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Obama’s Vulnerability
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Our electoral map, updated above with the latest data, shows that President Obama is in a pretty good position for re-election at the moment. This partly reflects the recent economic improvement, as well as public discontent with the GOP. It is also due to the fact that the Republican candidates have been so busy fighting each other that there has been no single, focused, sustained critique of the administration coming from the opposition party.

That will change at some point, and when it does, the poll numbers may well start to change. The President has three interlocking problems that skilled opponents could mold into a powerful grand narrative of strategic failure. To wit:

  1. The Afghan War. Whatever you think about this war and our options in Afghanistan, it is very hard at this point to make a case that the strategy the President chose in 2010 is working. This was his decision, made on his timetable, and in his way. Few think it a success.
  2. The Health Care Legislation. The President’s top domestic priority remains widely unpopular, has not upheld many of the President’s assurances, and can be incorporated into a narrative of strategic incoherence.
  3. Failed Deficit Reduction: As Mickey Kaus notes (working off the Washington Post‘s recap of Obama’s abortive grand bargain negotiations), a strong case can be made that poor strategic choices by the President led to the failure of the most ambitious and hopeful effort yet to do something about the long term debt and deficit issue.

Each of these points by itself is a negative. Put them together and they paint a picture of a poor strategist: a hesitating, over-intellectualizing bad chooser.

Administration defenders will say that this portrait is unfair, and they will point to counterexamples and accomplishments. But that’s just it: It’s the kind of critique that will put the President and his team on the defensive and open up many related lines of attack.

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  • alex scipio

    Frankly, if the Blue states win this election, I can’t think of any strategic reason for the Red states NOT to secede. And, no, there won’t be another Civil War; Nancy Pelosi will never send troops to die to keep Conservatives in Congress. And we have more guns that the Army anyway – and most of THEM are from Red states…

    Conservatives want a successful, educated, wealthy future for their kids.

    Liberals don’t believe in the future and aren’t having kids to populate it, demanding to freeload off of others’ children:

    We just have totally divergent philosophies: I go to work to support MY family; Dems think I go to work to support bums and OTHER people’s families. I expect to live under the Rule of Law and the Constitution; Dems expect to do whatever they want under the Rule of Man, ignoring the Constitution (“You’re kidding.” – N. Pelosi when quizzed on the Constitutional authority for Obamacre).

    And in re: political boundaries, look at the Red/Blue county maps and you find that, outside of Denver and Albuquerque, those two states are pretty solidly Red. Same with CA once you get out of SF, LA and SD. Something like 47 of CA’s 52 counties are Red. Time to redraw those boundaries, too.

    A new, Blue America would be fat & happy for a while. Then they’d learn that they’re on their way to Greece. Sucks for them.

    A new Red America will be lean, mean and happy for the foreseeable future once we get back to Constitutional law and end paying for the increasing, debilitating, wasted costs of the Blue model in the Blue states.

    Really. It’s time to go. I want a better future for my kids than they’ll ever have if they must keep paying for the nonsense of the Blue model and all the degredation it brings with it.

  • ms

    This map is Obama’s dream but I don’t think it is reality. Some of the following states–Colorado, Virginia, Nevada (many Mormons there) Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota–will go to Romney. Also, he has a good chance in at least some of the New England states. Since you like to avoid such topics in general, it surprises me that you would post this map. Anyway, it seems to me that Obama is head cheerleader of the blue model, so Via Meadia should be hoping, if not admitting to this hope, that Romney wins the election.

  • WigWag

    Assuming its Romney v. Obama I would bet almost anything that the electoral map shown in this post is exactly the way that the electoral map will turn out on Election Day in 2012 with one exception; my prediction is that in the end, Romney will end up winning Virginia. That would give Obama a second term with 290 electoral votes to Romney’s 248.

    Two major problems for the Republican Party jump out from this map. First, the Republican Party’s war on Hispanic Americans, particularly those of Mexican heritage, is killing the GOP. Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico are all likely to end up as Obama States; these are states that a moderate Republican like Romney could compete in if his colleagues in the Republican Party leadership spent less time making it abundantly clear that they don’t like Mexicans or Mexican Americans.

    Secondly the Republican Party’s war on women is proving to be devastating for the eventual Republican nominee. When the polls close on Election Day in 2012 in Ohio and Pennsylvania I bet that the races in both of those states will be close and that the ultimate Democratic victory can be accounted for by a large gender gap. To win, Romney needs to do well with moderate female voters in the suburbs; this is especially true in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

    It is astounding how the debate about the Catholic Church and whether its affiliates should be required to have health plans that include contraceptives was lost by the Republicans. What should have been a great positive, especially amongst Catholic voters turned into a great negative as soon as the debate morphed into a conflict about contraception itself. Obama should be counting his lucky stars that the idiot child of the Republican Party, Rick Santorum, turned political gold into political you-know-what. Add to this the conflict about Susan G. Komen banning Planned Parenthood from funding and Rush Limbaugh calling an advocate for contraception a “slut” and it all adds up to the Republican Party destroying its chances with independent and Republican-leaning moderate suburban female voters. Obama couldn’t ask for better enemies.

