13%), and government (11%). The issues most salient to voters uniformly work to the incumbent’s disadvantage. When Iraq, health care, and Republican mishandling of the economy mattered to voters, Obama could go on the offensive. It’s difficult to see how he scores points in 2012 on the issues that resonate with voters. He will be on his heels.
7. The Blank Canvass Isn’t Anymore
Other than William Jennings Bryan and Wendell Willkie, who is the major party nominee with a skimpier record than 2008’s Barack Obama? He could vote “present” in the Illinois legislature and run away from U.S. Senate votes while running for higher office. But presidents can’t remain blank slates for long. Unpopular ObamaCare, a sedative stimulus, ineptness in the face of the BP oil spill, and defiance of Congress in starting a third Middle Eastern war have all painted a presidential picture that has calcified conservative opposition, alienated moderates, and disillusioned liberal supporters.
6. Demoralized Liberals
Left-wing activist Ralph Nader encourages a primary challenge. Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich sues the administration over Libya. Netroots conference goers boo White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. Rather than rejoice at a universal health-care bill that eluded predecessors or the introduction of open homosexuality in the military, liberals decry Obama for retaining Bush-era tax rates, playing warden over Guantanamo Bay, and launching a new war in Libya. Never can Democrats satiate their cannibalistic base. If you think this is an overstatement, feel free to examine the teeth marks on the political carcasses of Al Gore, Jimmy Carter, and Lyndon Johnson. Leftists may not primary this president or siphon votes through a suicidal third-party bid. But neither will they work or give at the levels they did in 2008.
5. Energized Conservatives
After eight years of big-government Bush, an underwhelming primary field, and a sclerotic general election campaign, conservatives could be given a mulligan for sleepwalking through the last presidential election. Conservatives, just 34 percent of the electorate in 2008’s election, comprised 42 percent of voters in 2010. From tea-parties to raucous town halls, the political dynamic of the country has been altered. It showed in 2010, when Republicans added 63 House seats, seven Senate seats, and six governors. Nothing invigorates a party’s base like an aggressive ideologue of the opposing party occupying the White House. The GOP clearly has the momentum heading into 2012.
4. The Political Ground Has Shifted Beneath the President’s Feet
A political lifetime has elapsed since Barack Obama’s election. Bailouts and big-government have yielded to tea parties and deficit angst. Gallup’s ideological identification survey registered the highest percentage of liberals in its history the year of Barack Obama’s election. Gallup’s most recent ideological identification survey registered its highest percentage of conservatives since the inaugural 1992 poll. Between the 2008 survey and last year’s, conservatives have gained seven points vis-à-vis liberals. To know liberalism isn’t to love it.
3. Historic Turnouts Aren’t Every-Four-Year Occurrences
Obama surfed to victory in 2008 on the crest of two historic waves. African Americans constituted a larger percentage of the electorate than ever recorded. And young people voted for the Democratic candidate by the greatest margin ever. Two-thirds of 18-to-29 year olds cast ballots for Obama. A staggering 19 out of every 20 African American voters pulled the lever for Obama. The precarious foundation of the Democrat’s election rested on the remarkable turnout, and the amazing one-sidedness, of two constituencies—African Americans and young people—who traditionally stay home on Election Day. That both groups have been hit especially hard by the economic slump makes it hard to envision a repeat of the amazing African American turnout and one-sided youth vote.
2. A Low Ceiling
Roger Simon wondered if the president was “invincible” in the wake of killing bin Laden. More perceptive observers saw vulnerability. Counterintuitively, the assassination of America’s most reviled enemy revealed Barack Obama’s political weaknesses, not his strengths. The president’s weekly Gallup approval average topped out at 51 percent following the bin Laden operation. The best possible week of Obama’s presidency yielded barely half of the electorate’s support. His enemies should acknowledge the man has a floor of support. His supporters should acknowledge he has a ceiling, too.
1. It’s Still the Economy, Stupid
The Misery Index, popularized by Governor Carter to hound President Ford only to be President Carter’s undoing, haunts Democrats again. The combined unemployment and inflation rates are at their worst level in twenty-eight years. The stock market has just spent six weeks in the red. The GDP grows at an anemic rate of 1.8 percent. The housing market has been in shambles for five years, and seems to be double dipping. Debt approaches GDP. Flat-lining and nose-diving trend lines make the president’s reelection precarious. Even a browbeaten Bill Daley, the president’s chief of staff, conceded to an incensed National Association of Manufacturers convention, “Sometimes you can’t defend the indefensible.” He said it.
Barack Obama is a formidable campaigner. His presidency is not without accomplishment (see, Osama bin Laden). And occupants of the White House have lost general elections just five times in the last hundred years. But he has governed ineffectively and stubbornly against the wishes of the American people. He could win reelection. But the preponderance of indicators suggests his defeat. This should make conservatives hopeful for change.