Commentary Magazine


Obama’s Political Problems Mount

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found the following:

* President Obama’s overall job approval stands at a new low, with 44 percent approving and 54 percent disapproving.

* The president’s standing among independents is worse: 38 percent approve while 59 percent disapprove.

* For the first time, the poll found that a majority of adults, 52 percent, said Obama should be voted out of office while 43 percent said he deserves another term.

* About two-thirds of white voters without college degrees say Obama should be a one-term president, while 33 percent of those voters say he should get another four years. Among white voters with a college degree, 57 percent said Obama should be voted out of office.

* Obama’s approval rating on the handling of the economy is 39 percent approve while 60 percent disapprove.

* Only 26 percent said the United States is headed in the right direction while 70 percent said the country is moving in the wrong direction.

*About half of the respondents oppose the health care law and support for it dipped to 29 percent from 36 percent in June. Just 15 percent said the federal government should have the power to require all Americans to buy health insurance. Only 50 percent of Democrats support the health care law, compared with 59 percent of Democrats last June. And only about a quarter of independents back the law.

What all this means is while the attention of the political world continues to focus on the Republican primary race, President Obama’s political problems continue to mount.

The situation we find ourselves in is analogous to 1979-1980, at least in this respect: The country has made the judgment, at least for now, that the current occupant of the White House is a failure, inept and in over his head. Americans are certainly disposed to vote against Obama; the question is whether the Republican nominee provides sufficient reassurance to the majority of the public who believe the president should be voted out of office. Ronald Reagan did that in 1980; but only in the last few weeks of the election – and due in large part to his debate performance in Cleveland (held on October 28). As Craig Shirley points out in his excellent book Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America, the morning of the debate a Washington Post story featured this headline: “Carter Goes Into Debate With Lead in New Poll.”

Even with an unpopular president, the opposition party has to nominate someone who can make the sale. That’s what Republicans did in 1980; as a result, Reagan won 44 states and many Democratic “old bulls” in Congress (like Washington State’s Warren Magnuson) were washed away. There’s a lesson to be learned for Republicans in 2012. Regardless of how unpopular Obama becomes, the GOP nominee has to be able to close the deal. That’s what the primary process–as long and brutal as it is–is meant to determine.