December 17, 2013

President Obama is widely disliked by Americans, as the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll reveals:

 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

On several key measures, Obama has lost significant ground to his Republican opponents in Congress. On the question of who is seen as better able to handle the country’s main problems, Obama and Republicans are tied at 41 percent. A year ago, the president’s advantage was 15 points and at this stage in 2010 it was still five points.

Obama also has lost the lead he enjoyed on who could better deal with the economy. Today Republicans are at 45 percent to Obama’s 41 percent. Last year at this time, it was Obama at 54 percent and congressional Republicans at 36 percent. A 26-point Obama advantage a year ago on who would better protect the middle class has fallen to just six points in the latest survey. . . . Obama ends his fifth year in office with lower approval ratings than almost all other recent two-term presidents.

Congress is getting thumbs down as well. (“Congressional approval stands at 16 percent, up four points in the past month but still hovering near historic lows. More than seven in 10 disapprove of the way congressional Republicans are doing their job, which is only marginally worse than a year ago. Congressional Democrats are only slightly less disliked, with more than six in 10 disapproving of their performance.”) Liberal media likes to equate “Congress” with “Republicans” in such polls, but of course Congress is most disliked of all branches since Democrats dislike the House Republicans, Republicans dislike Senate Democrats and independents hate gridlock and fighting.

The easy explanation for Obama’s fall is the horrendous rollout of Obamacare, the “lie of the year” (also a top Pinocchio of the year) about keeping your insurance and general dislike of the healthcare law beyond the healthcare.gov. But let’s be clear how rotten a year it has been even aside from the Obamacare fiasco. The president managed to get rid of only a sliver of the Bush tax cuts, to the dismay of liberals. He falsely predicted a catastrophe if the sequester occurred. He pleaded ignorance to scandals involving the Internal Revenue Service and spying on reporters. He pleased neither hawks nor civil libertarians in his half-hearted defense of NSA surveillance. His intransigence in the government shutdown hurt him as well (although not nearly as much as it did the Republicans). And his frighteningly erratic behavior on Syria and dangerous appeasement of Iran rattled Congress, our allies and the American people (who now give him negative reviews on foreign policy). Finally, while the economic has ticked up the vast majority of Americans (79 percent in the Post/ABC poll) still think we are in a recession and a plurality (45 percent) trust Congress more than the president to fix it.

In essence, Obamacare broke the back of his already faltering presidency. This doesn’t mean Obamacare’s disastrous rollout didn’t affect the public’s overall impressions of the president’s performance; it certainly did. And why wouldn’t it? The “lie of the year” — the biggest blow to the president’s credibility in five years — and his mishandling of the critical rollout reflect more generally on his competence.  It allowed Congress to rebound, sacrificed Democrats’ chances to take the House and may cost the Democrats the Senate. Call it then an inflection or tipping point.

When liberal defenders say conservatives are betting on Obamacare’s failure, they are correct. Conservatives see millions more have lost than gained insurance, the back-end problems in transmitting critical information on coverage to insurers, the refusal of young people to dutifully sign up for insurance they don’t want, the sticker shock problem and the loss of people’s doctors’ and hospitals of choice and conclude this is a disaster. Whacky, I know. (The case for betting on Obamacare hasn’t been made in any convincing form.)

So long as Obamacare remains a disaster and Republicans don’t give the president the opportunity to appear more reasonable than he is, the president’s standing is unlikely to change. Often presidents rebound from domestic failures with foreign policy successes, but in this case the president’s foreign policy — especially on Iran — is under withering attack. Obama’s fall was a year in the making and was not brought about GOP spin or media coverage (which is now appropriately critical of the president, fueled by reporters angry at the White House’s lack of transparency); it is rooted in reality. Maybe the president can rebound, but without rewriting Obamacare — something Obama refuses to do — and holding the Senate while picking up the House (both increasingly unlikely) 2014 promises to be as miserable for the president as 2013.

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