The President May Be Peaking Too Early

President Obama has been on a roll of late.

Unemployment has fallen steadily to 8.3%, and we’ve had 24 consecutive months—two years—of private sector job growth. The rate itself is much higher than previous presidents have faced going into re-election, but the trend is going his way.

He and his political team have shrewdly exploited the divide between the pragmatic Republican leadership, which wants to defeat him in November, and Tea Party zealots who are just mad as hell at everything.

The Republicans fell into the trap. Last summer’s debt ceiling fiasco was a huge negative for the GOP, and the president has boxed them in on several occasions since, especially over extensions of the payroll tax cut.

And in their efforts to pander to a rabid element of their party, GOP presidential candidates have made one extreme statement after another on issues from immigration to Iran to birth control. That has driven up the negatives of all the candidates, including the frontrunner and likely nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

So, the president’s approval rating hovers near 50%, its highest since last June. He leads Romney by nearly six percentage points in the polls. He enjoys wide support among Hispanics, women, and independents. And disaffected liberals have come home, as they always do.

The president talks about the economy in his weekly radio address. White House Photo: Lawrence Johnson.

But lots can happen between now and November.

A European default is less likely, given the successful restructuring of Greece’s debt and European Central Bank president Mario Draghi’s pumping $1.5 trillion into the markets to stabilize banks.

And the president may have bought some time with Israel by taking a strong rhetorical stand against Iran at his meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini also made some noises about opening negotiations again on Iran’s nuclear program. That may ease oil and gasoline prices for a while.

But they’re unlikely to drop dramatically unless there’s a clear, firm resolution under which Iran agrees not to continue its nuclear program under strict supervision. That’s unlikely, so gas prices are likely to stay high for months, which can be poisonous in an election year.

Also, unemployment could rise again as discouraged jobseekers return to the market. That would open the president to stronger attacks against his economic stewardship, which could resonate with voters.

And health care reform goes before the US Supreme Court this month, with a decision expected by July. If the Supreme Court declares the individual mandate unconstitutional, that would be a big blow to the president.

Finally I just can’t believe Gov. Romney is going to remain this bad a candidate once the albatross of dealing with Republican primary voters is off his neck. His economic message may be pretty effective with voters come fall.

So, do you know those poll questions that ask people for whom they’d vote if the election were held today? The president’s top political operatives David Axelrod and David Plouffe wish it really was.

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