While the media cluck their tongues at social conservatives and obsess over the rather boring and predictable Republican primary, can we pause for a moment to observe just how panicked President Obama seems to be about his reelection?
Obama may be leading his Republican contenders in head-to-head matchups. But the campaign will not truly begin until after the party conventions in September, which gives the GOP nominee time to recover. Obama’s approval rating is stuck below 50 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average. His approval rating has been underwater in Gallup tracking since May of 2011. This is dangerous for an incumbent during the spring of a reelection year. And Obama’s approval rating in swing states is even worse. Last week’s USA Today / Gallup poll had him losing to both Romney and Santorum in the most competitive states.
Nor are the headlines likely to improve. Gas prices keep ticking up. The Iranian nuclear program continues to go forward. The Greek economy continues to go backward.
Since he lacks a significant and popular domestic achievement, the president seems to have concluded that the way to a second term is through the mobilization of key constituencies rather than a broad-based appeal to middle America. He combines these appeals with cheap gimmicks to generate publicity and deflect attention from the Republican primary. Now that his job is in trouble, the man who enthralled millions during the campaign of 2008 has been reduced to just another transactional political panderer. The gloss is off. Even the liberal Washington Post writer Dana Milbanksays White House hiring practices make “a joke of the spirit of reform he promised.”
The new Obama strategy was baldly transparent during the president’s recent address to the United Auto Workers conference in Washington. The inspirational rhetoric and pleas for American unity were replaced with fiery and combative words directed at opponents of the auto bailout. A majority of voters may continue to oppose the government intervention in GM and Chrysler, but you would not know that from listening to the president. GM and Chrysler’s recent good fortune has led the Democrats to pronounce the bailout a stunning success. But, if the bailout worked so well, why does the federal government still own around 30 percent of GM? (Clearly Obama understands that the bailouts are a problem: On Thursday, the government began to reduce its stake in AIG—to the ludicrously high share of 70 percent.)