President Obama was already suffering one of the worst imaginable months for an incumbent president in an election year – including a dismal jobs report and declining factory orders, falling approval ratings (including in swing states), the overwhelming victory of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the president’s widely ridiculed claim the private sector is “doing fine,” Bill Clinton’s various apostasies, the realization that Obama might be outspent in this election by Mitt Romney, and a major speech in Ohio that was panned even by sympathetic liberals. (Jim Geraghty provides a nice summary and analysis here.)
But it may be that the first half of June was a walk in the park compared to the latter part of the month. Because two events – one which just happened and one that will happen next week – may turn out to be powerful, and even crippling, body blows to the president.
The first one is the burgeoning “Fast and Furious” scandal, which has now been elevated from a secondary story to a major one. The president’s assertion of executive privilege is without foundation–a transparent effort to protect his attorney general, and possibly himself, from a legitimate congressional inquiry about a scandalous policy failure. The more this story unwinds, the more obvious this will become.
The man who promised us a “new standard of openness” and the “most transparent and accountable administration in history,” who said his administration would create “an unprecedented level of openness in government” and would “work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration” is now engaged in what could reasonably be construed to be a cover up. (If you’d like your belly laugh for the day, you might take a look at this document, Open Government 2.0 (!), put out by the Department of Justice – which claims, “The Department of Justice is committed to achieving the president’s goal of making this the most transparent administration in history.”)
This is Obama’s first bona fide, full-scale scandal. The president, with his assertion of executive privilege, has now placed himself at the center of the storm. And he’s done so with less than 140 days before the election. One can only imagine what the administration has to hide in order for Obama to have done what he did.
In addition, next week, the Supreme Court will in all likelihood announce its decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. If the Court overturns the ACA, in whole or in part, it will be devastating to the president. After all, his signature domestic achievement — one which dominated American politics for much of Obama’s first term — will not only have been judged to be unconstitutional; it will also have proven to be a colossal waste of the country’s time and energy. And even if the Court doesn’t overturn the Affordable Care Act, it will thrust to the fore what presidential scholar George C. Edwards III calls “perhaps the least popular major domestic policy passed in the last century” (which helps explain why the president rarely speaks about this “achievement” in the run-up to the election).
Elections are rarely decided in June, and this one won’t be, either. But history may look back at this as the month when the president fell behind Romney and never fully recovered.
We’ll know soon enough.