I know we’re all supposed to think that the primaries are poised to turn out a weak Republican nominee and that President Obama will swoop in this fall and carry the day with some brilliant pincer move that simultaneously dubs the Republican too extreme, too moderate, too boring, and too weird. And I suppose it’s possible that the president and his team will suddenly turn out to possess keen political skills they have been hiding somewhere for the past three years. But can we spend a moment pondering the approach that team Obama seems to be hatching so far?...Based on what the president and his advisers have said and done in recent weeks, that strategy appears to consist of creating populist confrontations with Congress and then complaining that Washington is broken because Republicans won’t let the president have his way. That’s a strategy that tells the public that the current situation in Washington is untenable and change is needed. Is that not an odd way for a Democratic incumbent president (whose party also controls the Senate) to run against a Republican outsider? It first of all exacerbates the public’s mistrust of government, which tends to reinforce Republican policy proposals (since those generally aim to take power away from government) but to undermine Democratic ones (which generally aim to give more power to government). It also implies that President Obama is having trouble doing his job, which can’t be a great re-election theme. It says that the problem we have is the result of a conflict between the president and Congress in a year when the Republican Party, but not the Democratic Party, will be led by someone who is neither the president nor in Congress and so is presumably not part of that problem. And it argues (understandably) that things could only get better if the White House and Congress were both held by Democrats—but the last time that happened was when we ended up with those unpopular achievements of Obama’s first two years. Is he proposing to do more of that?...Maybe there’s another attempted image transformation in the works, though the past ones clearly haven’t worked very well. Maybe there’s another shoe to drop in the president’s confrontational populist agenda, which will turn it into a workable strategy. Or maybe the president and his team are just not very good at this. The evidence of the past three years would certainly seem to support the latter view.
When Republicans consider their current crop of candidates, we tend to worry that the Obama machine will make mincemeat out of them. But, to me, I am reminded of Grant's commen to his generals during the Battle of the Wilderness. Reacting to their trepidations about what Lee might be doing, he acerbically told them to forget about what Lee was going to do to them, and start thinking about what we're going to do to him.
Republicans have extraordinarily good arguments why Obama doesn't deserve a second term, whomever they end up nominating.