Christmas came early for Barack Obama as Republican prospects to pick up the presidency took a major hit this week. A series of events again demonstrated that Obama cannot win but the Republicans certainly can also lose the presidency.
Miscalculating the Payroll Tax
The most glaring event of the week was the misplaying of the House GOP vote on the extension of the payroll tax. In principle they may have been correct that a one year deal is preferable to a two month extension but they needed to act but did not. Perhaps they thought Obama would again capitulate like he did in August with the debt deal but the politics was very different then as opposed to now. In August failure to reach agreement meant a government shutdown, making Obama look hapless. This time no deal meant tax increases on the middle class and that would have stuck to the Republicans. Moreover, even the Senate Republicans–including Mitch McConnell and John McCain–pressured the House to assent to the deal. The House GOP here simply overplayed their hand and lost.
Obama the Economist Populist
Contributing to the miscalculation is the traction Obama has received in running as an economic populist. He has given two major speeches in the last few months describing himself as a man for the people. The first was his $450 billion jobs speech a few months ago and the other was his recent Osawatomie, Kansas speech. In both he talked of the need to help the middle class. Both were fine speeches, but talk is cheap.
Obama rightly so should be criticized as the Democrat who abandoned the middle class and the poor. He continued the Bush policy of bailing out the banks and he has put more emphasis on stabilizing the financial sector than he did in helping home owners and the working class. While his original stimulus bill did help, I argued after the 2010 elections that his failure has been to appear to side more with the banks than the people. Given how much he took from Wall Street in 2008 to finance his campaign, no surprise here.
But Obama has been lucky. Occupy Wall Street and the “We are the other 99%” campaign have helped him. Both shifted focus to the Republicans in Congress and running for president that there is a clear class divide in America. Previous blogs of mine have attested to this fact and the growing economic divide in America over the last 30 years. Congressional refusal to raise taxes, a Republican presidential debate revealing no candidate willing to raise one dollar in taxes for every ten dollars in spending cuts, and the failure of Congress to enact Obama paltry $450 billion jobs bill all make it clear that they do not care about the American people (had they enacted the bill they could have disarmed the president and still pointed to how they supported the president on all his major economic programs but they still failed).
The point is that Obama can look like an economic populist because of the failures of Congress and the GOP to offer a credible alternative and to play politics in a way that makes them look like they care for anyone besides the top 1%. Obama is winning because of the implosion of the Republicans.
The Dismal Presidential Choices
Obama is also benefitting from a Republican presidential field that is not a varsity or junior varsity but the freshman team. It is a team running increasingly further and further to the right. A team that is further to the right than the Reagan Party–it is the Palin Party still as I wrote about several times t his year. It is a party that has flirted with several conservatives–Bachmann, Perry Cain, Gingrich, and now maybe Paul as the preferred choice over the more moderate but lackluster and passionless Romney. They seem out of touch with America in their talk of tax cuts, privatization, and return to the gold standard.
Now with little more than a week before Iowa, the race is definitely up in the air. Recent polls confirm what I asserted in an interview last week that Paul, Gingrich, and Romney will be the order in Iowa come January 3. But even if Paul does not win, his ascendency is a problem for the Republicans. If he does well in Iowa is libertarianism will play even better in New Hampshire and Romney needs to worry about a relative poor showing there on his part. This year with the Republican primaries and caucuses allocating delegates not by winner-take-all but proportionally, unless there is a quick kill by one candidate in January, look to a long primary and a potential brokered convention.
So What Does All this Mean for Obama?
Obama is now in much better shape in the polls for reelection than he was a few weeks ago. Polls have his approval rating up to 49% and it now exceeds is disapproval rating. He has a 7 point lead over Romney and much larger leads over the other Republican candidates. Congress’s approval is under 10% and public approval of the Tea Party has weakened. There are small signs of economic improvement but certainly no indication of real growth or significant decreases in unemployment in 2012. The economic news and prospects should doom him and the Electoral College road to reelection is complicated, but Obama now has a clear lead in Florida.
But compared to the Republicans running for president and those in Congress, he looks good. Obama can run for reelection on a slogan of “No matter how bad I am look at the alternative.”
Merry Christmas President Obama! Your present came wrapped with Republicans in a box they are building themselves in.