The simplest explanation for President Obama’s recent negotiating weakness and rhetorical insipidness is that he’s simply not a very good politician. The solidifying consensus is that he shouldn’t have let the debt ceiling debate get rolling to begin with — that he should have said (as I suggested) that default wasn’t a negotiable issue. His base feels he caves to the GOP. Friendly pundits have soured on him. His approval ratings are lower than they’ve ever been. People who supported him now wonder if he’s the wrong man for the moment. He doesn’t like to throw a punch. Even now, with the Republican candidates demonizing him (and the guy he re-appointed to run the Fed), and with the national press corps following him around Iowa, he eschews the political zinger. He still dreams of political conciliation, cooperation, bipartisanship, putting country ahead of party, all that good stuff. And the faithful ask: When’s he going to smack someone?

But maybe it’s the rope-a-dope.

You know the rope-a-dope. Ali vs. Foreman, 1974, Zaire. Ali leans back against the ropes and lets Foreman pound away. The elasticity of the ropes help absorb the force of the blows. Everyone thinks Ali is getting thrashed, but Foreman tires, and Ali knocks out Foreman in the eighth round.

It may be that Obama and his strategists are enjoying watching the Republicans flail away on the campaign trail. You got Rick Perry denouncing an “idiotic” federal law that doesn’t actually exist. Perry ruffled mainstream Republicans and Wall Street by suggesting that Ben Bernanke might be “traitorous.” He’s been scolded by Karl Rove.

The Obama folks no doubt look at Perry (and the others) and think: Keep poundin’ away. Wear yourself out.

Which is why Romney scares them: Romney’s adopted a Rose Garden Strategy. No one’s seen him in months, except his bankers.

[more to come...]