Obama 2012: Never Underestimate the Power of Incumbency
The built-in advantages of the office may overcome all the president's shortcomings.
July 1, 2011 - 12:00 am
Karl Rove recently wrote a widely circulated op-ed titled “Why Obama Is Likely to Lose in 2012.”
Here is the opening paragraph:
President Barack Obama is likely to be defeated in 2012. The reason is that he faces four serious threats. The economy is very weak and unlikely to experience a robust recovery by Election Day. Key voter groups have soured on him. He’s defending unpopular policies. And he’s made bad strategic decisions.
Yes, it’s all true, and Rove backs up each reason with relevant data. However, he fails to emphasize the one overwhelming advantage President Obama has against his 2012 opponent: the power, glory, and respect that is accorded the person who holds the title “president of the United States.”
Historically, holders of this esteemed title have a 67.7% chance of re-election. As a co-writer and I noted earlier this year, and as was mentioned later by CBS News, “in the last 56 U.S. presidential elections, 31 have involved incumbents; 21 of those candidates have won more than one term.”
Since Karl Rove knows well the reverence accorded the president, he does mention incumbency once in this context:
While he needs to raise money and organize, he decided to be a candidate this year rather than president. He has thus unnecessarily abandoned one of incumbency’s great strengths, which is the opportunity to govern and distance himself from partisan politics until next spring.
It is Rove’s belief that President Obama’s decision to act less presidential and more like a candidate, while governing as a partisan in 2011, will help thwart his re-election chances.
This is where I respectfully disagree with Mr. Rove.
In fact, I believe Obama’s carefully calculated partisan behavior will actually increase his chances of winning a second term.
Since he took office in January 2009, President Obama has never stopped campaigning. He derives his energy, his very life blood, from being out on the trail, speaking to crowds large or small, and “pressing the flesh.”
During his entire presidency thus far, Obama has wanted us to think all those visits to factories, schools, campuses, town halls, and military bases were 100% official. The truth is the backdrop and especially the choice of state were always political. This was Obama’s way of keeping the campaign going.
Having been a “spy” since 2008 on Obama’s infamous campaign e-mail list “Organizing for America,” I have seen firsthand, sometimes on a daily basis during key moments of his presidency, how the campaign truly never ended.
“Organizing for America,” supposedly 13 million strong, has officially re-tooled for the 2012 campaign and is now called Obama for America.
Like a good salesman, Obama can not stop selling his product — himself — long after the sale is finalized. It’s as if he knows his God-given talents are more suited to “campaigner in chief” than the expected chief executive/commander in chief.
As Rove suggests, Obama should, as an incumbent, “distance himself from partisan politics.” But President Obama has never distanced himself from partisan politics. Obama has always been and continues to be a bitter partisan Democrat.
So why should he stop now with 2012 around the corner?
All Obama will continue to do up until November 6, 2012, is recite the same old red-meat rhetoric about how those scary Republicans messed things up so bad; thus, why on earth would you let them back into the White House?
Besides, if Republicans do manage to win, all they will do is cut your government benefits and throw granny off the cliff.
With Obama, it is always us vs. them.
Look for our non-stop campaigning president to repeat this mantra daily to his loyal base of African-Americans, Hispanics, under 30 voters, die-hard liberals, college educated women, public/ private sector union members, Hollywood, the LGBT community, teachers, and titans who run influential new media companies extremely important to his campaign like Google and Facebook.
(Remember how Mark Zuckerberg famously donned a tie to meet Obama?)
These century-old Democratic talking points, delivered with Obama’s charm, humor, and updated spin, are what his base wants and expects to hear.
So Obama, ever the crowd pleaser, will give them what they want, regardless of the fact that he was elected president of all the people in these United States.
After the aforementioned groups in key states, Obama will set his sights on his weakest link: independent voters. He desperately needs to make up for the possible drop-off in base voters, for all the reasons cited by Rove.
Thus, President Obama will woo independents by exaggerating his record and planting false fears about Republicans in the minds of just enough wishy-washy independents to successfully knit together a winning map of 270 electoral votes.
He will ask in various ways: How can you trust those Republicans?
Get ready to hear that message almost 24/7 closer to 2012.
Now, couple all that partisan fear strategy with the office of the presidency.
Obama will have the trappings of power, the White House and Air Force One, all harnessed to raise more money than any political campaign in the history of the world, while on “official business” by day and as “fundraiser in chief” at night — usually in the same town, of course.
Already eyebrows have been raised about how Obama has used the White House to court well-heeled 2008 donors. Remember, it is only mid- 2011 and he is in full campaign fundraising mode on the way to his realistic goal of $1 billion — beating his own record of $750 million in 2008.
It has been estimated that he is on track to raise $60 million this quarter ending June 30. So with fundraising in mind, here is a recent video I received from Obama for America about entering a raffle with the winning prize a dinner with the president at the White House. Does anyone else think this is disgraceful?
Money can’t buy elections per se, but it can buy months of television time; radio, print, and internet ads; “volunteers”; campaign offices; legions of bloggers; and truckloads of campaign paraphernalia. Money can also buy slick messages that will counter the newly formulated 2012 Republican message that Obama’s policies have made the economic downturn longer, deeper, and generally worse.
But Obama will have so much money that he and his message will continuously be in our faces, surrounding us in every medium. We will have no choice but to listen as he spins his tale about what he inherited, how much progress he has made, and how he just needs more time to make it all better.
Remember we are a partisan nation and we have a partisan president who has and will continue to use that partisanship to his full advantage.
Unfortunately for our nation’s future, this is Obama’s winning strategy and not a “strategic blunder” as Rove suggests.
Americans must recognize by the fall of 2012 that Obama is a partisan showman and then elect a leader who does not confuse campaigning with governing.
Currently Intrade, the respected online prediction market, gives Obama a 57% chance of re-election. That, coupled with the fact that 67.7% of incumbents wins re-election as mentioned earlier, means that President Obama will likely win a second term.
I pray Karl Rove is right and I am wrong.