The new year brought more bad news for the president. Instead of going for immigration reform as his top legislative priority, he squandered much of his political capital on a doomed effort to enact gun restrictions. In March and April, House Republicans battered him on Benghazi. In May, he learned that the Internal Revenue Service had inappropriately monitored conservative groups, putting him on the defensive. At the same time, he came under fire for Justice Department investigations of journalists.
In June, Edward Snowden started leaking highly sensitive and embarrassing National Security Agency documents. By July, Snowden was demanding asylum in Russia, leading Obama to cancel a planned summit with Vladimir Putin at the precise time he was looking to the Russian president to bail him out of a no-win battle with Congress over Syria. It was also in June that the White House had to acknowledge that Syria had crossed Obama’s “red line” and used chemical weapons. That led to a request to use military force that seemed doomed before Putin stepped in.
Obama’s annus horribilis wasn’t over, of course. Still to come was the badly botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a mess still awaiting a fix. The result, on the one-year anniversary of his reelection, is that Obama finds himself near a personal low point in his approval ratings. Gallup’s daily tracking poll released Tuesday had him at 39 percent approval, only 1 point above his worst showing, in October 2011. In the past 60 years, only Richard Nixon (29 percent) and George W. Bush (38 percent) had lower ratings a year after their reelection. (Ronald Reagan was at 64 percent, Bill Clinton at 60, and Dwight Eisenhower at 58.)
Some of this is just bad luck. But some of Obama’s difficulties with Congress go back to the campaign he conducted in 2012 and were predicted a year ago by William Galston, Clinton’s top domestic-policy adviser in his first term.