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.