Yesterday, senior White House campaign strategist David Axelrod put his finger on the exact question of the 2012 campaign.
He did it in a Twitter rebuttal of the Gallup Poll’s latest survey. The sampling was taken between Thursday and Sunday and shows Mitt Romney leading President Obama by five points. Gallup, Axelrod wrote, “has a sample that looks much more like the electorate in 2010 than the voting population that is likely to turn out in 2012.”
You may have been wondering about the bizarre blizzard of charges blowing out of Team Obama of late. Is there anything, in their telling, the GOP has not declared war upon? Race, class, gender – no matter what your identity, the GOP, they insist, has gone into battle against you. It is a fair bet that no campaign in American history has embraced identity politics as completely as has the Obama effort, and we are only in April.
But how could the candidate who said, “There is no black America or white America…. There is just the United States of America,” have flip flopped so completely?
That is not a rhetorical question. Part of top-level politics is establishing a consistent identity. Think of the presidents of the last thirty years: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush. Each had clear personality traits that he displayed from the beginning to the end of his public life and that infused his every position and presentation. And as a result, voters felt they knew who these men were.
But who can we now say Mr. Obama is? Uniter? Divider? Post-identity politics? Propounder of identity politics? Hope and change? Same old same old? This is the kind of identity disruption that usually spells the early end to electoral viability.
In the present instance, though, it reflects serious concern about Mr. Obama’s reelection chances.
In recent history, it is said, when a president has been unseated after a single term, the prior popular off-year-election vote by party for the House of Representatives has been within one or two percentage points of the next presidential vote.
And that is the Obama campaign’s problem.
Unless the administration can change the national topic from state of the economy and size of the deficit, this year’s balloting is sure to be déjà vu (2010 version) all over again. It doesn’t take a political savant to see that the unending list of wars that Team Obama accuses the GOP of waging is in part a drive to distract. If everyone is talking about Hilary Rosen and Ann Romney, no one will be talking about the still stagnant economy and the futility of the unprecedented stimulus spending. And the nation’s debt will not be even a blip on the nation’s political pulse meter.
But it is more than that.
Women, African-Americans, any American with a high school education or less: disproportionately these are the people who lost jobs in the downturn and are least likely to find new ones in the absence of a vigorous upturn. In other words, they are the voters whom the moribund economy has hurt the most – and that economy is now the political property of the president.
Looking forward, they are also the Americans who will be most hurt by the president’s proposed doubling of the capital gains tax (the effect of the Buffet Rule). That move that will choke off the capital that funds the creation and expansion of new enterprises and of the jobs they generate. What’s more, they are the ones Obamacare’s damper on business expansion will most harm.
And they are the voters on whom the president’s reelection most depends.
Here, then, is Mr. Axelrod’s calculation: If these voters show up at the polls this year in the same numbers as they did in 2008, the president can win. If their turnout duplicates 2010, the president loses. With his record, the president can’t pull them out with hope. So he and his aides are turning to fear.
What a change.