In looking to the 2012 campaign, the mood among Republican pros in Washington at the moment is low-grade manic depression. Anyone can beat President Obama, the conventional GOP wisdom goes, except the anyones who are actually running.
You might ask, why would anyone believe that anyone can beat the president? The killing of America’s most wanted terrorist three weekends ago produced the predictable spike in the polls. But, for Mr. Obama, predictability is the problem. We have all been that way before. George H.W. Bush won an entire war and saw his numbers go to nearly unanimous approval levels. Yet he lost the next election to a candidate running on the unofficial slogan of “It’s the economy, Stupid.”
Then, too, Mr. Obama’s graceless handling of the “bin Laden is dead” announcement and its aftermath quickly compromised his newly gained stature. This week’s Saturday Night Live captured the widely held perception of his post-mission manner. In the one funny skit in a not-at-all-funny show, cast member Fred Armisen in the role of the president all but spiked the bin Laden ball at a rally, repeatedly shouting “killed bin Laden” to a recording of a cheering crowd. In the past two weeks, the White House tonal misjudgment has taken the gleam off a real presidential achievement.
Yet isn’t the economy coming back? Aren’t job numbers rising? As it turns out, there is less to the job story than meets the eye.
Here are key data points.
Data Point #1: In a weekend posting, Powerline (here: http://www.powerlineblog.com/) reports on a just released study from two economists, one at Ohio State, the other at the University of Western Ontario. The economists looked closely at the president’s first stimulus package and found that it “created/saved approximately 450 thousand state and local government jobs and destroyed/forestalled roughly one million private sector jobs.” In other words, the president’s policies have made the downturn worse rather than better, and now he must live with the political consequences.
Data Point #2: In this morning’s Wall Street Journal (here: http://tiny.cc/j0hew), George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors chief and Hoover Institution fellow Edward Lazear noted, “In a healthy labor market…, American firms hire about 5.5 million workers per month…. [T]he current number of hires is four million and it has not moved much from where it was two years ago.” Recent relatively favorable job numbers, Lazear explains, have come because layoffs diminished, not because job creation expanded. To emerge from the jobs recession, we need to return to the five million plus per month job creation level, a place, Lazear concludes, current policies won’t get us.
Data Point #3: A number of analyses have been circulating the Internet noting that the methods of calculating key economic data, particularly inflation and unemployment rates, have changed frequently over the last several decades. As one report (here: http://tiny.cc/br8ll) notes, using the old methods “the CPI inflation rate is over 10%, and the unemployment rate is over 15%…. The Misery Index is the sum of the current inflation rate and the unemployment rate. If it were to be calculated using the older methods, the Index would now be over 25, a record high. It surpasses the old index high of 21.98, which occurred in June 1980, when Jimmy Carter was president. Most believe the height of the Index along with the Iranian hostage crisis is what caused Carter to lose his re-election bid.” These numbers are a far cry from the government currently reports of unemployment at 9.0% and inflation at 4.8%.
For Washington political junkies, the sum of all these data points is not that dad and mom or sis and bro or the neighbors or junkies themselves can’t afford food or gas or that they lost their jobs. To them, it means that the president will lose his job in November 2012. And sure enough, just as all this economic data arrived, so, too, did new reports that the president’s approval rating was dropping. Over the weekend both Rasmussen and Gallup showed Mr. Obamas numbers returning to the cellar from which they crawled just a fortnight ago.
So why all the GOP gloom?
Washington is a city of receptions, cocktail parties, small lunches and big formal dinners. At these little – and sometimes very large – gatherings, political gossip circulates, candidates are obsessively scrutinized. And at the moment, the chatterers’ consensus is that none of the current and likely candidates is up to taking on the charming and engaging president and the ruthless political machine behind him.
Romney-care has killed Romney’s chances. If Gingrich’s affairs and marriages haven’t killed his, the former speaker’s embrace of a healthcare mandate has. Paul, Palin, Bachmann, Santorum, Cain, Johnson, Huntsman – non-starters. Giuliani, Huckabee, Christie – non-runners. That leaves Pawlenty and Daniels, and the parlor talk is not convinced Daniels is in.
So with a year and a half to go before Election Day, if you believe the talk of the Washington GOP party circuit, the president can’t lose, because the Republicans can’t win. Go figure.