Why is Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 only *now* in doubt?

I should note right from the start that I like Stu Rothenberg as a pundit and a political handicapper: he’s a pretty bright person and he has a lot of experience.  But Rothenberg is also very much plugged into the professional political establishment… and sometimes, it shows.  Case in point: Rothenberg’s otherwise spot-on analysis about the travails of Barack Obama these days has what I will charitably call a ‘howler.’

This president, like Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush before him, learned the lesson that every investment fund manager knows: Evidence of past performance doesn’t guarantee future results.

And now the president, who is expected to raise close to $1 billion for his re-election campaign, who faces a Republican field widely mocked as undistinguished and who can rely on the same team of brilliant political gurus who masterminded his 2008 victory, suddenly finds his re-election in doubt.

Two howlers, actually: the first is the frankly unsupported-by-historical-evidence assumption that Barack Obama ever learns a lesson on anything.  The second is that Barack Obama’s past performance should have justified any expectations in the first place.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: yes, Obama beat McCain in 2008.  Which is to say, Obama beat a Republican candidate who was too tired to fight, too slow to realize that his signature issue (national security) was temporarily downgraded, and too inflexible to switch gears away from the campaign that McCain expected to run against Hillary Clinton; and Obama did this in the atmosphere of a sudden collapse in the economy, at the worst possible moment for the GOP*.  Congratulations.  Huzzah.  Feel the magic – but since then?  Well, let’s just say that the magic had a very, very short half-life:

  • December 2, 2008.  GA-SEN runoff election.  Saxby Chambliss goes from 49/46 in the original election to 57/43 in the runoff.  This would be about the time where I realized that Obama was not a machine.
  • December 6, 2008. LA-02 & LA-04 runoff elections.  If you remember – I do – the shocking result was not that Cao won in LA-02; it was that Fleming did in LA-04.  LA-04 Especially noteworthy because it represented Obama’s first tentative foray into using his political capital.
  • March 30, 2009.  NY-20.  I bring it up because Rothenberg did in passing: and I’d like to note that going from a comfortable 62/38 win in the general to a 50/50 squeaker win in the special does not actually speak well for the President’s underlying aura of electoral baraka.  And again, I wouldn’t have brought it up if Rothenberg hadn’t inexplicably used it as an example.
  • November 3, 2009.  NJ-GOV and VA-GOV.  Yeah, that was the day that a lot of people started saying this in public.  Not so much because of Virginia – everybody knew that DOOM had arrived for Deeds fairly early – but because Obama went to bat for Corzine… and struck out.
  • May 21, 2010. HI-01 special election.  This was the one that more or less made up for the GOP base’s throwaway of NY-23 in order to make it clear that it was time to take the Republican grassroots more seriously; and Charles Djou’s win there obscured just how badly Obama and the Democrats messed up the organizational side of things by trying to push Case over Hanabusa.
  • November 2, 2010.  The 2010 Midterm elections.  And how well did Barack Obama do there, in his first real test to see whether he could bring in supporters?

You tell me.

I bring all of this up to point out something: not every one of us believed that Barack Obama was all that, or ever all that.  He didn’t impress me as a candidate, he doesn’t impress me as a President, and at the rate things are going he won’t impress me as a campaigner next year.  And I didn’t need to wait until September of 2011 to gear up towards telling him ‘no:’ I was already starting to do it in February of 2009.  Or November of 2008, depending on how you look at it.  So I guess that what I’m trying to point out here is… while I understand that Stuart Rothenberg is a little surprised at how badly things have turned out for the President – and the people who are stuck having to rely on the President – I’m not exactly sure why Rothenberg’s surprised that Obama could be defeated in 2012.

Wasn’t it obvious in 2008?

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*I would like to note for the record, by the way, that the unemployment rate and average price of gas has more or less doubled since then.  Which is why you’re going to see a lot of “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” commercials next year.


11 thoughts on “Why is Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 only *now* in doubt?”

  1. “who faces a Republican field widely mocked as undistinguished”
    Dude needs to expand his circle if he thinks they’re “widely mocked”. Excepting Paul — who I think should just admit what everyone already knows and put on the floppy shoes, big red nose and hemp-leaf t-shirt — I think they’re all quite respectable and accomplished people. I don’t agree with ALL of them on some issue or another, and I think a few of them simply lack the mindset we need (Romney is entirely too comfortable with statism), but they’re far from undistinguished. They’re all certainly more accomplished than a one-term senator…

  2. Watching Obama speak lately is almost painful. It is as if campaigning is really, really, really inconvenient . . . “okay, I’ll explain it one more time–guy!!” or “Jews, janitors–whatevs”. Not to mention his minions being sliced and diced (see Chris Wallace vs. the Plouffe-ster). Ahhh, comedy gold.

  3. Ah kinda lacked him whun he was a talkin tu the CBC..

    Campaign mode all the way since day one in the WH. This man is a pathetic excuse for a human being much less the leader of the greatest country on the planet. 2012 can’t come soon enough. CAIN for PREZ!!!

  4. The other thing to remember in your list is to go back to the 2008 primary campaign. What the “Obama- the genius politician” people forget is that the Dems had a brilliant plan to frontload the entire primary process onto one Super Tuesday in March so that the winner (Hillary) would “lock it in” so to speak, and avoid intramural bloodletting that would damage the overall effort. And Obama, for various reasons and credit where due, won Super Tuesday.

    Thing is, if you remember correctly, the entire Dem primary race from then forward was the story of Hillary gradually grinding out points on Obama as more and more Dem voters began to give him a hard look. What Obama really did was run out the clock on her, as it was very close at the end, and if there really were 57 states, Hillary would have taken the nomination.

    So in essence, and including his Senate race against a kneecapped Jack Ryan, replaced at the last minute by a pathetic Alan Keyes, other than the 2008 White House race, the primary race is the ONLY significant political race won by Obama, and it’s story was a single spectacular, arguably lucky, win, followed by a series of losses that he just BARELY managed to run out the clock on. And that’s it.

    But remember;: “He’s the smartest man ever to hold the office”. (Poor Michael Beschloss. Like Francis Fukuyama, a great mind heretofore to be remembered for one unforgettable line of spectacular stupidity and obtuseness.)

  5. Two howlers and a chuckle:
    “…George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush before him,”

    The planet began to heal, the oceans receded, and time ran backwards.

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