    As for the three points that Via Meadia makes about Obama’s vulnerabilities; I think Professor Mead (or is it the interns?) gets this all wrong.

    Whatever Americans think of Obama’s Afghanistan policy, few people care about it passionately enough to have the issue sway their vote.

    Romney will have an extremely difficult time making “Obama-care” an issue when he invented “Obama-care.” The Massachusetts health insurance plan that Romney authored is basically indistinguishable from the plan that Obama proposed and Congress eventually enacted. Hard as he may try, Romney’s attempt to draw a distinction between what he did in Massachusetts and Obama did for America will just fall flat; even worse, it will probably make Romney look pathetic.

    The deficit issue won’t help the Republicans either; sure a significant minority of Americans, represented in part by the Tea Party, cares about the deficit, but they’re voting Republican anyway. For more moderate Americans the deficit issue will be entirely trumped by the economic recovery (assuming the economic recovery is still intact).

    It’s a mistake to take the Tea Party too seriously. Tea Partiers should adopt the musical artist Lesley Gore as their mascot; like Gore, the best description of the Tea Party that I can think of is “one hit wonder.” The Tea Party has become such a pathetic caricature of what it was only two years ago that it couldn’t even prevent the Republican Party from nominating a man who cut his teeth working at Bain Capital, as the GOP standard bearer.

    Here’s your new theme song, Tea Partiers; you remember that oldie but goody, “its My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.”

    Listen up,

    By the way, I take no pleasure in these predications; I will probably vote for Romney because I find Obama’s foreign policy so preternaturally stupid.

  • ARH

    I’m no pollster but I suspect that item number 1 above would fail miserably. People love “winning” and dislike “losing” but it’s going to be hard to label President Obama as a “loser” in the Afghan war when the nobody knows how to define what a win would look like. Indefinitely prop up the Karzai regime and use our own forces as its internal police? In the end, it’ll just be you, along with Senators Lieberman, Graham, and McCain holding down the fort.

    Item #2 can be very potent in both mobilizing the right and pulling in swing voters. Outsourcing this legislation to a rabidly partisan Congress was a horrendous idea both policy wise and politically. Obama really read the tea leaves wrong there.

    Item #3 can be utilized, but with less success. People claim they don’t like deficits, and they claim they don’t like spending, but good luck getting any legit consensus on how to overhaul the system. You can cut every penny of food stamps from the budget and we go from borrowing 40 cents on the dollar to 38 cents on the dollar. Good job. We have a high unemployment rate, a tax code that looks like swiss cheese, and a demographic time bomb that started going off on January 1 of 2011. The conservative narrative that our debt problems come from liberals taxing hard working Americans and handing it over to poor people is potent, but highly, highly, highly simplistic and incomplete. The average voter – including the average conservative, red state Republican voter – doesn’t understand how much they’re on the government teat, and will fight passionately to keep their benefits.

    I personally would like to see President Obama win reelection and then have Republicans hold the House and take the Senate. Then, and only then, will there be the political cover needed to solve our problems. Alas, I feel that won’t be in the cards. For those of you who believe an all Republican government would do the first thing to enact their rhetoric, you don’t understand how politics works, and you live only within the narrative, not the real world (see years A.D. 2000-2006)

    Prof. Mead, I apologize for being rude, but I feel your posts have gone from deeply penetrating critiques that happen to have a general conservative theme to something resembling a well written foxnation article. They seem meant to draw hits from a certain crowd (see Reply #1 above) instead of the more insightful posts of old. This used to be one of my favorite places for conservative analysis. That’s changing and it saddens me.

  • Toni

    Frankly, I find this electoral vote-counting useless, and it will remain so until the GOP has a single candidate who can focus on Obama’s numerous failures.

    Even now, Obama can’t come up with a good re-election message. “I meant well” won’t work, nor will “it’s all Bush’s and obstructionist Republicans’ fault.” Right now, he can run on “I’m ending [unilaterally withdrawing from] two wars [to fund Obamacare and other socioeconomic engineering], and I’ll make Catholics pay for birth control.”

    Plus, next week will begin oral arguments at the Supreme Court on 26 states’ challenge to Obamacare. This will make news Obama can’t control, as will the Supremes’ decision — which, given Obamacare’s onrushing timetable, will likely emerge sooner rather than later.

