Three fresh headlines in recent days represent the status of the big issues that will shape the 2016 elections:

  1. U.S. economy shrinks in first quarter, raising questions about underlying strength” from The Washington Post.
  1. Exclusive Interview: Ian Bremmer says America is no longer ‘indispensable’” from the Telegraph.
  1. The New Nationwide Crime Wave” from the Wall Street Journal.

A weak, slow or no-growth economy; diminished capacity and lack of resolve on a dangerous and threatening world stage; civil order breaking down as a result of political leadership mismanaging our police forces — these realities are a product of President Obama’s tone and policies, and they reflect his worldview.

In an article in The Post, “Obama’s new patriotism,” Greg Jaffe analyzed “how Obama has used his presidency to redefine ‘American exceptionalism’” in a “new and radical form.” He says that Obama’s six-plus years in office have led him to “a patriotism that embraces the darker moments in American history.” Well, I guess when you don’t take pride in America’s traditional accomplishments and you don’t believe that America’s forceful presence in the world is essential, then you have to shape a narrative that declares the “dark moments” are actually what define us.

Many in the media try to twist the president’s failures into a tortured definition of how America should be or declare that Obama’s non-patriotism is just a new way to show fealty to our country. Liberals seem to be more than willing to declare the president’s failures as victories and herald any outcome as a result of the president’s sophisticated thinking. But the headlines don’t lie, and the growing anxiety about our country’s future is real.

Victor Davis Hanson wrote an excellent — if frightening — piece in the National Review, “The Global Pottersville,” where he vividly describes an America in Obama’s image as a “Pottersville” from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Hanson is right: America is beginning to look like the surreal world that develops when a president neglects America’s traditional role and responsibilities. It is alarming, but the parallels between what Hanson writes and reality today are undeniable.

So where does this all leave the GOP and the 2016 presidential race? Everything about the news these days suggests this will be a “change” election. But will there be a wave? Will just any Republican be able to ride that wave to the White House? Or will Hillary Clinton be able to convince enough voters that things could be worse under a Republican president?

For the GOP, talent and freshness will still matter. While rank-and-file Republicans are in a near panic about the trajectory of the country, most voters are still tuned out and don’t see the calamities the way activists do. So the GOP field is faced with the challenge of sounding the alarm without being alarming. The GOP plan for change has to be more than a series of panicked declarations that the sky is falling. Our 2016 Republican candidates have an opportunity to communicate how they will dig us out of this bleak Obama era, revitalize our economy, regain our credibility worldwide and rebuild our national strengths.