Is the Republican party ready to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Several events this week suggest that may be the case.
Obama and the State of the Union
The State of the Union speech is a misnomer. One would think a state of the union speech really to be one that discusses, well, the state of the union. Instead, the speeches have become a state of the presidency with Obama this week continuing the fine tradition of using the speech to discuss his presidency and what he wants to do. In this case, the speech was effectively the launching of his 2012 presidential campaign as he tried out his new narrative.
Think about how far Obama has moved since Election Day last year. The GOP were giddy with their victories, viewing them as a referendum on Obama. His approvals were in the mid 40s, the Dems lost the swings in the elections, and it looked for certain that 2011 would begin the end for Obama. But Obama responded. He struck a tax deal with the GOP and they then gave in on everything else. He gave a great Tucson speech, he changed his economic team, brought in more pro Wall Street toadies, and now suddenly he is over 50% in approval ratings again. The state of the presidency speech that he gave the other day was part of the rehabilitation and relaunching of his presidency and so far he is doing well in preparing for 2012.
The speech was flat. He trotted out no new ideas. I described it as JFK meets Ronald Reagan. It was Sputnik meets morning in America. (Although I wonder how many of his supporters know what Sputnik was or what the Sputnik moment metaphor or analogy meant). Obama told a good story about the future and he crafted a nice narrative that hit all the themes he resonated in 2008. He said nothing new but did it in a language that seemed to appeal to many.
Never mind that Obama did not address two critical issues–the continued depressed housing market and foreclosures, and the continued high unemployment rate. Both were ignored. Moreover, what also eluded him was the economic consequence of his tax deal with the GOP–a hemorrhaging budget deficit that will grow to $2 trillion in a few years.
A Divided GOP?
But Obama was lucky. The GOP have so far played it badly in taking over the House. They have voted to repeal the health care reform and they make noise about the deficit, but they have no constructive ideas about how to replace the former and deal with the latter. They remain stuck as the party of "no." It remains a narrative of opposition, but not one of construction. The narrative of change they used in 2010 to gain power has not become a narrative of governance.
Additionally, Obama’s real luck is that the GOP is divided. Wisconsin Representative Ryan gave the official response–it was even more flat than Obama’s. But no one is talking about Ryan–it was Bachmann’s response that captured all the headlines. Yes others will discuss her challenges when it comes to facts about American history or her Tammy Faye Baker makeup, but the real issue is how yet again she upstaged her own party to trumpet herself. If I were the GOP I would be so angry with her, yet they are also dependent on her and her Tea Party followers for support. It is a dysfunctional relationship ready to get worse. How?
Bachmann’s Third Party Bid for President?
If Bachmann runs for president, think about two possibilities. One is she runs as a GOP and does well in garnering support in Iowa. In an early caucus state with a crowded field, victory goes to those who can best organize and bring people out on caucus night. Clinton learned that the hard way in '08 as Obama the community organizer did well. It does not take more than 25% or so to win Iowa. Tea Party activists will come out in 2012 for her and Bachmann could do well.
But what if Bachmann decides to bolt the GOP and run as a third party Tea party candidate? This is not a nutty idea. Given her relationship with the party, her “in it for herself approach,” and the ideological gulf, it could happen. If it does, the GOP is split and Obama is definitely the winner. Remember 1912? Forget Palin as going rogue, it is Bachmann.
But does Bachmann really plan to run for president? One thought is that this is a way to raise a profile and prepare to challenge Franken 2014. Another thought is a run for president, even if it fails, raises her value as a commentator on Fox or more likely CNN. Why CNN? They need her more than Fox to capture conservatives to watch.
Overall, a Bachmann campaign will overshadow the GOP, reinforce Obama’s centrist image, and insure he wins again.
A Pawlenty Deathwatch
AP reports Pawlenty’s PAC is almost broke. This means either he is winding it down as he prepares to create a presidential exploratory committee (as Pawlenty might spin it) or that his lack of money demonstrates a lack of support for him as the “other Minnesota Republican running for president.” Pawlenty will not be part of that crowded Iowa GOP field, at least not at the top of the crowd.
Minnesota's 2012 Presidential Hopefuls in the Spotlight
Click here to see the KARE11 Sunrise segment about Pawlenty and Bachmann's presidential pursuits.