If President Obama is reelected, he would be one of the weakest presidents in recent memory. Nothing about his first term or his campaign for reelection has established a purpose for a second term. His campaign has mostly been about attacks on his opponent. He's offered few plans that would pass Congress, and he has had to keep his ideology mostly hidden from view. This, combined with some practical realities, would limit the president from doing any of the meaningful or difficult things that the United States requires.
There's the possibility that this doesn't bother the president. Perhaps his reelection is just about regime survival, not governing. He doesn't appear to want to do much anyway. Things like the fiscal cliff at home and retrenchment from abroad don't seem urgent to him.
Here are five reasons Obama would fail in a second term:
1. He cannot work with the House of Representatives. If the president were a coalition builder or had the interpersonal and management skills to form effective coalitions within Congress, we would know that by now. His only idea of compromise is for the Republicans to capitulate to his insistence on punitive taxes. Obama's tax increases have never really been presented as part of an economic plan — let alone an economic growth plan — but just as a way of settling scores between classes. Republicans in the House will not go there. That's not to say they won't have plans of their own, but the House will want to lead with spending cuts and budget reform, not with punitive, growth-killing tax increases.
2. The Senate will be more evenly divided and dysfunctional. The Senate, with its 60-vote requirement for anything to pass, its secret holds and its stall strategy for just about every nomination, will not be fixed by the 2012 election. Nothing about the Senate under Majority Leader Harry Reid suggests that anything hard to do will get done. Remember, the Senate hasn't met its base responsibility of passing a budget in more than three years.
3. Obama’s campaign hasn't been about anything. Obama hasn't presented an agenda or a bold vision, and his vote total will be anemic at best. The president would be limping into a second term, which is not what the United States needs. As we have learned in the first term, this president is an academic who is most comfortable with professorial, verbose musings. He is not exactly a man of action. Given his lack of vision and high negatives produced by the campaign, combined with a softening or worsening economy, the president would come into office with no momentum and very little time to propose and pass into law anything big.
4. Obama is neither feared nor respected abroad. To be fair, he retains some personal popularity, but as someone who travels around the world a lot, I no longer see foreign leaders counting on the United States’ leadership. Abroad, foreign leaders greet me with a sad shrug when we talk about the United States’ role in their part of the world. Again, I don't think this is so much of a failure on the part of Obama — I think this is how he wants it to be. He thinks America's leadership is more about arrogance than about being essential.
5. Eighteen months from now, candidates from both parties will be running for the 2016 presidential nomination and ignoring Obama. Second-term presidents lose power by the day. Lame-duck status settles in very quickly, key staff and other personnel begin to leave, and the political future no longer includes the incumbent. Obama dithered away his first two years on health-care legislation when he had a huge advantage with majorities in both houses of Congress. That is what he did when he had real power in Washington, so what do we expect him to be able to do with very little power?
This may sound pretty bleak, and of course, others are free to believe a rosier scenario. It's just hard to see how a second term would bring about a personality transformation, a capabilities overhaul, or even an ideological shift that could make President Obama effective.