    Overall, I have trouble believing that a man who can’t keep his approval rating above 50% can win in November. But that’s just my opinion.

  • ms

    Just don’t think you’re right there, Wig Wag. Check your polls–even Mickey Kaus, quoting the NYT, says Obama lost the fight with the Catholic Church. A few lefties are working hard on the laughable war on women meme, but people are really fed up with whiny special interest groups. Besides, Romney has had no part of that. The blow back against the left on this has also taken a huge toll.

    It would be nice to have Rubio on the ticket to help with the Hispanic vote, but he doesn’t sound very willing to run. Still, there are some high-profile Hispanic Republicans to help Romney compaign. Beyond this, he will move to the center on immigration when the general starts. I’m not so sure that bringing some sense to immigration is unpopular with Hispanics. Romney says we need to increase legal immigration. That should be popular with Hispanic voters. He hasn’t said a whole lot about it in the primary otherwise–mostly the self-deportation theme. His showing in Puerto Rico would indicate that he has some support among Hispanic voters.

    I also think you’re wrong about the national debt. People are worried about that because they have kids and they do not want to leave them with such a debilitating burden. Rasmussen has that as a big issue for registered voters. No question Romney wins that one hands down. It is actually kind of ridiculous to make predictions this far out, but I still think that map is Obama’s dream.

  • Kris

    WigWag@3, I’ve put up with a lot from you, but now you’ve really crossed the line. Lesley Gore a one-hit wonder?! What about “You Don’t Own Me”? Pistols at dawn, Sirrah!

    Regarding the “map” posts, I recall someone dismissing horse-race coverage…

  • WigWag

    “Just don’t think you’re right there, Wig Wag. Check your polls–even Mickey Kaus, quoting the NYT, says Obama lost the fight with the Catholic Church” (ms @ March 20, 2012 at 6:46 pm)

    Thanks for your response. On a completely side note and completely off topic, it’s interesting that you mention Mickey Kaus. A few weeks back, Professor Mead promised his loyal readers some comments on Charles Murray’s new book, *Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2001*

    Professor Mead hasn’t delivered yet but I am sure that he will eventually will.

    I finished reading Murray’s book a couple of weeks ago and I couldn’t get over the nagging feeling that I had read something very similar before. I searched through my dusty old bookshelves and came upon a book that I had read about 15 years ago called *The End of Equality.* The author was none other than Mickey Kaus; I then re-read his book.

    It is absolutely uncanny how similar the thesis that the perfectly liberal Kaus articulated in his 1995 book is to the thesis that the perfectly conservative/libertarian Murray articulated in his 2012 book.

    There are differences between the two; Murray’s book is more quantitative while Kaus recommends more solutions to the problems of the working class (e.g. have them come more in contact with the upper middle classes by mandating that all teenagers participate in the draft).

    Nevertheless, I found it quite ironic how Kaus and Murray could arrive at the same view of the state of working class America, albeit 15 years apart. Both the liberal Kaus and the Conservative Murray think that the deterioration in the values of working class America represents a real problem.

    Anyway, it’s irrelevant to the topic at hand so I probably shouldn’t bring it up, but your mentioning of Kaus’s name put me in mind of this.

  • ARH

    It all comes down to electoral math. As usual, keep an eye on Florida, Ohio and to a lesser extent, out west.

    Any serious proposal to reduce the deficit includes trimming Medicare and Social Security benefits. Paul Ryan has the courage to stand up and discuss this, but not many else do. They don’t because it’s too easy to demagogue. Where will this hurt the GOP the most? Florida.

    Kasich has done Republicans no favors in Ohio. That one could be a dog fight.

    Also, the GOP has torched itself with Hispanic voters. This is a large group of voters that have a lot in common with the conservative message. Hard working, industrious, devout, family oriented people. Alas, concerning the immigration issue, all you see on the national stage is a message centered around xenophobia.

    Sometimes I wonder if the Obama-Catholic birth control tiff was some Machiavellian attempt to get the issue of contraceptives in the headlines. At first, the blow back seemed to hurt the president (and in my opinion, should have) but perhaps his political advisers suspected the GOP would overplay the hand. People don’t pay attention in great detail to the race at this point, but when they do pay attention, they hear about Rick Santorum railing about the evils of birth control and pornography. People don’t talk about it in polite company, but they love birth control and they love pornography.

    Outside of abortion, fighting the culture wars at the national level turns off more people than it brings in. Gay marriage, gays in the military, contraception, etc, area ALL kinds of issues that favor Dems more in each given cycle.

