Republicans across the country have every right to start to smell blood over their prospects in next year’s Presidential election.
No President since World War II has been re-elected with a job approval less than 48 percent in the Gallup poll. Obama is hovering around 40 percent today. The public’s approval of his handling of the economy, the most important issue on voters’ minds, is even lower.
There is strong evidence of malaise and lethargy in the Democratic base, especially among the young and minority voters who provided so much energy in his 2008 election. His kick-off bus tour drew only hundreds of people at some stops, many of them anti-Obama tea party Republicans, where in 2008 he would have drawn thousands of admirers and curious alike.
Despite these developments, this election is still Obama’s to lose. For one, incumbency has its advantages as the “devil you know” versus the crackpots who might get the GOP nomination that you don’t know. Second, he is personally admired and liked. While his job approvals are low, his favorable ratings in most polls tend to be higher. It means that swing voters do NOT dislike Obama personally; in fact they are rooting for him to be successful.
It strongly suggests that if Obama delivers a message to these swing voters that resonates, he can still get re-elected.
His September announcement of new economic proposals will be very important to his potential rehabilitation. If I were advising Obama, I would advise that he make the announcement to a Joint Session of Congress.
A Presidential Address to a Joint Session is the most powerful medium an incumbent possesses. On an issue this important, any other medium will seem trivial.
The battle over the ideas he will propose will be critical. He is likely to continue the Democrats’ insistence on “investments” in education, infrastructure, and R&D, as the cornerstone to economic recovery.
It would be important for Republicans to be able to paint these initiatives as more failed stimulus spending, which has become, rightfully, a dirty word.
The GOP should immediately relate these new proposals to “cash-for-clunkers” and “shovel-ready,” several embarrassing examples of these policies, in order to blunt the opportunity for Obama to gain public traction for these already-tried, but failed, ideas.
Obama will also likely call for “balanced” deficit reduction, including tax increases on the “wealthy.”
On this issue, Obama seems to have at least an even chance of getting the public to support him.
In my opinion, it is not enough for the GOP to simply oppose new tax increases. Republicans should welcome the debate on taxes, and be prepared to offer an alternative vision that might include reforming the tax code to eliminate loopholes and other unfair accretions, suggesting all taxpayers pay some income taxes (today 49 percent of Americans have no skin in the game because they pay no income tax), while reducing rates for everyone. Tax policy changes should be doing more than serving as an after-thought ingredient in deficit reduction. The GOP should be arguing for tax policy modifications that would stimulate the economy and help the private sector create jobs.
The point is the GOP need not play on the field the Democrats want them to play on — defending the wealthy by opposing tax increases on them, with no other information for voters to judge.
Similarly, because it appears that Obama will not deviate from the more liberal economic policies that marked his first 3 years, this will be the first election in a long time where the two parties’ economic and political philosophies will be so starkly defined.
While Obama was tagged as a “socialist” by some in 2008, especially after his infamous encounter with Joe the Plumber and “spread the wealth” comments, even most conservatives would never have believed that he would actually have presided over the largest increase in American sovereign debt in 3 years than all his predecessors combined.
If Republicans had said in 2008 that Obama would increase the national debt by $4 trillion in just 3 years, they would have been laughed at by the media – and independent voters would have tuned out.
But that is the record.
Democrats’ appetite for government spending to achieve job creation shows no satiation, even after $4 trillion in additional debt has led to the loss of private employment, and a 9% unemployment rate.
The Republican vision of less government spending, lower taxes, and more private investment to create jobs, has never found a more perfect contrast for explanation than in 2012.
But to have contrast with Obama policies requires an alternative vision that independent voters can understand, and embrace. The timing has never been better.
How Obama can frame his September announcement, and how Republicans respond to it, will be very important in setting the stage for next year’s campaign.