Conservatives are angst-ridden by the realization that the prohibitive favorite to win the presidential nomination is not as doctrinaire a conservative as they would prefer and, from time to time, makes verbal missteps. Well, such is politics — the exercise in human imperfection and perpetual disappointment.
Perhaps in 2020 the right will not waste time on absurd contenders like Herman Cain and will instead look for quality conservative contenders earlier in the process. But aside from that, glum conservatives might want to take a deep breath and ask themselves: Would you rather be in the Democrats’ shoes?
Consider the economic outlook. Even with today’s unemployment figure of 8.3 percent (down from 8.5 percent), forecasters suggest that unemployement will be above 8 percent on Election Day. President Obama will be struggling to explain why, trillions of dollars and four years after he took office, growth is anemic and unemployment is at historic highs. He’ll be challenged on his failure to present a tax reform plan and a specific proposal for entitlement reform. His signature Obamacare legislation, or what will be left of it after the Supreme Court’s review, will be no more popular than it is now. (You’ll notice he ignored it in his State of the Union addresss.)
As an electoral matter, he’s in trouble. Gallup reported this week:
Democrats have lost their solid political party affiliation advantage in 18 states since 2008, while Republicans have gained a solid advantage in 6 states. A total of 17 states were either solidly Republican or leaning Republican in their residents’ party affiliation in 2011, up from 10 in 2010 and 5 in 2008. Meanwhile, 19 states including the District of Columbia showed a solid or leaning Democratic orientation, down from 23 in 2010 and 36 in 2008. The remaining 15 states were relatively balanced politically, with neither party having a clear advantage.
In other words, “In the last four years, the political leanings of Americans have increasingly moved toward the Republican Party after shifting decidedly Democratic between 2005 and 2008. . . . Clearly, President Obama faces a much less favorable environment as he seeks a second term in office than he did when he was elected president.”
Then consider how Obama fares in states he will need to win. Ron Brownstein writes:
From 2010 to 2011, Gallup found, his average approval ratings dropped in every state except Connecticut, Maine and (oddly enough) Wyoming. As a result, to reach 270 Electoral College votes based on the 2011 numbers, he would need to win 20 states plus the District of Columbia where his approval rating stands at 44.5 percent or more. Since one of the states above that line is Georgia, which is also a stretch for Obama in practice, to reach 270 he would more likely need to carry Oregon and North Carolina, where his approval ratings stood at 44.5 percent and 43.7 percent, respectively.
In addition, Brownstein finds that Obama’s approval is above 50 percent in states totalling 159 electoral votes, down from 175 in 2010. Meanwhile, in states with 193 electoral votes (up from 99 in 2010), Obama’s approval rating is below 42 percent.
Then consider his track record of turning off key constituent groups. Jewish voters are falling away. His attack on the Catholic Church’s conscience clause, threatening it with crippling fines unless it violates its religious doctrine on contraceptions, abortion drugs and sterilization. Priests are striking back:
In an extraordinary move this past weekend, New York Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan and other archbishops throughout the nation had their priests read letters denouncing the Obama administration policy from the pulpit at Sunday Mass.
“Never before has the government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” Dolan said in a web video that takes the battle online. “This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights. How about letting our elected leaders know that we want religious liberty and rights of consciences restored and the administration’s mandate rescinded? We can’t afford to strike out on this one.”
There are a whole lot of Catholic voters, as well as other religious and nonreligious voters who view this as the quintessential totalitarianism of the left. Obama is bullying religious institutions and, I suspect, the voters won’t like it one bit. Suddenly, the “culture wars” favor the GOP.
Finally, while Romney may not be “everyman,” Obama has forfeited his standing as a post-partisan unifier. His rhetoric is harsh; his demeanor is peevish. He’s unlikely to thrill young people. His cynical attack on a do-nothing Congress seems lame, considering his party held the majority for two years and his likely opponent never worked in Congress. (He also managed to get along with Democrats in Massachusetts.)
So really, even with all of Romney’s imperfections (some real, some exaggerated and some imagined), isn’t Obama the weaker candidate? If conservatives would take a break from their grouse-a-thon, they might realize the other party’s candidate has a load of problems. Republicans stand a good shot at retaking the White House.