THE POWER OF POPULARITY.

One of the reasons I like reading Patrick Ruffini is he has a tendency to grapple with, rather than downplay, troublesome evidence. Here he is, for instance, on Obama's personal popularity:

Obama's personal popularity stayed remarkably stable throughout the course of the campaign, and the average unfavorable rating barely ever cracked 35%. Obama the campaigner looks downright polarizing compared to Obama the President, who now sports a 65/25 fav/unfav in the Pollster.com average.

Why is this important? Republicans right now haven't the slightest idea of how to reduce the President's appeal because they've never actually done it before. It would be one thing if Obama had become a controversial figure during the campaign, like Bill Clinton did in 1992, providing fodder for a comeback once he did get into office, but that possibility scarcely exists today.

While personality may not be everything, and real-world policy outcomes provide opportunities for inflection points, it rarely ever works out that a President's policy agenda is unsuccessful while he remains personally popular. Yes, there are weird situations where a President might be personally loathed (Clinton post-Monica) but politically successful, but not (that I know of) the other way around.

This sort of thing is particularly important when passing complicated pieces of policy. In general, it's very hard for voters to evaluate health care legislation or a cap and trade plan. So they often evaluate the politicians associated with the legislation. If a politician they trust stands on a podium and tells them a particular bill is a good idea, and a politician they don't trust stands on the other podium and says the bill is a bad idea, they go with the politician they trust. That, obviously, is a stark hypothetical. But it's a pretty good description of the current situation. The American people trust Obama. There is no high-profile GOP spokesperson with similarly high approval ratings.

Put slightly differently, in 1994, the Republican Party had Bob Dole. Who do they have today? In 1994, the GOP used Whitewater to erode public trust in Bill and Hillary Clinton. What do they have today? The problem for the Republican Party is not simply that they lack popular leadership. It's that the Democratic Party doesn't share their dilemma.

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