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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.