Commentary Magazine


Topic: 2010 election

Can Obama Avoid Refighting 2010?

When President Obama spoke in the aftermath of his victory at the Supreme Court, he never mentioned the word “tax.” The ruling that saved his signature health care legislation made it clear his pledge the bill was not a tax was a clear deception. But while not acknowledging that the Affordable Care Act was passed by means of a political subterfuge, he did expressly ask Americans not to “refight the political battles of two years ago.” That was not so much a plea that the debate about the bill not be revisited but a worry that what will ensue will be a rematch of the 2010 midterm elections which were fought largely on the question of ObamaCare. While the president has every reason to exult today, the biggest question about his re-election effort now becomes whether he can indeed avoid a replay of a contest that ended in a rout of the Democrats.

Though the president is the clear winner today, the Court did hand Republicans an issue on which they can put Democrats at a disadvantage. The ruling established that ObamaCare constitutes a massive across-the-board tax increase that will come down hardest on the middle class, a group of voters who the president insists are exempt from his efforts to hike levies on the rich. But GOP optimists need to understand that presidential elections are very different animals from midterms. Although the Court may have helped revive the Tea Party, circumstances have changed since their heyday in 2010. Nevertheless, the stage has been set for the rematch that the president dreads.

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When President Obama spoke in the aftermath of his victory at the Supreme Court, he never mentioned the word “tax.” The ruling that saved his signature health care legislation made it clear his pledge the bill was not a tax was a clear deception. But while not acknowledging that the Affordable Care Act was passed by means of a political subterfuge, he did expressly ask Americans not to “refight the political battles of two years ago.” That was not so much a plea that the debate about the bill not be revisited but a worry that what will ensue will be a rematch of the 2010 midterm elections which were fought largely on the question of ObamaCare. While the president has every reason to exult today, the biggest question about his re-election effort now becomes whether he can indeed avoid a replay of a contest that ended in a rout of the Democrats.

Though the president is the clear winner today, the Court did hand Republicans an issue on which they can put Democrats at a disadvantage. The ruling established that ObamaCare constitutes a massive across-the-board tax increase that will come down hardest on the middle class, a group of voters who the president insists are exempt from his efforts to hike levies on the rich. But GOP optimists need to understand that presidential elections are very different animals from midterms. Although the Court may have helped revive the Tea Party, circumstances have changed since their heyday in 2010. Nevertheless, the stage has been set for the rematch that the president dreads.

For now, that places the onus on Mitt Romney. The Republican presidential candidate has spent the last two months more or less on cruise control as he allowed the dreadful economic situation, poor jobs reports and a series of administration scandals (the cyber warfare leaks and Fast and Furious) to damage the White House without much effort on his part.

But the Supreme Court’s decision now makes it incumbent on Romney to do more than just let Obama lose the election on his own. If he is to replicate the grass roots revolution that created the 2010 landslide, he needs to start acting less like the C.E.O. of the GOP but as the leader of a movement intent on halting a historic power grab by the federal government.

Given his own spotty record on health care issues, it is an understatement to say this is not exactly in his wheelhouse. And while the Democrats’ recent sallies on his record at Bain Capital are distortions, they have scored some points in making him appear as an out-of-touch plutocrat.

Nevertheless, Romney still has the ability to tap into the fact that most Americans didn’t want ObamaCare and are sure to be dismayed by the Court’s decision. Just as a Court ruling against the bill would have allowed the president to campaign on a platform of expanding health care, the White House victory sets the stage for a Republican groundswell that can tap into widespread dissatisfaction with the tax increase the president has imposed on all Americans. That means President Obama will, almost by definition, be put on the defensive on the two most important issues facing the electorate: the economy and the ObamaCare tax increase.

Though he may be confident about his ability to go toe-to-toe with Romney, the Democrats were swamped two years ago by disgust with his spending and tax policies. Though the terms of the fight may be a bit more advantageous for the president, a rematch of 2010 is exactly what he is going to get.

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Democratic Disaster Looms in Wisconsin

With one day to go before Wisconsin voters vote to decide whether or not to recall Governor Scott Walker, polls are still showing the Republican clearly favored to retain his office. After more than a year of effort by a vengeful union movement and their Democratic allies, the decision to try to punish Walker for passing legislation that cut back on the power of unions to hold the state hostage in negotiations may turn out to be the biggest miscalculation of 2012. With President Obama looking on fearfully (and carefully avoiding any personal involvement in the contest), the only thing bitter Wisconsin liberals may have accomplished is putting their state in play for Mitt Romney this November.

With Walker looking like a winner tomorrow, the coverage of the race has shifted to a discussion of how the recall will affect the presidential contest, with even the New York Times now conceding the recall may have helped to turn Wisconsin from a solid Obama state in 2008 to a crucial swing state that could cost him re-election. If the GOP emerges victorious tomorrow, liberals will not only have transformed Walker from an embattled incumbent to a national powerhouse, but they may also have set the stage for a Democratic debacle that could cost their party the White House. If that happens, the party will have only their union allies to blame for a decision that was rooted in anger rather than smart politics.

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With one day to go before Wisconsin voters vote to decide whether or not to recall Governor Scott Walker, polls are still showing the Republican clearly favored to retain his office. After more than a year of effort by a vengeful union movement and their Democratic allies, the decision to try to punish Walker for passing legislation that cut back on the power of unions to hold the state hostage in negotiations may turn out to be the biggest miscalculation of 2012. With President Obama looking on fearfully (and carefully avoiding any personal involvement in the contest), the only thing bitter Wisconsin liberals may have accomplished is putting their state in play for Mitt Romney this November.

