One of the things that have puzzled political commentators is why President Obama is running the campaign he is. Rather than tacking to the center, as Bill Clinton did, Mr. Obama is running a campaign that is based on stoking class resentments and raising taxes on the rich. Rather than laying out a second-term agenda, he’s hyper-focusing on issues like contraception, the GOP’s so-called “war on women,” and inserting himself into the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy and Trayvon Martin tragedy. Rather than invoking the unifying language of 2008, the president is using incendiary language, accusing Republicans of targeting children with autism and Down syndrome, of being members of the “flat earth society,” and embracing a budget that demonstrates their “Social Darwinism.” For good measure, the GOP favors “dirtier” air and water.
Assuming there is a rationale behind this strategy, what might it be?
The answer might be found in demographics.
As National Journal’s Ron Brownstein reminds us, in 2008 Obama won the presidency by carrying 80 percent of minorities (who comprised 26 percent of all voters); 52 percent of college-educated white women; 42 percent of college educated white men; 41 percent of non-college white women; and 39 percent of white men without a college degree.
Analyzing recent polls, Brownstein concludes, “Obama is largely holding the minority and college-educated white women who comprise two pillars of the modern Democratic base (along with young people.) But he is facing erosion among blue-collar white men and struggling to maintain even his modest 2008 support among the two swing quadrants in the white electorate: the college-plus white men and non-college white women.”
Given his inability and unwillingness to run on his record, the Obama strategy appears to rest on achieving three things: (1) energizing the turnout of his base (minorities, young voters and liberals); (2) winning the support of college-educated white women (who tend to be socially liberal); and (3) preventing a collapse among non-college educated whites (by irradiating Governor Romney rather than winning their affection).
To put it another way: Obama has essentially given up on appealing to working-class white men (his approval rating is in the low 30s or below in most polls), which explains why he’s refusing to borrow a page from Bill Clinton’s re-election playbook. Mr. Obama is gambling his re-election on winning close to eight out of 10 minority voters while assuming they will comprise a higher percentage of the vote in 2012 than they did in 2008 (say, 28 percent v. 26 percent of all votes); and improving just a bit on the 52 percent of college-educated white women he won in 2008. If he can achieve that, Obama believes he can offset his decreasing support among white men and non-college white women.
Will it work? I doubt it. My guess is that the president will have a hard time replicating his 2008 popularity with minorities; that Governor Romney will be able to sufficiently repair relations with college-educated white women (which were damaged during the primary); and that in the course of the election, Mr. Obama’s liberalism and invective will further alienate those who are already moving away from him.
Because of his extraordinary ineptness at governing, the president has limited options when it comes to the 2012 campaign. He’s decided to go with the most ruthless, partisan, and divisive alternative open to him. Mr. Obama will lose the election, in my judgment. And in the process, as we’ve already seen, he’ll stain his reputation and lose a good deal of his honor.