President Obama might still pull out the election, but it won’t be because of a bevy of accomplishments or because he has run a brilliant campaign. (Basically the demonization of Mitt Romney will have to succeed or the economy to come roaring back for Obama to win this.)
It’s a source of fascination for the chattering class that Obama ran, as they put it, such a “brilliant” campaign in 2008 and such a lousy one in 2012. But it’s not all that shocking, especially when you look how different 2012 is from 2008.
Obama was dealt a very good hand in 2008. He could run against an increasingly unpopular President George W. Bush, even though the incumbent wasn’t technically on the ballot. The financial meltdown hit in the fall. His opponent was personally erratic and relatively uninterested in domestic matters. The prospect of an African American Ivy Leaguer as president mesmerized the press, which afforded him exceptionally favorable coverage.
Obama has a rotten hand, largely of his own making in 2012. Now his opponent gets to run against an incumbent under siege. The anemic recovery is on Obama’s watch. His opponent is proving highly disciplined and expert in economic matters. The media are cranky, anxious to demonstrate they are not lapdogs for Obama, and ready to magnify every misstep in the New Media hyper-fast news cycle.
I n 2008 generalities were sufficient. Unity. Hope. Change. The average voter was willing to go with that.
In 2012 Obama’s rhetoric sounds trite and unserious. With 23 million people unemployed, underemployed or out of the workforce, voters are frustrated with canned speeches.
In 2008 Obama was a fresh face. Voters and the media couldn’t get enough of him.
In 2012 Obama has been horribly overexposed. Frankly, voters tuned out on him a while ago.
In 2008 the conservative movement was demoralized. Republicans had lost the House two years earlier and lacked a strong agenda.
In 2012 the conservative movement is energized. Republicans won the House two years ago and, thanks to the tea party and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), have coalesced around a free-market, limited-government agenda.
In 2008 many voters were rather unconcerned about, even unaware of, the size of the debt. Those who did know the magnitude of the problem did not envision an acceleration in spending that made Bush look miserly. Obama could get away with blithely promising to go through the budget “line-by-line.”
In 2012 voters have become educated about and frightened by the debt. It is now both a looming crisis and a current drag on the economy. Moreover, it has become a moral issue about our obligation to future generations. Obama hasn’t submitted a budget with less than a $1 trillion deficit and has added $5 trillion to the debt.
In sum, because of his own failures in governance and because of the reaction provoked by his liberal statism, Obama has taken on the aura of a musty incumbent. He’s never run in an environment like this. No wonder he is struggling.