The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama’s approval sinking, for good reason

The president’s poll numbers are in free fall. He got nabbed crying wolf on the sequester cuts. He has time to have a meaningless display of interest in the GOP Senate (with a high priced dinner at a local hotel) but can’t manage to put out a budget before both the House and Senate do. Are these related?

RealClearPolitics highlights the crash in his poll numbers since the election. The view of his handling of the economy, the debt and other major issues is likewise down significantly.

This should come as no surprise. With the economy at the top of voters’ concerns, the president raised taxes on upper income Americans, went on an anti-gun crusade, tried to scare the public with a parade of phony horribles and now won’t put out a budget. What is he doing all day?

It doesn’t help when his “outreach” to Republicans reeks of insincerity. Ron Fournier reports on the reaction to the dinner with Republicans:

“This is a joke. We’re wasting the president’s time and ours,” complained a senior White House official who was promised anonymity so he could speak frankly. “I hope you all (in the media) are happy because we’re doing it for you.”
Another said the president was sincerely trying to find common ground with stubborn Republicans. “But if we do it,” the aide hastened, “it won’t be because we had steaks and Merlot with a few senators.”

Voters are more cynical than ever and they too can see what is meaningful (a budget deal) and what is not.

Obama’s perpetual campaigning may finally be tiring the public, and while they don’t like Congress much, that doesn’t help the president to sustain the public’s approval. A gradual decline in the unemployment rate doesn’t help much with so many people still out of work, afraid of being out of work or having given up looking for work.

The question remains whether this makes any difference. Obama sure isn’t running for anything. Blue state candidates will still want him on the campaign trail and red state candidates never did. It matters, I would suggest, in two respects.

First, the willingness of Senate Democrats to run interference for him, support his policies and play pin-the-tail-on-the-obstructionist-GOP decreases as he loses his political standing. This happens anyway in a president’s second term (hence the poor results historically in the midterm election for the incumbent party), but it makes Democrats wary when they see the president is losing his magic touch and that simply getting ready to kill the GOP in 2014 isn’t warming the voters’ hearts. That, ironically, may make deal-making easier as Dems have greater incentive to develop a record on which they can run in 2014.

Second, Obama is aiding in the restoration of the GOP. His silly intransigence on drone information already made Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) into a rock star. His indifference to balancing the budget gives the GOP the ability to say it is the only party interested in fiscal discipline. In 2014 and 2016 Republicans, if they continue to innovate and focus on constructive policy, can run as the party of reform and of good government. By making the Democrats into the party of the status quo, Obama let the GOP back into the game and perhaps handed them the lead.