The impact from the collision of economic reality and political spin will be felt in multiple ways. First, the Republican candidates for governor in New Jersey and Virginia need not feel quite so nervous about the president’s ability to bolster their opponents. Obama wants to come talk about the economy in Virginia? I suspect Republican Bob McDonnell wouldn’t mind a bit and would use the opportunity to put tough questions to his opponent Creigh Deeds. Does he support job-killing cap-and-trade? Does he agree with the president that there is not anything the administration should have done differently to fix the economy?
Second, every Democrat running for Congress or the Senate will be looking over his or her shoulder. Perhaps it is best to put some distance between the president’s agenda and their own voting records. And conversely, as we are already seeing, Republicans are enjoying the best recruitment in years as candidates line up to take on the Obama economic record. It might not be 1994, but 2010 is looking up for Republicans who will be happy to run on a simple message: stop the liberal train wreck and work on putting Americans back to work.
And most critically, the president’s agenda — cap-and-trade, nationalized health care, card check, and the like — suddenly seem not only at risk but irrelevant to the central issue on voters’ minds: the recession. In fact, his top legislative priorities are not likely to make things any better. The opposite is the case.
Voters and even the mainstream media will begin to ask tough questions. Why is he spending so much political capital on an energy tax and regulatory scheme that will sock it to employers in Midwestern states? Is a round of new taxes to pay for nationalized health care really what we need now?
As we contemplate the impact of the economy on the political realm, we should also keep in mind that the unemployment rate almost certainly will go higher and the stock market’s funk will likely continue as more employers and investors realize that unemployed Americans make poor consumers. The media treatment of the president therefore is likely to get harsher, along with the rhetoric from the president’s opponents, as unemployment heads above double digits.
Obama, with the encouragement of his media fan club, may have convinced himself he could defy economic reality and float on a cloud of political popularity. But that’s not how politics works. Eventually presidents are held accountable for their actions and for the economy. It just happened sooner than some thought.