As I have always said, people wish President Obama well. His personal approval numbers have never been terrible. But I think that has more to do with how voters feel about themselves for voting for Obama in the first place than it does about any particular Obama accomplishment. Whatever magic there was in 2008 is largely depleted, and whatever is remaining will be harder to keep after a ruthless campaign. It will be hard for the aloof, negative Obama to convince people that he has a plan and the enthusiasm to change the path he has put us on.
We will talk about it in the weeks ahead, but there is no question that the GOP nominee will have to tack to center, and so will Obama. The center is where the election will be won. Your Insiders will argue about who is really in the center and who is the pretender.
I do think that the candidates’ personalities will matter. After all, precise policy details don't reveal character or confirm ability. Voters in the center apply their own intuition to the candidates’ performances they witness and the campaign messages and images that break through. Credibility and admiration are intangibles that are not established by a candidate’s own selfish assertions.
As the GOP field narrows, I think the campaign will begin to become more substantive. Each candidate will want to be seen as a credible figure who could be president. Then the 2012 campaigns can really begin to ask the questions that the president and his opponent will ultimately have to answer. Perhaps we will have a campaign that helps the winner govern.
The beginning of the beginning starts tonight.