Let's say you're a Democratic political consultant who has never worked for Barack Obama. How do you feel about him and his team? Well, chances are that although you respect their skill, you also think they're too insular and too unwilling to listen to outside advice. Like yours! Because after all, if you're a Democratic political consultant and you don't work for the Obama campaign, you probably wish you did. There's a lot of prestige, and not a little money, in working for the president's re-election effort. If you didn't work for the historic 2008 effort, you probably feel a little left out. And you probably also feel that you're just as smart as David Axelrod or David Plouffe, and you ought to be going on Meet the Press to share your wisdom just like they do.
The results of the Wisconsin recall election weren’t surprising; for the last month, polls had shown Walker with a solid lead over his Democratic opponent. What was interesting—and a little surprising—was the extent to which President Barack Obama has maintained a strong position in the Badger State. Among the 2.4 million people who voted in last night’s election—a slight decrease from presidential turnout—52 percent support Obama. Obama’s performance is down from 2008, when he captured 56 percent of the vote, but Mitt Romney hasn’t captured the difference.
Over the past month or two, as the president’s political position has continued to erode and he becomes more vulnerable, an extraordinary and vaguely preposterous conversation has taken shape. Variations on it have been advanced by everyone from former presidents chatting with Hollywood moguls on news cable TV to esteemed Sunday-morning newspaper columnists picking their way through the racial bric-à-brac of the presidential psyche. In a way, it’s the corollary of the birther discussion at the other end of the spectrum, which is to say that it’s a conversation we’ve never had about any other president.
It's sometimes said that the most optimistic presidential candidate is inevitably the one who wins. If that's true, Barack Obama is a shoe-in, considering what he said on Friday about the "fever" of Republican intransigence. "I believe that if we're successful in this election," the President mused, "that the fever may break, because there's a tradition in the Republican Party of more common sense than that. My hope, my expectation, is that after the election, now that it turns out that the goal of beating Obama doesn't make sense because I'm not running again, that we can start getting some cooperation again." And if you believe that, I've got some mortgage-backed securities you might be interested in.
Despite the fact that most Democrats are enthusiastic about the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain Capital, the news media has run with the “narrative” that Democrats are bucking the Obama message in favor of more conciliatory rhetoric toward private equity. According to CNN, the latest Democrat to go off the reservation is Bill Clinton, who praised Romney’s business record in a press conference yesterday:
If Barack Obama turns out to be a one-term president, historians may mark the summer of 2011 as the moment his failure became inevitable. At that point, the new right-wing Republican House majority declared the national debt hostage and demanded Obama’s surrender to them on all points of domestic policy. When the debt-ceiling statute required authorization of a new federal borrowing limit, they refused to vote on the measure without massive cuts in federal spending and no increase in federal revenue. The crisis was averted by the appointment of an idiotic congressional “supercommittee” that was supposed to identify future cuts, matched with a set of “automatic” cuts that were to take effect if the “supercommittee” failed to come up with a compromise aimed at reducing federal debt.
I’m a little surprised to see that Missouri is a toss-up in the presidential race, according to the latest survey from Public Policy Polling. Obama has a 44 percent approval rating among Missouri voters, but gains 45 percent of the vote in a match-up with Mitt Romney, who has a 38 percent favorability rating and gets 44 percent of the vote.
There's no question the stakes of the Wisconsin recall are high. As I wrote last week, if Governor Scott Walker survives the election next week—no matter how slim the margin—he's likely to claim a mandate. Since he's already a rock star among conservatives and anti-union activists, Walker would be in a good position to push further right. If he loses, it gives the labor movement one of its biggest victories in years.
However, the fate of Wisconsin is unlikely to determine the fate of the presidential election. It may not even determine the presidential race in Wisconsin.
Beneath the skirmish over whether President Obama should use Bain Capital against Mitt Romney (simple answer: duh), you could detect a deeper—and far more edifying—theme that’s starting to define the presidential campaign. Obama’s ringing response in Chicago to critics of his Bain criticisms made the plainest logical sense: If Romney’s going to claim his business experience as his main qualification for the presidency, then of course that business experience is part of the debate.
Call it the Obama effect. Since Obama's pitch-perfectannouncement about same-sex marriage, supporting marriage equality is becoming practically chic. A cascade of voices has come out of the closet in favor of it, and hardly anyone has noticed.
When the Washington Post story about Mitt Romney's high school years (including forcibly cutting the hair of a student whose commitment to conformism was insufficiently vigorous) came out, leading Republicans were fairly quiet about it. Whether the incident happened or not, they said, it tells us virtually nothing about the man Romney is today and the issues at stake in this election. That's a perfectly reasonable argument, but it isn't the one you would have heard from many of the foot soldiers in the Republican base. Among the troops, there was outrage, not so much about the Romney story, but about what they saw as a double-standard. As one emailed me after I wrote a piece on the topic, "I saw your article on CNN. When does the vetting of President Obama begin? Have you delved into his past? The next time I read an article about a young Barrack [sic] Obama will be the first."
As I replied to this person, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of articles written in 2008 (and since) about Barack Obama's youth. He even wrote a pretty frank book about it himself, before he ever became a politician. If you think he wasn't "vetted" you weren't paying attention. But there are millions of conservatives who believe precisely that, and as we approach Obama's possible re-election, with an extremely busy and consequential first term almost behind us, the obsession with his allegedly hidden past only grows.
Bill Clinton has emerged as a player in the presidential election, but oddly, not as a surrogate for President Obama. Rather, Mitt Romney is using the former president as a +5 Amulet of Centrism—a way to assert moderate credentials without changing his policies or modifying his rhetoric. This was used to great effect in his speech yesterday, where he decried deficits and disparaged Obama for his “old school” liberalism:
If you were Mitt Romney right now, you'd probably feel like you're the victim of a double-standard. When you have changed your position on an issue in the past, everyone took it as proof that you have no core of beliefs and you'll flip-flop whenever the situation demands. But when Barack Obama does the same thing, he gets to say he has "evolved" and nobody takes it as proof of a character flaw. Surely, Mitt might be saying to himself, Americans will see this for the craven, politically motivated flip-flop it is and punish Obama for it, no matter what they think about gay marriage.
I'm afraid Mitt is going to be out of luck on this one. Obama's evolution will be treated differently than Romney's changes in position, for one important reason: because millions of people have gone through a similar evolution in the last few years...
Yesterday, I wrote on Barack Obama “evolving” position on same-sex marriage, and pointed to a Gallup poll from last year that showed majority support for marriage equality. If Obama could count on public opinion in 2011—with 53 percent of Americans in favor of gay marriage—then there’s no question that he could do the same in 2012, and gain from announcing his support for marriage equality.
A new Gallup survey shows a slight reduction in support for same-sex marriage. 50 percent of Americans say that marriages between same-sex couples should be recognized by the law as valid, compared to 48 percent who say otherwise: