Barack Obama can be taken, and his adversaries haven’t even noticed. In fact, he will likely lose in 2012. Only one thing can save him.
In this week’s polls: An Ipsos survey says 69% of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, up five points since March. Zogby has only 38% of national respondents saying Mr. Obama deserves re-election, with 55% wanting someone new. Mr. Obama carried Pennsylvania in 2008 by double digits; a poll there this week shows only 42% approving his leadership, with 52% disapproving. Gallup had the president’s support slipping among blacks and Hispanics, with the latter’s numbers dramatic: 73% supported him when he was inaugurated, 54% do now. Support among whites on Inauguration Day was 60%. Now it is 39%.
We’re all so used to reporting the general trend of these polls that we fail to see their significance: The more that people experience his leadership, the less they like his leadership. There’s no real reason to think upticks in this direction or that will seriously change this. Another way to say it is that there have been upticks that might have benefited the president, and so far they haven’t.
His speech this week brought together all the strands of his flawed leadership. It was at moments clever, but merely clever, not up to the needs of the moment—and cleverness in a time of crisis comes as an affront. The speech was intellectually incoherent. An administration that spent two years saying, essentially, that high spending is good is suddenly insisting high spending is catastrophic. The president appealed for bipartisan efforts but his manner and approach leave his appeals sounding like diktats. His attempts to seem above the fray leave him seeming distanced and unwilling to risk anything.
The great question of the coming year is not, “Will Obama reignite his base?” or, “Will the Democrats outraise and outspend the GOP?” It is: Will the GOP be serious? Will Republicans be equal to their history, their tradition and the moment? If they are—if they recruit and support candidates who can speak to the entire country, who have serious experience and accomplishments, who are grounded and credible, then they will win centrist support. And with it they will likely win the thing without which they cannot achieve the big changes they seek, and that is the presidency.