What argument does Barack Obama have for a second term? Despite having had his campaign in place for almost a year and a half, Team Obama and the President still are flailing about for a theme and a campaign message. BuzzFeed reports today that they’ve come up empty, and might have to settle for reruns:
Four years after he tapped into a deep longing for change, President Obama is shifting back to the message that got him elected, running against Washington Gridlock and promising that his re-election can “break the stalemate” that has at times paralyzed the government over which he presides.
Excuse me? President “I Won” wants to argue that he can break a stalemate for which he’s now largely responsible? Good luck with that, although he can point to one singular achievement in bipartisanship: he’s the only President in modern history to fail to get a single vote on two successive budget proposals in three Congressional votes, including none from his own party, which controls the Senate.
Obama first tested this new messagae in Cleveland earlier this month, but he developed it fully Monday during campaign stops in New Hampshre and Massaschusetts, where he stopped looking back to make the case for his accomplishments, and moved away from dwelling in te problems of the present. Instead, Obama looked to the lame duck Congressional session this fall and beyond, taking a sledgehammer to Washington, the town his party controlled for his first two years in office. [spelling errors in original]
Oh, please! Obama and his party had large majorities in Congress, including several months of filibuster-proof control of the Senate in 2009-10. What did they do? Initiate a government overhaul of the health-care system that imposed top-down mandates and federal diktats to religious organizations, and indulge in almost every liberal hobby-horse of the past 30 years. Even on the stimulus, where they could have drawn Republican support in the immediate crisis, Obama rejected their input with his two-word “I won” rejoinder and ended up entirely owning its failure.
What is this, now — the fourth argument for the Obama team? What happened to “Forward?” I guess now it’s “Backward.” They want to run on change again, which is an interesting choice for an incumbent. “Change” must now mean “status quo,” eh? At least this is a point on which Mitt Romney can agree with Obama, because Romney’s running on change, too — starting at the top.
Charlie Cook warns that Obama’s not going to be able to sell himself in this election at all anyway, emphasis mine:
We are past the point where Obama can win a referendum election, regardless of whether it is on him or the economy. The success of his campaign is contingent upon two things. First, when focusing on the narrow sliver of undecided voters, between 6 and 8 percent of the electorate, the Obama team must make its candidate the lesser of two evils. It has to make the prospect of a Mitt Romney presidency so unpalatable that about half of those undecided voters will begrudgingly vote for reelection. Polling focusing on the undecided voters reveals they are a deeply pessimistic and angry segment of the electorate and don’t particularly like either candidate (fitting, because they don’t tend to like politicians). But they show signs of being more conservative than not. One unpublished analysis gives Republicans a 10-point advantage on the generic congressional ballot test among those undecided about the presidential race. Close analysis of the numbers shows that Obama might have an edge with between a third and a quarter of the currently undecided bloc. That’s cutting things awfully close.
The second key is turnout. African-Americans look solid for Obama and very likely to vote in high numbers, but young and Latino voters’ turnout appears problematic. Obama’s recent announcement of a newly articulated Dream Act-light policy could help, but it is too soon to see any data showing measurable change. It is what many Latino voters wanted to see, though Obama did it less than five months before the election when it could have been done three years ago. After deportations had reached levels higher than those under George W. Bush, it could take a lot to drive up Latino turnout.
This election is hardly over: The totally unexpected could happen that changes everything. Unless the Obama team can discredit Romney, though, convincing voters that he is a ruthless, uncaring corporate buccaneer, this will be a hard election to win. Probably the only upside for Obama is that the undecided voters appear so sour that they might believe almost anything disparaging said about any politician.
So the undecideds give the GOP a +10 in a generic Congressional ballot? That’s a big indicator as to how the presidential race will go, but Jim Geraghty cautions against reading too much into that:
My one caveat to this finding: a good portion of the remaining undecided are the notorious “low-information voters” whose views seem particularly fickle and easily swayed. While the instincts of these voters are conservative, they probably shouldn’t be thought of as actually conservative voters.
The time for “low-information voters” is rapidly running out, however. If that holds up, Obama will be in huge trouble, as will Democrats running for Congress. Also, Cook’s citation of this relies on the fact that these are not conservative voters, but independents breaking hard toward the GOP, as conservatives would already be supporting the GOP and opposing Obama. That’s what makes this so interesting.