The economy is so dismal that President Barack Obama will have to re-write the political history books if he hopes to win re-election, political strategists say.
The latest bad news for Team Obama: Economic growth for the second quarter was revised downward from 1.3 to a mere 1 percent on Friday -- far below the level of activity required to put a dent in the nation’s chronic, high joblessness.
Those slumping GDP numbers followed an economic-outlook report by the Congressional Budget Office that likely touched off alarm bells in Obama’s campaign. Despite optimistic assumptions about GDP growth, inflation, and deficit-spending, the CBO projected U.S. unemployment to be at or above 8.5 percent through the fourth quarter of 2012.
That means President Obama will have to earn a return engagement to the White House under virtually unprecedented circumstances. And he’ll likely have to alter his campaign strategy to do it.
“It becomes a game changer,” says Matt Towery, CEO of the nonpartisan InsiderAdvantage polling company, “in the sense that he and the White House had every expectation two and a half years ago that unemployment would be well under 8 percent, that the stimulus package would work, and that [high unemployment] would not be an issue for him.”
The latest indication Obama will have to jettison the post-partisan, hope-and-change mantra that propelled him to the White House in 2008: A Pew Research Center poll showing only 49 percent of U.S. voters now consider him to be a strong leader. That’s down sharply from 58 percent in May. Also, Pew reports only 44 percent describe him as a person who can get things done, down from 55 percent.
“I think Barack Obama is in deep trouble,” Democratic pollster and Fox News contributor Doug Schoen told Newsmax.TV in an exclusive interview.
To win re-election, Obama will have to win re-election under those circumstances, he will have to re-write the political history books.
Much has been made of the fact that Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984 with an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent. But that precedent now offers little encouragement for Obama, for two reasons. The obvious consideration is that the economy is expected to be in significantly worse shape in November 2012 than when Reagan won re-election. But equally significant is that unemployment dropped while Reagan was in office and was heading down on Election Day.
When Obama took office, unemployment was 7.8 percent. The CBO report predicts it will still be well above that level when voters pass judgment on Obama.
To better understand why the CBO projections are a game-changer, consider this: The last time voters sent a president back to the White House when unemployment was north of 8 percent was 1940.
That year, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was re-elected despite a Depression-era unemployment rate of 14.6 percent. But that example doesn’t provide much succor to Democrats either. After all FDR, like Reagan, earned the voters’ patience by substantially lowering the unemployment rate from what it was when he took office.
So is Obama toast before his campaign even begins? Not at all.
“His campaign will have to shift the issue,” Towery tells Newsmax. “They’re going to have to find a way to make unemployment and the economy not the major issue. Now that’s almost going to be impossible -- but it is really their only way.”
Towery envisions the following options for Obama:
• Option One:
Move hard to the left and really push the class-warfare issue. By talking about taxes on millionaires and corporate-jet loopholes, Obama will energize and solidify his base. But it also risks unnerving the independents that Obama desperately needs to bring back into the fold to win re-election.
• Option Two
: Encourage the GOP to make an “unforced error.” Towery predicts Obama will prod Republicans in the hope it leads them to make a self-inflicted wound. He says refusing to extend the payroll-tax cut in an election year is one obvious example. Too much talk of slashing Medicare and Social Security is another.
• Option Three:
Rough up the GOP nominee and Republicans in Congress by painting them as extremists who would be too risky to trust with the presidency. “President Obama is weak,” Schoen says, “and I think what he is counting on is that Republicans will be weaker and less well regarded than he is.” Again, the risk is that smearing his GOP rival as a dangerous alternative could turn off independents.
One of these strategies -- or more likely a combination of all three -- could help Obama achieve what no politician since FDR has accomplished: Getting re-elected after unemployment goes from bad to worse.
Towery, who served as a political strategist for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the 1980s and 90s, expects Obama to go sharply negative in an effort to redirect attention from the moribund economy to whether the GOP alternative can be trusted.
“There’s only one thing in politics you do when you’re that low,” he says. “You try to bloody the other guy up just as much as you can.
“I mean, it’s the only answer. I don’t care what anybody says: He can’t put enough commercials on about how hard he works or whatever. It isn’t even working in the African-American community. When Maxine Waters is out there giving you trouble, you know you’ve got problems.”
With unemployment so high, Towery says, the bottom line for Obama and the Democrats is brutally simple: “They’ve got to just bloody up whoever gets the nomination, or the party as a whole,” he says.
But even then, Towery says Obama may need help from Republicans in order to win re-election in 2012.
“If you ask me what the Obama administration is looking for,” Towery says, “they’re looking for a fumble on behalf of Republicans, a totally unforced error.”
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