Running on Empty: The Cliché Candidacy of Barack Obama

The last few weeks have been disastrous ones for the Obama re-election effort. The evidence for this is in several areas, including public opinion surveys. The Rasmussen daily tracking survey, one of the very few to use a likely voter screen at this point in the cycle, now has Mitt Romney leading Obama by five points. A new Fox survey of registered voters has Obama with his lowest approval number to date at 42%, trailing Romney head-to-head by 2%.

On the issue front, the Obama team has suffered many severe blows. It turns out that several members of the Supreme Court, maybe even a majority, think the issue of the constitutionality of the individual mandate in ObamaCare is a serious one. The liberal commentariat from Jeffrey Toobin to Linda Greenhouse, caught  in their tight cocoon that ignores alternative views, had assured themselves before the Court took up the matter that the constitutionality of the mandate was a trivial concern. After a few days of oral arguments, during which the Obama administration’s lawyers were badly outclassed by the attorneys for the states challenging the law, public support for the law dropped to its lowest level and support for the Supreme Court rose.

Some of this, ironically, may be a response to the perception that the president was both bullying the Court and appallingly ignorant of the history of judicial review of acts of Congress by the Supreme Court. For a president who graduated from Harvard Law School, served as editor of the Harvard Law Review, and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, his statement suggested he either missed a lot during his three years at Harvard or, worse, assumed the White House press corps was so ignorant (or so in the bag for him) that he could say anything on the subject and it would pass muster, as was the case for the most part in the 2008 campaign. If the Court throws out the mandate, or perhaps the entire law, in late June, the signature achievement of the administration will be gone, or at least badly disabled. A case can be made that the president’s attack on the Court may make it easier for the Court to rule against the law.

Last week’s disaster was an obnoxious attack on Ann Romney by 35-time White House visitor Hilary Rosen, who said of the “presumptive” Republican nominee’s wife: “She never worked a day in her life." The dismissive and disrespectful comment drew quick responses from David Axelrod, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, and the president and first lady. They all said that the wives of candidates are off-limits and that raising children is hard work that should be respected. With one stupid comment by a DNC advisor who, for the record, might have been taxed under the “Buffet rule" for her seven-figure earnings as head of the Recording Industry Association of America (after which she chose to stay home with her partner for a time to raise her adopted kids), the hypocrisy was glaring. For the Obama campaign, the reaction the comment received was a signal of great danger to their effort to create and widen the “gender gap" with their oft-repeated charge about  the Republicans’ "war against women."

After the suspension of Rick Santorum’s campaign last week, Mitt Romney’s five-year fight for the GOP nomination for the presidency seemed to have successfully concluded. Romney has had a difficult time during the primary season connecting with the blue-collar base of the Republican Party and with social conservatives. After Rosen’s cheap shot, the social networking sites were ablaze with angry men and women rallying behind Ann Romney. A Washington Post online poll showed 97% supporting Romney and 3% backing Rosen. As a result of Rosen’s “gift," the Romney campaign may have achieved more in narrowing the gender gap and solidifying Romney’s support level with conservative voters than it was able to achieve with many months of trying to sound acceptable to them in debates and campaign speeches.

The reaction to the Rosen attack, which was also part of the persistent and  broader class warfare theme of the Obama campaign (the real message was that Ann Romney is an idle rich woman), may not only help insulate Ann Romney  from future attacks but should also enable her to be more of a spokesperson for her husband, helping to humanize him in the process. If the Obama campaign was concerned that Ann Romney was going to be a big help to Mitt Romney’s fall campaign before this incident, that problem is now greatly magnified for them.