They’re two major Democratic pollsters, and they see Obama’s re-election shaping up to be a kind of Demageddon:
Certainly, Mr. Obama could still win re-election in 2012. Even with his all-time low job approval ratings (and even worse ratings on handling the economy) the president could eke out a victory in November. But the kind of campaign required for the president’s political survival would make it almost impossible for him to govern—not only during the campaign, but throughout a second term.
Put simply, it seems that the White House has concluded that if the president cannot run on his record, he will need to wage the most negative campaign in history to stand any chance. With his job approval ratings below 45% overall and below 40% on the economy, the president cannot affirmatively make the case that voters are better off now than they were four years ago. He—like everyone else—knows that they are worse off.
He could continue to do what he has been doing over the past year or so, abandoning serious legislative efforts in favor of empowered bureaucracy. But yes, beyond that, governing in the way we tend to think of president governing wouldn’t be easy. It would be a destructive way to use the power of the presidency, which makes it all the more unlikely that Obama would drop out, and all the more likely that a second term Obama would govern in exactly that way.
One year ago in these pages, we warned that if President Obama continued down his overly partisan road, the nation would be “guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it.” The result has been exactly as we predicted: stalemate in Washington, fights over the debt ceiling, an inability to tackle the debt and deficit, and paralysis exacerbating market turmoil and economic decline.
If President Obama were to withdraw, he would put great pressure on the Republicans to come to the table and negotiate—especially if the president singularly focused in the way we have suggested on the economy, job creation, and debt and deficit reduction. By taking himself out of the campaign, he would change the dynamic from who is more to blame—George W. Bush or Barack Obama?—to a more constructive dialogue about our nation’s future.
Even though Mrs. Clinton has expressed no interest in running, and we have no information to suggest that she is running any sort of stealth campaign, it is clear that she commands majority support throughout the country. A CNN/ORC poll released in late September had Mrs. Clinton’s approval rating at an all-time high of 69%—even better than when she was the nation’s first lady. Meanwhile, a Time Magazine poll shows that Mrs. Clinton is favored over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 17 points (55%-38%), and Texas Gov. Rick Perry by 26 points (58%-32%).
That’s where Caddell and Schoen leave reality behind a bit. Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings are high now because she’s a familiar face who hasn’t sullied herself with partisan rhetoric lately. Most Americans have either forgotten or don’t remember what a divisive force she was during her husband’s terms. Her entry into any presidential race would quickly remind Americans that she is every bit as far to the left as Obama is, but offers less charisma and “hope and change.” She’s a creature of Washington now, through and through.
But that’s all beside the point, since she won’t be running and Obama is. If we were looking at a GOP incumbent here, an honest media would use the open defection of two major lifelong party pollsters to build a narrative that pressure was building against that incumbent in his own party. To this story, they would add the bitter criticisms of a former strong supporter like, in this case, Chris Matthews, to argue that the incumbent’s position was becoming untenable. That’s what an honest mainstream media would do.