The political gravity of a bad economy drags down Obama’s re-election prospects
President Barack Obama had a bad week. OK, that’s not really news. Obama has had a lot of bad weeks since becoming president.
But the last week was especially grim for 44th president of the United States, with a lot of polling data providing fresh kernels of evidence affirming an old truth that the Obama re-election campaign just can’t shake — namely, that weak presidents presiding over bad economies have a really hard time winning re-election.
Some things in politics are complicated; others aren’t. In the category of things that aren’t is the immutable truth that presidents are tied to the progress of the realm they govern, and the chief measurement of progress is economic prosperity. When the realm is in decline, check your watch — because history suggests that a president’s days are numbered.
The immutable connection of a president to the state of the national economy is like a law of nature. You can outfox, outwit and outmaneuver gravity for a while, but at some point gravity usually finds a way to get ya.
President Obama and his spinmeisters, clever cusses that they are, have been holed up in their Chi-town hideouts for months now, gaming out scenarios to try to work around a bad economy and the attendant laws of political gravity. But poll after poll after poll this week shows just how difficult a task it will be.
The biggest shock wave of the last week was a CBS News and New York Times poll showing that Republican nominee-to-be Mitt Romney had actually erased the gender gap. The former Massachusetts governor was leading with women, the CBS/NYT survey found.
News that Obama’s claim of a GOP “war on women” was not working sent the Obama camp scrambling. And their explanation wasn’t particularly compelling. The Obama campaign, laughably, attacked the CBS and New York Times poll as biased for Republicans. Sure, and Bill Maher loves Sarah Palin.
Whether or not the poll is exactly accurate, it’s impossible to overstate just how significant Romney’s marginal gains with women are. Obama has no shot — read that, no shot at all, not in a thousand years — of defeating Romney unless the president decisively beats the Repubican challenger among female voters.
Bad as the New York Times poll was for the president, that was only the beginning.
The latest polling in North Carolina — a state that is viewed as so central to Obama’s chances this November that the Democratic National Convention will take place there — showed Obama down by eight points. No surprise, that sent the Obama camp scurrying to explain whether it had made a mistake in sending the convention to a state that is slipping out of reach. But the Obama administration, nothing if not persistent in trotting out bad arguments to cover big mistakes, retorted simply that the poll in question was, you guessed it, biased.
Meanwhile, in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, states that the Democrats must win, Obama and his forces are foundering.
In Wisconsin, the lavishly funded left-wing recall of über-conservative Gov. Scott Walker has hit the rocks, with new polling showing the Republican governor pulling away.
Public employee unions and a host of other liberal interest groups have spent inordinate sums of cash attempting to turn Walker’s demise into a proxy fight on union rights, and a precursor for the presidential election in November. But if Walker’s success tells us anything, it is that the Cheeseheads aren’t buying what Obama and the left are cooking, an ominous indicator in a state Obama simply cannot lose.
And in Pennsylvania, one left-of-center analyst — Stuart Rothenberg — projected this week that a horserace may be in the offing there. If Obama can’t lose Wisconsin, he really, really can’t lose Pennsylvania. That Romney is even competing in a place like Pennsylvania is proof of just how strong the tug of political gravity is dragging down President Obama’s re-election aspirations.
An exhaustive analysis from Gallup this week put it elegantly: “Comparing today’s economic and political ratings with those from previous years when presidents sought re-election reveals that today’s climate is more similar to years when incumbents lost than when they won.”
This thing isn’t over by a long shot, but this much is clear: The biggest impediment to Obama’s re-election isn’t Mitt Romney, it is a political gravity that doesn’t seem likely to let go of a president who has badly mismanaged the American economy.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.