In his “60 Minutes” interview, President Obama offered a keen insight into his 2012 re-election strategy. It takes some decoding, but his underlying strategic goals emerge. He said:
“The question next year is going to be — and then this is how a democracy is supposed to work — do they see a more compelling vision coming out from the other side? Do they think that cutting taxes further, including on the wealthy, cutting taxes on corporations, of gutting regulations, do we think that that is going to be somehow more successful? And if the American people think that that’s a recipe for success and a majority are persuaded by that, then I’m going to lose.”
Three relevant points emerge from an analysis of Obama’s comment.
First, he wants the election to be a referendum on the Republican candidate and his political philosophy. By posing the key question as whether the GOP remedy for the economy will be “somehow more successful,” Obama makes it clear that he wants this contest to be about the opposition proposals.
Second, the president is determined to run as a non-incumbent, abandoning all but a pro forma defense of his record and instead running as if he would were there an open seat. He wants it to be 2008 all over again, where he’s free to float ideas without taking any responsibility for his performance in office or that of the economy on his watch.
Finally, Obama is determined to make the election a contest between two policy alternatives, deliberately omitting the issue of competence. He wants all the votes his point of view will permit him to garner — despite his obvious ineptitude when it comes to implementation. He’s like an incompetent employee hoping to save his job by advocating a broad-based shift in his corporation’s philosophy in the hopes that his bosses will ignore his own poor performance.
Obama seems to want to turn the election into a referendum on policy, almost as if he were campaigning for an issue on the ballot rather than as a president seeking a second term. While this preference is understandable given his dismal record, the Republicans cannot let him get away with it.
The key question Republicans must pose to the president must be: “What are you planning to do in the next four years to get the economy moving that you have not tried and failed with during your first term, especially during that portion of the term when you had total control of Congress and still couldn’t fix the economy?”
Of course, the other part of Obama’s re-election strategy will be a slash-and-burn approach to attacking his opponent. Using the cooperation of the media, he will throw any accusation that comes to mind against his Republican adversary in the hope that enough sticks to help him win.
But in this essentially negative approach to the campaign, he is laboring under the handicap that the Republican candidate will have been thoroughly vetted during the primaries. Any negatives that exist will have been aired so extensively that they will pack little punch in the fall. In this respect, the primary contest is serving to inoculate the eventual Republican candidate by raising all the negatives and exhausting them before the fall election even starts.
As for the rest of his strategy — it won’t work. Nobody is going to forget the current state of the economy or fail to remember how ineffective the stimulus program was at doing anything other than digging us deeper into a self-destructive debt.
The fact is that an incumbent president is up for re-election, and there is more than a clash of philosophies at issue. There will be two men. And one of them is a demonstrated failure.