November 26, 2013

Mitt Romney came in 60 points behind President Obama among 2012 voters when it came to “Who cares about people like you?” Luke Frans, the executive director of Resurgent Republic, looks at polling and concludes:

Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)
Reince Priebus, Republican National Committee chairman (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

For the first time in a Washington Post survey, a majority of voters (51 to 46 percent) believe President Obama no longer understands their problems, a net 14-point drop since his second term began.

Fewer than half of women believe the president understands their problems today, a net 25-point free fall since January. Those under 40 years old split 48 to 49 percent. Gone is the solid advantage they gave the president in January of 63 to 34 percent. . . .The problem for Democrats is that they head into a six-year-itch election with full ownership of Obamacare, following a president who is entrenched in a defensive political posture — a president who many voters believe no longer feels their pain.

There are moments when parties lose a historic advantage. Following President George W. Bush’s presidency, pollsters told us that Republicans had lost the edge on national security. No longer were they able to convince voters Democrats were weak on defense. Now it is the Democrats turn. They face a seismic shift on four critical issues, of which losing ownership of the empathy card is only one.

Democrats have long dominated on the health-care issue. After the Obamacare fiasco, Republicans have narrowed or eliminated that deficit. However, unless they come up with their own plan they are unlikely to capitalize on what Obama called his “fumbles.”

Republicans have suffered from the reputation as the party that reflexively dislikes government and doesn’t want it to succeed. The shutdown certainly intensified that perception. However, with a president mired in scandals and guilty of astounding incompetence, voters may not want to entrust government or government reform to the party of Obamacare.

Lastly, Republicans are poised to retake the advantage on foreign policy. Given the Benghazi, Libya, debacle, massive defense cuts insisted upon by the White House, the return of partisan violence in Iran, the failure of Russian “reset,” the impending catastrophe of Iran with a nuclear-weapons capability and the frayed relationships with both Sunni states and Israel, Democrats may once again earn the reputation as fuzzy-headed doves who fail to understand the world as it is.

Whether we are talking about empathy, health care, governance or national security, Democrats are in danger of blowing their lead. However, Republicans will have to show they would be an improvement. That requires rhetoric and policies showing empathy for the less fortunate, an alternative to Obamacare, rejection of the shutdown squad-type of hostility to government and a sane and sustainable foreign policy. Simply because Obama has become the face of indifference and incompetence doesn’t necessarily mean Republicans will be able to capitalize. It does, however, open the door for  them to make headway on several fronts and reclaim the mantle of “tough on foreign policy.”

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.