The Washington Post

The referendum on Obama is coming

This is your Insider reporting live from Paris. Specifically, from the lobby of the Crillon Hotel, which seems to be inhabited by mostly fashionable, thin, rich French people.  I fit right in. 

Anyway, I thought I would develop some useful insight on the U.S. elections from the French businesspeople I’m meeting with, but uniformly, no one here seems to be following the American elections.  President Obama has lost his shine here, like everywhere else, although he is still admired. When I ask the French about Mitt Romney, I get return questions about Mormonism. No one here seems to have formed any impressions about Romney. 

If anything, the French leaders that I’ve met with seem bewildered by how Americans don’t seem sufficiently alarmed about the foreboding economic circumstances across Europe.  The economic anxiety here is almost panic, and the French expect and hope to see more panic from us Americans. Yet they don’t seem to know what they would like the United States to do, and they don’t seem to have a plan themselves. Hopelessness appears to be the only unifying sentiment that I can discern. 

In the meantime, speaking of hopelessness, Obama received a sharp blow from the unemployment data released today.  And there is no plausible positive spin that the administration can put on the numbers.  Things are getting worse, not better.  So what are Obama’s political options?  He doesn’t have many.  He can’t say things are getting better; he’ll be ridiculed.  He can’t say he’s going to unleash the private sector; he won’t be credible.  Realistically, I think all he can do is promise more benefits and claim that Romney and the heartless Republicans would not help save voters from poverty. His least-worst option would probably be to declare himself an unconditional Santa Claus with a bottomless gift bag and hope that there are enough takers to let him squeak by in November.  This tactic could be combined with the personal attacks on Romney that were coming anyway. 

Romney, on the other hand, needs to be credible, serious and mistake-free. A pure November referendum on Obama is Romney’s best chance for victory. There’s no chance that the five remaining Bureau of Labor Statistics releases on the employment situation and two more GDP reports will be good enough for Obama, and there is nothing to suggest they would spark an Obama rally. 

Carter is right. It’s time for Plan B, and I think Obama’s only option is to make outrageous promises and hope that worried voters, in a moment of doubt, are gullible enough to believe the president one more time. 

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.


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