Who gets to run against the big bad Congress?

Carl Cannon thinks Barack Obama will win reelection in 2012 for a variety of reasons, one of which involves the dynamics of Congress. He compares the situation to that of Reagan and Clinton:

...Incumbency is supposed to be a disadvantage in the current political environment, but that perception is worth a closer look. It's certainly true that people have a low opinion of Congress. A recent Gallup Poll put the percentage of Americans who approve of the job Congress is doing at 18 percent, the lowest figure in a year. A number of governors have seen the bottom fall out of their polling numbers, too. So yes, anti-incumbency is potent right now. But so is the bully pulpit. At this point in his presidency Ronald Reagan's job approval rating was in the mid-40s, lower than Obama's is now. In the 1982 midterm elections, Reagan's party lost 26 seats in the House. Two years later, Reagan carried 49 states while winning 58.5 percent of the popular vote in his re-election bid.

"In a midterm election, it's possible to get really far by just saying 'no,'" astute political observer Bill Schneider said at a breakfast meeting with political reporters last week. "In a presidential year, you have to present a real alternative."

Which is why (as I have argued repeatedly) it is absolutely vital to Obama that the Republicans retake Congress in the fall elections. It is likely that Congress will remain unpopular even if the Republicans win, but an unpopular Democratic Congress hurts him a lot more than an unpopular Republican Congress. Obama will have a much better shot at selling himself as an alternative when he can play victim to a Republican Congress. OTOH, I think that if the Republicans lose, Obama may well be toast.

The 1994 elections positioned Clinton perfectly to offer an alternative, and to appeal to the traditional love affair American voters have with "checks and balances."

Plus, there's always the chance of something unforeseen and nasty happening:

In 1994 when I was covering the White House for the Baltimore Sun, I spent the week of the midterm elections vacationing in Arizona. It turned out I missed a pretty big political story -- the first GOP takeover of Congress in 40 years, to be precise -- and when on my return our congressional correspondent told me breezily, "While you were gone, your beat disappeared." I accepted the needle, but remember my private reaction, "I don't think the White House disappears."

As it happened, Bill Clinton had some of those same feelings: "The president is still relevant here," he said somewhat defensively in a news conference the following April. Clinton was right, even if he was mostly bucking himself up. The president appoints judges, vetoes bad legislation (and sometimes legislation that isn't so bad), manages the executive branch, and serves as the commander-in-chief. He also is the person this nation turns to when tragedy strikes. They can rise to the occasion, or not. For Reagan it was the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. In Clinton's case it was the Oklahoma City bombing.

He doesn't mention the attempt on Reagan's life, but I think that also created a very strong emotional and even moral bond between ordinary Americans and the president.

Of course, there's no way to go back in time and play out alternate history scenarios. What if the Democrats had managed to hold Congress in '94? What if there had been no Oklahoma City? Might he too have been a one-term president like Carter? We'll never know.

But we do have an unpopular president with a much more unpopular Congress.

Here are the current RCP Poll Averages:

President Obama Job Approval

RCP Average
Spread +2.9

Congressional Job Approval
RCP Average
Spread -56.8

I may be wrong, but my reading of what this means is that the more Congress pisses off the American public right now, the more it will help the president in 2012.

After all, he can't very well run against his own Congress, can he?

posted by Eric on 03.08.10 at 10:27 AM


Two wildcards:
1. Carter's presidential challenge came from the Senate (Kennedy). Reagan had no challenger. Obama's challenger will come from his own administration (Clinton) and will pull at least 15% of his approval rating with her exit.
2. A sizable portion of the electorate voted Obama to cleanse their soul of the sin of Slavery, even though 95% of them have no one in their ancestory that owned slaves. They will feel no need to do that again.

Obama is toast. Get the popcorn out.

Pablo Panadero   ·  March 8, 2010 2:57 PM

I am very enamored of divided gov't.
I don't like one-party rule, our politicians mostly don't have any semblance of principles so they can't be trusted.

How crappy would it be if in 2012 I have the choice of one-party rule or Obama staying president?

Unless the GOP candidate is someone who wouldn't mind making Voinovich cry or telling McCain to stop posturing.
Preferably both.

I only see Palin in that mold so far.
That's what she did in Alaska after all.

