southernbeau

Making sense of the non-sensical world of American politics

Obama’s Resurgence: A Credit To Republicans

During the summer, I wrote extensively about the political battle between President Obama and House Republicans regarding the debt ceiling.  At that time, I predicted that the reluctance to compromise on any level by House Republicans would ultimately benefit Mr. Obama.  Fast forward to the present and it’s deja vu all over again.  The President, the Congress and, more importantly, the country at large are being held hostage by an intransigent and frankly childish House Republican Caucus.

The Senate – by a bipartisan vote of 89-10 – passed a measure to extend the payroll tax cut for another two months to allow negotiations to continue regarding how to pay for a full one year extension of the tax cut.  The House – led by Tea Party ideologues – rejected the bill.  Obviously, this stop gap measure is far from perfect, but without it, taxes will increase for 160 million Americans come January 1st.  The New Year’s Eve hangover will quickly be supplanted by a far more severe, longer lasting headache. 

I submit that these two political events taken together have strengthened President Obama’s position and alternately badly tarnished that of the Republicans.  Republican disarray over the debt ceiling debate and extending a payroll tax cut has quickly become part of a bigger political story that has been unfolding for months: the resurrection of President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats heading into the 2012 elections.

After the debt ceiling debacle of last summer, the conventional wisdom among many political analysts was that Obama would go the way of President Jimmy Carter, that Republicans would lose a few seats in the House but retain control, and that the GOP would surge into power in the Senate. In short, Republicans were looking for a clean sweep. That is now a scenario that looks virtually impossible for Republicans to obtain.  Obama is still vulnerable and could lose, but the most recent CNN poll reveals a remarkable turnaround, especially in the past month.

In a mid-November survey, when asked which candidate they were more likely to support, registered voters gave Mitt Romney a lead of 4 percentage points over Obama, 51% to 47%. The mid-December survey found an 11-point switch; Obama now has a 52%-45% edge over Romney. Against Newt Gingrich, Obama has a 16-point lead, 56%-40%. (Ironically, the one Republican candidate who does as well against Obama as Romney is Rep Ron Paul, trailing by the same 52%-45% margin.)  Obviously, polls are but a fleeting snapshot in time; however, this marked  shift toward Obama is significant.

It is too early to tell how much Democratic prospects for the Senate and House have improved, but senior Republicans are worried. Case in point: the Massachusetts Senate race, where a poll has shown Democratic populist Elizabeth Warren grabbing an unexpected lead over Republican populist Scott Brown. Only a few months ago, the Brown forces were supremely confident. Brown has seen how much danger the payroll tax mess can pose for his re-election and was one of the first to condemn House Republicans for rejecting a Senate compromise that had overwhelming, bipartisan support.

For Brown and other GOP candidates in blue and purple states, the hard-liners in the House are playing directly into a narrative that Democrats have been promoting for months: that Washington is broken because the GOP has become hostage to the tea party. With sentiment toward the tea party now running 49%-33% unfavorable in CNN polling, that is potent stuff.  Republican congressional leaders have so grossly mishandled the payroll tax issue that they have made it easy for the charge to stick.

As The Wall Street Journal said in its scathing editorial, the GOP has also strengthened Obama’s central argument that he is the protector of the middle class and Republicans can only be counted on to protect the rich. No wonder the White House is quietly clammering with excitement at these recent developments, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is calling on House Republicans to pass the two-month extension.  For the Obama White House, Republican incompetence with respect to the payroll tax issue has truly been the proverbial early Christmas (or holiday) present.

Of course, there is another major force at work that has been lifting Democratic hopes, namely, the quality of the Republican presidential race. With less than two weeks left before the Iowa caucuses, it is apparent that no one has captured the imagination of GOP voters. Essentially, we are back to where we started: a prevailing sense that the field is weak while pundits speculate as to whether a Jeb Bush or Chris Christie will get off the sidelines and enter the race.

All primary campaigns draw candidates toward the extreme end of their parties, but this year, with so many debates, there has been a danger all along for Republicans that moderates and independents would also be driven off. (In the CNN poll, moderates now give Obama a sizable lead against every GOP candidate.)

None of this is to say that Obama and Democrats have become clear favorites for next fall. The fluidity we have seen among Republican primary voters may well show up in the general electorate. As Romney has been arguing, the GOP is likely to close its ranks more fully once a nominee has been crowned. The improving tone of the economy — also a factor for Obama — could well be short-lived: As The New York Times reported Thursday, economists tend to think that growth could slow again next year. And that ominous, dark cloud called the euro zone is still hovering.

Even so, we are witnessing an important change in the political landscape — and it could be lasting. Republicans well remember the mid-1990s when they seized power in Congress and Speaker Newt Gingrich went mano-a-mano with President Bill Clinton. For a while, Gingrich had the upper hand, but Clinton then outmaneuvered him on two governmental shutdowns — and when the momentum turned in Clinton’s favor, he rode it to an easy re-election. No one should doubt that could happen again.  And Republicans would have no one to blame but themselves.

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December 22, 2011 Posted by | 2012 Presidential Election, Boehner, Obama, Payroll Tax, Politics, Republican Party | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment