Karl Rove, writing in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, zeroes in on the key weakness of President Obama’s tenuous reelection strategy. Without being able to tout substantive achievements on the economic front, Obama’s chance at victory relies on making Americans too frightened or disgusted to vote for his opponent:
It won’t be easy. Mr. Obama can’t win re-election by trumpeting his achievements. And he has decided against offering a bold agenda for a second term: That was evident in his State of the Union emphasis on high-speed rail, high-speed Internet and “countless” green jobs.
Instead, backed by a brutally efficient opposition research unit, the president will use focus-group tested lines of attack to disqualify the Republican nominee by questioning his or her values, intentions and intelligence.
As Rove points out, Obama has so far been unable to pitch innovative solutions for his second term. This could not have been clearer than at the president’s press conference yesterday, when he basically called for another stimulus plan – even though the first one has not succeeded at reinvigorating the economy, and even though the nation is in the throes of a deficit crisis.
But there’s another point to be made here. Rove notes Obama “could have enjoyed the advantage of incumbency—with its power to set the agenda and dominate the stage—until next spring when the GOP nomination will be settled. Instead he prematurely abandoned the stance of an assured public leader to become an aggressive political candidate.”
Obama is in his element when he’s a candidate, not when he’s serving as an elected official — possibly because he finds public office boring, as the book Game Change reported. Because he has climbed the Washington ladder so quickly, his political victories have never really been based on his accomplishments, and he’s also never campaigned as an incumbent (other than getting reelected as a state senator). So while he did run an excellent campaign in 2008, it will be very difficult for him to replicate that in 2012.