Veeshir   ·  March 8, 2010 3:58 PM

There's one unknown for the 2010 elections that will take a few months after said elections to know: Will Obama triangulate as Clinton did after the 1994 elections, or will he 'double down on dumb'?

This is important, as the 1994 elections was 'The Contract With America'; it was meant to be a sea change in how the government did things. Clinton adjusted to take advantage of the change, which made the idea of him staying a littler easier. Clinton, though seemingly poll-driven, did 'bend with the wind' when it came to the changing mood of the electorate.

Obama, on the other hand, seems to be pushing back harder. Punching back twice as hard, as the vernacular goes, instead of rolling with the punches. If he continues on this route, especially with constituents displaying that they don't like said route, then it would likely harm his chances in 2012.

The question is basically whether Obama acts as an idealogue or as a politician. If he believes strongly enough in Socialism to jump at any possible opportunity, despite what fallout may occur, he could very well be a one-term president. If, instead, he goes the politician, poll-based route and holds back on the truly unpopular programs and/or does it piecemeal at a slower, more 'paletable' manner, he may very well bounce back.

Anonymous   ·  March 8, 2010 5:09 PM

"Reagan had no challenger"

ghw bush would disagree

newrouter   ·  March 8, 2010 5:31 PM

oops you're right my stupid

newrouter   ·  March 8, 2010 5:32 PM

Barack has a problem that doesn't show up in the RCP index: his supporters are much less passionate than his opponents. Passion translates to money, volunteers, and of course votes.

He's been negative doubled-digits in the Rasmussen passion index for many months now. He cannot win with those numbers.

TallDave   ·  March 8, 2010 6:22 PM

I think the biggest thing on whether or not Barack Obama is re-elected is the state of the economy. The best thing that he can do to strengthen the economy is to lose Congress, so his power to damage the economy will be hampered.

Matt Harris   ·  March 8, 2010 9:54 PM

If the Dems lose one or both houses in November, Obama's going to resign. There's no point in his being there if he can't advance his agenda.

Obama's already a lame duck. I don't see him sticking around to lose the primary to someone in his cabinet.

brian   ·  March 9, 2010 9:10 AM

Obama may be toast anyway, but Congress going Republican is his best hope of winning reelection. So he has absolutely nothing to lose (and potentially a lot to gain) by going on the offensive right now. If he goes to the mat on the healthcare bill, he'll look tough, win or lose. And if the GOP takes Congress over it, he will be better positioned to win.

Eric Scheie   ·  March 9, 2010 10:38 AM

I gotta go with anonymous up there.
He's an idealogue, Clinton is a narcissist.

Obama really seems to think that if he's condescending enough, people will see how brilliant he is and do whatever he wants.

Clinton had one thing that Obama does have, a lock on the media.

Obama doesn't have that. Talk radio isn't just Howard Stern and his ilk, sports and Rush anymore, there are any number of conservative hosts and lots of people listen to them.

Minitru tries to frame everything in his favor, but there's pushback at Foxnews, on talk radio and on the intertubes at a time when Hot Air probably has more readers than the NY Times.

Veeshir   ·  March 9, 2010 11:29 AM

Clinton was a lot smarter than Obama. The latter is self-evidently "dedicated," which I think answers Anon's question.

Gotta disagree with Veeshir; most MSM-ians are still deeply in the tank for President Barry.

Eric's main point has been bothering me for a while now. Do we really want the Republicans to get a majority in '10? I doubt they'll get enough seats to override vetos, and Barry will have an excellent chance to beat his "it's all the Republican's fault" whinge into the national consciousness.

So shave away at the majority, but don't try to win the whole thing. Just get set up for '12. That gives Tea Partisans two years to build up local infrastructure.

Casey   ·  March 9, 2010 1:44 PM

Gotta disagree with Veeshir; most MSM-ians are still deeply in the tank for President Barry.

Oh I'm not disputing that, I meant to say they don't have the lock on information dissemination they had in the 90s.

It's not just Rush against the NYTimesWashPostCNNABCCBSNBCetc.

Now, it's Minitru (as more and more people are realizing) against Rush, Beck, Hannity, Savage, Ingraham, Malkin, some of Foxnews (with some exceptions) and the intertubes.

Back in Clinton's days, you had 3 blow-dried teleprompter readers and Wolf Blitzer telling you The Truth! as disseminated by the NY Times.

Veeshir   ·  March 9, 2010 2:54 PM

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