The current Obama presidency came to an end last week. What it means for 2012 and his re-election bid is that for the first time I think there is a serious chance that he might not get reelected. The reasons for that are the economy, alienating his base, and potential white voter backlash.
In general it is hard to defeat sitting presidents. Yes, Carter and Bush I both lost, but it took bad economic conditions and a third party vote for Ross Perot to do that. Previous to that, Ford did lose but he was barely an incumbent and he pardoned Nixon, and LBJ opted not to run. However, before that, it was Hoover (1932), Harrison (1892), Cleveland (1888), Van Buren (1840) and John Adams (1800) who lost when running for election. The economy and major crisis seem to be the usual reasons for incumbents losing.
Kerry in 2004 is a testament to how difficult it is to defeat a sitting president. They have to make major mistakes or blunders to lose, or be so dragged down with the economy that their candidacy is destroyed by it. Obama faces both.
The economy remains a mess. In a couple of blogs ago I wrote about the persistent unemployment, the failure to address the mortgage market, and the perception that he favored the banks over the people. These problems persist. Yes, Obama will get some bump from the economy in the next year or so but short of a miracle too many people will be jobless.
Beyond the economy, two fatal blows were delivered. First the failure to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” means he has dramatically lost or alienated the young under-30 vote and the GLBT community. They supported him enthusiastically in '08 and stayed home in '10. The latter will be true in '12.
In addition, his compromise on the Bush tax cuts infuriated his liberal base. The cuts may still pass, but he threw Democrats and liberals under the bus in order to appease swing voters. The House refusal to bring the original proposal to a vote demonstrated the anger. Had this been a parliamentary system, the refusal to vote on it would have triggered a vote of no-confidence and a collapse of the government. That is what happened last week effectively.
The fatal error here is Obama alienated his base. They will not vote against him in '12, but certainly they will not come out strong for him. He is counting on them having no alternative and voting for him. Don’t count on it. Ignoring your base and raising expectations–only to disappoint–is the surest way to lose them.
Thus, Obama’s strategy? Hope your base holds their nose and votes for you in '12 out of fear of the GOP, and try to regain the swings voters. Preliminary polls suggest the swings like the Obama tax deal, but is it enough to swing them to his side? Maybe not.
Many who voted for Obama in '08 were whites so disappointed with Bush and the economy they were willing to take a chance. Fear and disgust melted some white opposition but they may not happen again. Obama may have a harder time getting their support.
So, how is the end of the Obama presidency? Obama is swapping one type of presidency for a another. If the narrative of the first presidency was change now it is survival. It is a defensive presidency, one aimed at governing with the support of the GOP and swings and not the Democrats. Why after two years he thinks he can win over the GOP is a mystery to me. Finally, I remain perplexed regarding the narrative that Obama has for the next two years. What is it?
A Note on Michael Bloomberg
Bloomberg has said no to running for president in '12. He has a great opening. A combination with Obama disenchantment, a GOP field that is ultra conservative, and the independent streak the NYC mayor has (plus his money), give him a great opening in '12 if he wants it.