Today is more or less the official opening of the midterm general election, even though a handful of states still have primaries in the next two weeks. The consensus appears to be that Democrats are heading to the woodshed, and perhaps to minority status in both chambers of Congress, thanks to economic policies that have left the US with high unemployment, low consumer confidence, and enormous public debt. Barack Obama spent the weekend promising to pivot his attention to joblessness, but three analysts say that the President missed his window.
First, Byron York:
Two days before Christmas, Politico reported that White House officials believed it would last until February — after which Obama would make a “very hard pivot” to the jobs issue.
But health care dragged on even longer; the bill didn’t pass until March 21. Even then, with his No. 1 priority accomplished, Obama did not execute the long-awaited pivot and go full-tilt on the economy. In fact, at times it was hard to tell just what he was doing. “So has he already made the hard pivot to jobs, or are we still waiting for that to happen?” a reporter asked White House press secretary Robert Gibbs during that time.
Then came months during which Obama sometimes talked about the economy and sometimes talked about energy and sometimes about immigration and sometimes the Middle East and sometimes about other stuff. Watching the polls, Democrats squirmed, seeing their hopes for November grow dimmer and dimmer. Republicans looked on, bewildered.
“I don’t get it,” GOP pollster David Winston told me at the time. “I don’t understand what he is doing. He’s not addressing the No. 1 issue that Americans want him to address.”
Mark Halperin says that it’s the White House that didn’t “get it,” and that Democrats had plenty of warning. If Scott Brown’s election surprise in deep-blue Massachusetts didn’t wake them up, they have no one to blame but themselves:
Even with Obama’s announcements this week proposing new infrastructure policy and business tax credits, the President’s party has done little since Brown’s victory to improve its standing on those priorities. House and Senate Democrats have wasted the year futilely trying to sell their past accomplishments, and the President has been distracted by the BP oil spill, the war in Afghanistan and negotiations on the Middle East. Second, anti-Obama anger over his record on economic issues will spur Republicans and unaligned voters to the polls to send a message to the majority party, while Democrats, including the young and first-time voters who propelled Barack Obama to the White House just two years ago, have little enthusiasm for casting ballots this time around.
So far, at least, Democrats have offered no compelling case on the economy, either to energize their base or take the edge off the Republican assertion that voters need to send a message to Obama and check his big-spending ways. Polls show that the Republican argument is connecting with likely voters even more than with citizens overall.
Many months of mostly negative economic news, particularly on unemployment, have left the Democrats unable to build a happy-days-are-here-again platform. Democratic legislative achievements, like health care, are being used against the President’s party, and few Democratic candidates are touting their role in these bittersweet victories. Road tests of a variety of alternative messages (“It’s George Bush’s fault,” “Republican control of Congress would make things even worse,” “Republicans have blocked progress in Washington,” “Republicans want to take away your Social Security,” “Republicans are wacky extremists”) have had a very limited effect so far. In fact, every bit of national and race-by-race polling data suggests extensive deterioration of the Democrats’ position as the year has gone on. One sign of the Democrats weakness on the economic battlefield: the looming fight over whether to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, once seen by strategists in the White House and on Capitol Hill as a huge opportunity for their party, is now a face-off Republicans are hotly anticipating.
Halperin uses the word “tsunami” to describe the coming midterm prospects for the GOP. So does Politico’s Mike Allen:
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Tuesday found that that the administration’s “Recovery Summer” was a bust: In May, 40 percent of respondents said the economy would get better in the next 12 months. Now, that figure is 26 percent.
Democrats, it’s now clear, could lose bigger than they did in the Republican revolution of 1994, which produced House Speaker Newt Gingrich in a 54-seat GOP gain. This year, Republicans would need a 39-seat pickup to seize control, and forecasts for their gains run as high as 60 seats. …
In the ABC/Washington Post poll, an astonishing 92 percent of respondents described the state of the nation’s economy as bad, compared with 8 percent who said it was good. (The figure was 90 percent in July, and peaked at 94 percent in January.) For the first time in Barack Obama’s presidency, the poll found that more people disapproved of his overall handling of his job than approved: 52 percent disapproved, while 46 percent approved.
And in another first, more people said Obama’s economic plan was making the economy worse (33 percent) than thought it was making the economy better (30 percent), while 36 percent said his programs were having “no real effect.”
Poll after poll showed that the economy and jobs were the highest priorities for American voters all throughout 2009. Instead of focusing on jobs and joblessness and implementing policies that would actually address both, Democrats instead focused on a health-care overhaul that voters didn’t want. After they passed ObamaCare, the White House decided to focus on a new law in Arizona to enforce the immigration laws that Obama more or less ignored, until the Gulf spill took up most of their attention more than a month after it started. The only focus on the economy came from Joe Biden, who touted “Recovery Summer” while economic indicators all went the wrong direction.
Voters have concluded that this administration and its Democratic colleagues in Congressional leadership either don’t care about the economy or have no clue how to address it. They are certainly not impressed with a President who promised a “hard pivot” in December and took nine months to begin executing it. Even the Titanic managed to maneuver a little more quickly than that and didn’t focus on rearranging deck chairs first. Obama missed his window, and it’s far too late to miss the iceberg now.