Politics: White House

Obama Speaks at the WH Cinco de Mayo Reception

Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
May 5, 2011, 3:42 p.m.

A High Point Univ. poll; con­duc­ted 9/25-30; sur­veyed 400 adults; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 4.9% (re­lease, 10/8).

Obama As POTUS

Ap­prove 38% Dis­ap­prove 55

Per­due As Gov.

Ap­prove 36% Dis­ap­prove 43

Dir­ec­tion Of U.S.

Right dir. 26% Wrong dir. 68

House Gen­er­al Elec­tion Match­up

Gen­er­ic GOP­er 42% Gen­er­ic Dem 39 Un­dec 17

Last March, I ar­gued that Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er (R), fa­cing ma­jor op­pos­i­tion to his wide-reach­ing budget­ary changes, was los­ing ground be­cause he fo­cused on num­ber-crunch­ing rather than present­ing a vis­ion. With nine months to go un­til Elec­tion Day, the en­tire Re­pub­lic­an Party risks fall­ing prey to the same dy­nam­ic. The GOP could lose a win­nable pres­id­en­tial race and fail to gain con­trol of the Sen­ate be­cause of a tim­id mes­sage: “The oth­er guys are worse than us.”

The mod­us op­erandi of Re­pub­lic­an strategists has been to de­pend on a stag­nant eco­nomy and lay the blame on Pres­id­ent Obama and the Demo­crats in Con­gress. Now, with a Janu­ary jobs re­port sug­gest­ing signs of life in the labor mar­ket, that strategy sorely needs re­boot­ing. A pre­vent de­fense rarely works in foot­ball, and it hardly ever works in polit­ics.

The latest na­tion­al polling shows clear signs that voters per­ceive im­prove­ment. This week, Obama’s ap­prov­al rat­ing hit 50 per­cent for the first time since May 2011 (after the killing of Osama bin Laden) in a newly re­leased ABC News/Wash­ing­ton Post sur­vey. A bare ma­jor­ity, 53 per­cent, dis­ap­prove of his hand­ling of the eco­nomy, down a sig­ni­fic­ant 9 points from Septem­ber. When asked wheth­er Obama or GOP pres­id­en­tial front-run­ner Mitt Rom­ney would do bet­ter hand­ling the eco­nomy and cre­at­ing jobs — the two ma­jor vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies for the pres­id­ent — Rom­ney only holds a 2- and 3-point ad­vant­age. Red flags abound.

In­stead of lever­aging their ideo­lo­gic­al ad­vant­age with a cen­ter-right elect­or­ate, Re­pub­lic­ans are run­ning in place. Polls show that a mes­sage of growth trumps one of fair­ness, but Re­pub­lic­ans have fo­cused their cri­ti­cisms of the pres­id­ent on his stew­ard­ship of the eco­nomy, not his ideas. Des­pite the health care law’s un­pop­ular­ity, they hardly bring it up any­more. It took a week for the Rom­ney cam­paign to go after Obama for an ex­ec­ut­ive branch de­cision pro­hib­it­ing char­it­ies and hos­pit­als from opt­ing out of the law’s con­tra­cep­tion-cov­er­age re­quire­ment — a lit­mus is­sue for many re­li­gious voters, es­pe­cially Cath­ol­ics.

Be­hind the scenes, Rom­ney’s top ad­visers are en­gaged in a vig­or­ous de­bate over the most ef­fect­ive mes­sage against Obama. On one side are strategists who ar­gue that he needs to win the em­ploy­ment dis­cus­sion, em­phas­iz­ing that he ad­ded jobs to the eco­nomy while at Bain Cap­it­al and as gov­ernor of Mas­sachu­setts. They worry that, un­der close scru­tiny, Rom­ney risks los­ing that ar­gu­ment — and with it, his ra­tionale for win­ning the pres­id­ency: that he is bet­ter equipped to handle the eco­nomy.

Oth­er strategists be­lieve that fo­cus­ing on Rom­ney’s busi­ness re­cord is back­ward-look­ing, and that the most im­port­ant ar­gu­ment is over two con­trast­ing vis­ions for the U.S. eco­nomy. With his busi­ness back­ground, Rom­ney is well-equipped to talk about the be­ne­fits of the free mar­ket and vis­ions of growth over in­creased gov­ern­ment spend­ing.

