“You could see a parallel there to Obama,” Mackowiak said.
Greg Mueller, another GOP consultant, said, “It’s May 2011. We’ve got a long, long way to go. I don’t think we’ll forget we got Osama, and the president will get credit for that. But as the public gets focused on the 2012 election, it will be much more focused on the economy and cultural and social issues.”
Bin Laden’s death is also a reminder that unexpected events can rapidly alter the tenor of a political campaign. McCain—widely respected for his military credentials—was caught flat-footed in September 2008 when Wall Street appeared headed for collapse.
President Obama’s potential Republican opponents were quick to celebrate bin Laden’s death, but most lavished credit on the U.S. military and intelligence community and gave scant, if any, mention of the president. Sarah Palin said, “God bless all the brave men and women in our military and our intelligence services.” Mitt Romney said, “Congratulations to our intelligence community, our military and the president,” but didn’t mention Obama by name.
Mark Meckler, cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots, said he didn’t think any politician "deserves credit" for a military victory.
"Taking such credit would be an insult to the courageous men and women in our armed forces who voluntarily put themselves in harm's way," he said. "Any credit given is due to them."
Among the few likely 2012 candidates to mention Obama by name were former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But both gave top billing to former President George W. Bush, who was frustrated in his effort to bring bin Laden to justice.
- "In the hours after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush promised that America would bring Osama bin Laden to justice—and we did," Pawlenty said in a statement. "I want to congratulate America’s armed forces and President Obama for a job well done."
- "I commend both President George W. Bush who led the campaign against our enemies through seven long years and President Obama who continued and intensified the campaign in both Afghanistan and Pakistan,'' said Gingrich, in his statement..
Unexpectedly generous with his praise was Donald Trump, whose repeated questioning of Obama's citizenship and the legitimacy of his administration led the president to take the extraordinary step last week of releasing his long-form birth certificate. "I want to personally congratulate President Obama and the men women of the Armed Forces for a job very well done,'' he said. "I am so proud to see Americans standing shoulder to shoulder, waving the American flag in celebration of this great victory.''
For Democrats, it was a day to celebrate—but just a day. For Republicans, it was a day to regroup and try to bring the focus back to the economy. Bottom line, says Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution scholar who has closely studied presidents since Dwight Eisenhower (for whom he worked): Bin Laden's death puts Obama "in a very strong position for reelection"—but "there's still a lot of time, and there's no doubt the main issue will be the economy."
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Cameron Joseph and Lindsey Boerma contributed