  • Preston Pate

    Like the BBC map that you referenced in your original post on this map, it would be interesting to know how much change in the vote would be necessary to affect the outcome. A swing of 2 points in either direction could change the result dramatically.

  • John Burke

    OK, I’m throwing in the towel on Mead’s Map.

    Whatever map you like, it is clear that the Presidency will be decided in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, Colorado and Iowa — with North Carolina, Nevada, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana and Georgia also potentially in play.

  • WigWag

    John Burke essentially gets it absolutely right. The three states that will decide the election (yet again) are Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It is hard if not impossible to come up with a realistic scenario of how the candidate who wins at least two of those states loses the election.

  • Bob

    I read Mead pretty much just to get Wig Wag. Wig oughta have a column of his own on the American Interest. You go Wag!

    What ever happened to the talk of Texas’ succession? I was thinking that they might repeal suffrage too.

  • Lorenz Gude

    A helpful analysis Wig Wag. While I see it differently like ms above, I certainly think you could be right. In fact, my feeling currently is that Obama will win. But the biggest factor, as Professor Meade points out, is that it is a different race when the Republicans stop squabbling and pick a single candidate – certainly looking like Romney now. As weak a candidate as he may be, he will have to do terribly to not improve his position. So it probably will be closer than it looks now. Then there are things we just don’t know – like the possible effect of Marco Rubio. Or how the birth control issue will play with Catholics once Ultramontain Santorum is gone from the scene. Or how gas prices and the Keystone pipeline decision will play. But in the end I will vote for Romney for the same reason as you Wig Wag – what I think is an incoherent and dangerous foreign policy.

  • Lorenz Gude

    Like ARH above I would not be at all unhappy to see Obama reelected and have to face a Republican House and Senate. When neither party can convince the public that it is fit to govern then divided government is in the public interest. We saw what we got from Obama when the Dems controlled congress and 2010 was the result. That hasn’t changed – the country still does not want what Obama and Pelosi/Reid delivered in those two years. The other problem that Obama has is that he way way over promised. No one could live up to the millennial expectation of positive change that he held out to us. I’m old enough to have gotten over the cut off potential I felt in JFK and RFK, and recognize that these are different times. That’s why I didn’t vote for Obama – he was selling a dream who’s time had passed. But even I am surprised at how inept and weak his performance has been. I lived through LBJ – the good with the bad – and I never saw him as anything less than a formidable president. Obama? Pfui! .The civil rights act of 1964 was real legislation to which Senator Dirkson and the Republicans also contributed. But Reagan’s immigration legislation , also backed by the Democrats, was a phony non solution and we are still paying for it. Likewise Obamacare is a phony that make a few changes without addressing the fundamental problem that the US pays twice as much for healthcare as other developed countries like Australia and gets no better life expectancy. It too will probably be haunting us 20 years down the track – even if it is quickly repealed or thrown out by the Supreme Court. The Republicans have no solutions to the problem of healthcare eating our lunch either. So long as Washington is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Big Governement, Big Business and Big Labor then the people will get the shaft. If we pry their cold Blue fingers off the reins of power, then America has a chance.

  • Fred

    _That will change at some point, and when it does, the poll numbers may well start to change._

    From your keyboard to God’s ears.

  • Kris

    Bob@13: “I read Mead pretty much just to get Wig Wag.”

    Shouldn’t this be in the Talmud post? 🙂

  • Stephen Smith

    I agree with Bob and Kris that WigWag is pretty much the best part of Mead’s blog. I find myself searching out her comments even before I read the posts.

    I’ve been a Mead fan for about a year but I really hate this feature. It reminds me of John King standing in front of the electoral map at CNN. Guessing whether the candidates will win a specific state is too cable television for me.

    I also regret to say that I think the blog has gone down in quality since the interns were given a bigger role. The posts are more repititive and the writing isn’t as good. Maybe the reason Wig is so interesting is that she doesn’t have interns.

    My advice to Walter Mead is to put WigWag on the payroll.

  • Kris

    Stephen@18: “I agree with Bob and Kris that WigWag is pretty much the best part of Mead’s blog.”

    Whoah! Let’s not put words in my mouth! 🙂

    As I’ve said before, I find WigWag to be very uneven, but even when he (?) seems to be indulging a calling as the local gadfly, he still generally makes me appreciate the overall quality of this blog’s comments section.

    [Life is too short for me to re-write the previous sentence yet again. I hope it accurately conveys my general respect for WigWag along with my recurring disagreement and even disapproval.]

    Regarding the map posts, I was surprised to see the first one, as hinted in my comment @7. One can indeed hang thoughtful analysis on the horse-race stats, but the stand seems somewhat brassy in these august surroundings. Kris will be watching.

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