In November of 1979, American hostages were taken by the Iranian new government and the political situation for Carter began to deteriorate. Carter ordered a "near total blackout" on statements regarding Iran. But Carter continued to speak on the issue and Republicans suggested he was trying to score political points for his reelection campaign.
Carter "had not been quite fair," Connally said in a Nov. 19 Washington Post story. "He has asked us to remain quiet while he takes that period of silence as an opportunity to go before a convention and use inflammatory language himself."
By December 1979, the Washington Post reported that Reagan found "it hard to restrain himself on the Iran issue." He had begun using the line the U.S. should have done more to keep "a great ally," the Shah, in power in every speech.
The Hostage Crisis lasted 444 days while the energy market exploded and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Carter's crisis cumulated in his now infamous "Malaise Speech" and a cabinet purge. Most importantly, all of Carter's problems fit within the narrative the GOP desired to use and led to a failure to achieve reelection.
Well into primary season of 1980, Bush and Reagan were hitting Carter on Iran. While fighting to survive the Pennsylvania primary, Bush turned to calling Carter's Iran strategy "a cynical abuse of power." Reagan and Bush blamed Carter for any foreign policy problems, even small ones well out of Carter's control. Bush "implied that Carter was responsible for maintenance problems of the torpedoes" that were used in the attempted rescue of the hostages, as reported in a April 17, 1980 Washington Post story. By the time of the convention in July 1980, Reagan and solidified his hold on the nomination and every Republican was framing Carter as weak on Iran, the Soviet Union, and many other policies.
Obama is not Carter at this point, but some similarities between their situations are hard to ignore. Obama, like Carter, is entering the last two years of his first term. Obama is currently facing the challenges of a recession, two wars and formidable opposition in Congress. And like Iran was then, Egypt is a pillar of the country's foreign policy in the Middle East.
But unlike the Iran situation, no American hostages have not been taken in Egypt. More, Obama has not lost Egypt to the same degree that Carter lost Iran. The situation is perilous but cultural differences between Iran and Egypt are vast and will likely give a very different scenario. Obama also doesn't have an ambitious primary challenger waiting in the wings like Carter did with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D). Most importantly, Obama's survey numbers have not hit the lows that Carter's eventually did, although Carter even bounced back up briefly going above 50 percent in Gallup's tracking going into his last year. And at this early point in the cycle, it doesn't appear that foreign policy will dominate Republican attacks in the 2012 as they did against Carter in 1980.
Obama has plenty to worry about what Egypt and other polices can do to galvanize GOP opposition as Iran eventually did against Carter. But for right now, Obama is not Carter.