With Walker looking like a winner tomorrow, the coverage of the race has shifted to a discussion of how the recall will affect the presidential contest, with even the New York Times now conceding the recall may have helped to turn Wisconsin from a solid Obama state in 2008 to a crucial swing state that could cost him re-election. If the GOP emerges victorious tomorrow, liberals will not only have transformed Walker from an embattled incumbent to a national powerhouse, but they may also have set the stage for a Democratic debacle that could cost their party the White House. If that happens, the party will have only their union allies to blame for a decision that was rooted in anger rather than smart politics.

Looking back on the process that led them to this situation, the problem for the Democrats is that there never seems to have been a point at which either state or national party leaders sat down to ponder a cost/benefit analysis of an attempt to unseat Walker. The political drama that unfolded in Madison throughout 2011 was an emotional roller coaster on which liberals realized only too late the ride had no escape hatch.

Wisconsin elected a Republican governor and legislature in 2010 as the Tea Party revolt against President Obama and his stimulus and ObamaCare plans fed conservative anger about taxes and spending. Much to the surprise of his foes, Walker and his allies in the legislature decided they would fulfill their campaign pledges and seek to ensure the state worker unions would be prevented from dragging Wisconsin steadily over the financial cliff again. Though the proposal to cut back on some collective bargaining rights for state workers was controversial, the violent reaction from the union thugs who stormed the statehouse and the absurd decision of Democratic legislators to flee the state to avoid a vote on the measure didn’t help the liberal cause. Though Walker may have seemed vulnerable after winning this battle, the idea to push for a recall was based on emotion, not political calculation. Liberals were so angry at Walker for keeping his word to the voters and not backing down in the face of protests that they never stopped to think that an effort to reverse the 2010 election results would strike many voters as both unnecessary and unfair.

The immediate problem in Wisconsin for liberals is not so much that Walker has persuaded a majority of voters that he is right — though there is clear evidence he has made headway despite the avalanche of criticism he got in the mainstream media — but that even many of those inclined to side with the Democrats have been convinced the left is dead wrong. The recall election is rightly perceived as nothing more than a form of payback for the drubbing the unions got in the legislature last year, and that has left a bitter taste in many voters’ mouths. If Walker survives tomorrow, the consequences will not only mean he will be strengthened, but that Democrats will emerge looking both petty and weak.

But the blowback from this foolish effort will not just be felt by a thuggish union movement that thought it could intimidate Walker last year and bulldoze the state in 2012. It will be President Obama, who won Wisconsin by 14 points in 2008, who may ultimately pay the biggest price for the rush to recall. Though a Republican has not won the state’s electoral votes since Ronald Reagan did it in 1980 and 1984, it should be remembered that George W. Bush came close in 2000 and 2004. If it turns out the state changes back from solid blue to tossup, President Obama will look back at a recall that was the fruit of his supporters’ unchecked anger as the source of his troubles.

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Walker Recall Will Be Referendum on 2010

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has wisely decided not to challenge the validity of the petitions that were presented to the state demanding his recall. Rather than getting involved in a nasty Bush-Gore lawsuit he might lose even before fighting for his office, he’s better off simply going straight to the voters sometime this summer.

The hundreds of thousands of signatures were largely the work of his union opponents who hope to undo the results of the 2010 elections when the people of Wisconsin chose a conservative Republican for the governor’s chair as well as a GOP-run legislature. The vote will be something of a referendum on the 2010 election in which Wisconsin can, in effect, get a mulligan for its choice at that time. The recall will enable us to see whether the state was ready for a politician who meant what he said when he campaigned on a platform of pushing back against civil service unions that are driving states into bankruptcy. While the most recent poll rates this a tossup, the Walker vote represents both an opportunity and a danger to both parties as they seek a leg up heading into this fall’s presidential election.

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Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has wisely decided not to challenge the validity of the petitions that were presented to the state demanding his recall. Rather than getting involved in a nasty Bush-Gore lawsuit he might lose even before fighting for his office, he’s better off simply going straight to the voters sometime this summer.

The hundreds of thousands of signatures were largely the work of his union opponents who hope to undo the results of the 2010 elections when the people of Wisconsin chose a conservative Republican for the governor’s chair as well as a GOP-run legislature. The vote will be something of a referendum on the 2010 election in which Wisconsin can, in effect, get a mulligan for its choice at that time. The recall will enable us to see whether the state was ready for a politician who meant what he said when he campaigned on a platform of pushing back against civil service unions that are driving states into bankruptcy. While the most recent poll rates this a tossup, the Walker vote represents both an opportunity and a danger to both parties as they seek a leg up heading into this fall’s presidential election.

As today’s Public Policy Polling survey shows, Democrats and their union allies have a real chance to knock off an icon of the GOP’s landslide 2010 midterm victory. Walker’s record is viewed unfavorably by a 52-47 margin, and he trails both likely Democratic challengers, though only by a small amount that is within the margin of error. However, the notion that the vast majority of citizens are clamoring for his eviction from the governor’s office is at best overblown. When asked whether they favor a recall, the result is a flat-footed tie, with 49 percent favoring one and the same number opposing the vote.

It should also be noted that this poll comes at a moment when the GOP is at its nadir in terms of national popularity. A nasty presidential nomination fight is reaching its climax in neighboring Michigan while the economy is on a light uptick, boosting President Obama’s fortunes. Unless you assume, as perhaps some Democrats do, that things will only get worse for Walker and the Republicans during the next few months, the governor may well reason he has nowhere to go but up.

It bears repeating that Democrats are taking a big chance by going after Walker. If they win, they will have effectively reversed the verdict of 2010, and it will be rightly seen as an omen foretelling a big Obama victory in November. But if they lose, it will be just as big a morale boost for Republicans and also set up Walker as a major figure in national politics. Seen in this light, Democrats and state union activists must know if they fail to defeat Walker now, they may well live to rue their defeat in years to come as he rises even higher in national esteem.

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