03.17.10

How Obama Wins in 2012

Despite sagging poll numbers, the president has bottomed out, and Republicans still lack the leaders and the ideas to beat him, argues former Bush strategist Mark McKinnon.

All of my Republican friends are acting as giddy as kids at Christmas. They are delighting in the misfortunes of the Democrats. They believe, accurately, in my opinion, that the health-care bill is political suicide—at least in the short term. So, if the health-care bill passes, Republicans take the House in the fall. And if the health-care bill doesn’t pass, the Democrats look feckless and incapable of getting anything done, and they still lose the House in the fall.

The political environment is as toxic as we’ve ever seen. President Obama entered office during one of the most troubled and challenging times in our history. He got dealt a bad hand, but many argue that he and his party have played a bad hand badly.

At this point, with a respectful nod to Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republicans look more like a glue factory than an idea factory.

But something very interesting and counterintuitive is happening with Obama. The NBC-Wall Street Journal poll published Tuesday has two findings that are at odds with one another. First, only 17 percent of the American public approve of Congress. That’s the lowest sounding ever recorded for Capitol Hill. And it’s hard to imagine just who makes up that 17 percent, beyond friends and family.

Obama’s approval ratings, on the other hand, hover well above his colleagues'—at a healthy 48 percent.

Let’s drill down on that a bit. It’s hard to imagine that things will get any worse for Obama during his presidency. The economy may not be roaring by 2012, but it’s likely to be better. Whatever happens with the health-care bill, assuming it does ultimately pass, it will have had time to take effect and will probably be less onerous than feared. Most soldiers will be out of Iraq and perhaps progress will be apparent in Afghanistan.

No president has been reelected with an approval rating below 47. And, so Obama, at what is probably the lowest point in his presidency, still has a strong enough approval rating to win a second White House term. And that’s before a reelection campaign in which he and his team will probably spend $1 billion.

Let’s also assume for the sake of argument that the Republicans do take the House this fall. If they do, it’s a blessing for Obama—because then there will be shared responsibility and he can blame-shift accountability for all the failures of Congress. He will replay Bill Clinton’s playbook from 1994.

Besides, you have to beat the other team by putting players on the field who have better talent and skills. If the players on the stage are Obama and House Minority Leader John Boehner, whose unnatural-looking spray tan and gleaming teeth make him look like the host for The Price Is Right, or Mitch McConnell, who comes across like a funeral director, Obama’s going to look like Babe Ruth. And to win, you have to have better ideas. At this point, with a respectful nod to Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republicans look more like a glue factory than an idea factory.

So to all my Republican friends, I say, don’t start poppin’ the Champagne yet. Obama has taken the worst possible political pounding and he’s still on his feet and looking pretty strong.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.