The idea/ideo­lo­gic­al wing of the Re­pub­lic­an Party is right on the polit­ics. For all the cri­ti­cism Obama has got­ten from the right over his fair­ness mes­sage, ask­ing the wealthy to pay more in taxes to be­ne­fit the middle class is at least a com­pel­ling ar­gu­ment. He’s us­ing the bully pul­pit to show lead­er­ship on the cent­ral is­sues on Amer­ic­ans’ minds. This pres­id­en­tial elec­tion fea­tures two very dif­fer­ent vis­ions of the coun­try’s fu­ture, and voters ex­pect to hear how con­ser­vat­ive policies can im­prove the eco­nomy. They need what Pres­id­ent George H.W. Bush fam­ously called “that vis­ion thing.”

The timid­ity is also re­flect­ive in the Sen­ate land­scape, which looked like a lost cause for Demo­crats just a month ago. Now, the ex­pect­a­tions are that con­trol of the Sen­ate will go down to the wire, with Re­pub­lic­ans look­ing more likely to gain three or four seats rather than lever­aging their clear struc­tur­al ad­vant­age for a defin­it­ive GOP vic­tory. Re­pub­lic­ans are favored in con­ser­vat­ive-friendly states such as North Dakota, Neb­raska, Mis­souri, and Montana. But GOP can­did­ates face stiff chal­lenges in un­seat­ing in­cum­bents in the battle­grounds of Flor­ida and Ohio, for in­stance, and have their hands full in open-seat Vir­gin­ia and Wis­con­sin races.

The party re­cruited a tal­en­ted crop of can­did­ates. Former Sen. George Al­len in the Old Domin­ion, former Rep. Heath­er Wilson in New Mex­ico, former Rep. Pete Hoek­stra in Michigan, and former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle have strong gov­ern­ing re­sumes, are proven cam­paign­ers, and can raise sig­ni­fic­ant amounts of money. But that “former” la­bel raises red flags. In­stead of in­fus­ing new blood in­to the Sen­ate by re­cruit­ing prom­ising up-and-comers in the mold of  Flor­ida Sen. Marco Ru­bio, Re­pub­lic­ans are re­cyc­ling their best and bright­est from the 1990s.

Either way, it paints a pic­ture that’s much more muddled than it was just a couple months ago. There’s now a plaus­ible path to a second term for Obama and to con­tin­ued Demo­crat­ic con­trol of the Sen­ate. Un­til Re­pub­lic­ans draw sharp­er con­trasts with the op­pos­i­tion and start identi­fy­ing their new lead­ers of to­mor­row, the status quo may well pre­vail in Novem­ber.

What We're Following See More »
SCOTUS Rules Against Venue Shopping in Patent Cases
1 hours ago

Writing for an 8-0 Supreme Court on Monday, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that patent lawsuits "must be brought in the state where the defendant company is incorporated. ... The ruling likely spells an end to the near-monopoly the federal court in the Eastern District of Texas holds in handling patent cases. Plaintiffs for decades have filed suits in that pro-plaintiff district based on a broader interpretation of venue that made suits possible almost anywhere."

Flynn To Refuse To Cooperate With Subpoena
1 hours ago

Former National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump Michael Flynn will refuse to cooperate with a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Flynn will invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination." Flynn was unlikely to turn over any documents without being granted immunity, as he "has previously sought immunity from 'unfair prosecution.'"

White House To Request Second 90-Day Delay In Obamacare Subsidy Case
2 hours ago

The Trump administration plans to ask a federal court Monday for a second 90-day delay in a lawsuit over Obamacare subsidies. The lawsuit, House vs. Price, revolves around the Obamacare co-payment program, which pays health insurers who partake in the Obamacare exchanges to ensure that people without means can gain coverage without having to pay unaffordable co-payments.

Trump Puts Rouhani in a Tough Spot
2 hours ago

"On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump called on the world to isolate Iran," to the delight of his Sunni hosts, Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, however, on Saturday, "Iranians poured into the streets by the hundreds of thousands to celebrate the re-election of President Hassan Rouhani, whose message of opening up to the West helped him to trounce a hard-line challenger."

Trump Becomes First President To Visit Western Wall
3 hours ago

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.