That’s not nearly good enough, so watch the Obama team pursue two strategies next year:
(1) Try to recreate the bandwagon effect. It won’t be nearly as effective in 2012 as in 2008 simply because he’s no longer an ambiguous phenomenon. Now, he’s the president who has a real – and extremely disappointing – record. Still, look for his team to generate, once again, the impression that he’s riding the crest of some unprecedented wave of popular support. That’s the point of the billion-dollar campaign fund, the gratuitous (and utterly absurd) suggestions that Texas is somehow in play, and the general idea that he’s virtually invincible next year. Also, when the campaign gets going, expect plenty of super-large rallies that will play on people’s inability to appreciate the scale of American elections (30,000 people at a rally is a drop in the bucket in a country where 130 million vote) to reinforce the notion that he can’t lose.
(2) Run the Truman 1948 playbook. Harry Truman is today remembered as a straight shooter who told it like it was. That’s true in many respects, but he was also one of the most partisan presidents in the postwar era, and his 1948 campaign was one of the most demagogic. Check out, for instance, Truman’s 1948 nomination acceptance address. The reason Truman ran that campaign was because he was pinched from multiple sides – from the left and the right in his own party, from the Republicans, and from the economy, which ground to a virtual halt by election day. In response, Truman ran hard against the Republicans, arguing that they were set to destroy the New Deal. Expect Obama to run a similar ‘Give ‘em hell!’ strategy, making particular use of Paul Ryan’s budget to demagogue the Republican position. There’s really no reason to pick somebody like Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the DNC, other than to drive home the ‘GOP wants to murder granny’ argument.
So, here’s the billion dollar question: will this two-pronged strategy work? Frankly, I’m skeptical. I think the bandwagon endeavor is going to fizzle — at least in terms of moving public opinion. As for the demagogic plan, he is going to need a lot of help from the Republican nominee to recast his opposition as extreme. Truman got that kind of assistance from Thomas Dewey, who pulled his punches in 1948, allowing Truman to set the terms of the public conversation in the final weeks. It’s unlikely that the Republican nominee will be so passive, and since he/she likely won’t be from Congress, it will be hard to tie him/her to the House (as Clinton tied Dole to Gingrich in 1996).