With the Democrats looking to receive a solid (and well-deserved) drubbing in the mid-term elections, there’s much talk in the press about whether Barack Obama will be a one-term president. In a Sunday column, Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote: “Throughout this long year, President Obama’s advisers have sometimes looked to Ronald Reagan for comparison and inspiration. If the Gipper could survive a deep recession, low approval ratings and an adverse midterm election in his first two years and win reelection handily two years later, then Obama could easily do the same, they reason.”
But, Balz went on to say, the situation appears far more perilous for Obama than it was, at a corresponding time, for Reagan:
Whatever the outcome in November [midterms], and whatever interpretation is placed on the results, the real question for Obama is what happens to the economy afterward. On that measure, comparisons with Reagan are discouraging for the current president. The economy rebounded significantly during Reagan’s third and fourth years in office. The unemployment rate declined, although not spectacularly…More important, however, was the rise in gross domestic product, which experts say is a far more reliable political indicator. The U.S. economy experienced a growth surge in 1983 and 1984 that helped set the stage for Reagan’s gauzy “Morning in America” ads and prepared the ground for his huge reelection victory…
If Democrats lose substantial numbers of seats in November, Obama’s advisers will probably take heart from Reagan’s example, according to Bartels. But the recession this president inherited is nothing like the economy of Reagan’s time, and the divisions in the country are, if anything, deeper and more virulent. Obama will need the economy to snap out of its slump far more robustly than current forecasts predict before he can feel confident about the road ahead.
If the economy is truly in the tank, Obama might well not win his reelection bid, but at this point I’d bet on him. Balz makes all sorts of analogies between Obama’s situation and Reagan’s but omits one critical fact, namely that Reagan won a second term in 1984 running against one of the worst candidates of modern times, Walter Mondale. Mondale had been Jimmy Carter’s vice president, and the duo had presided over a catastrophic recession that paved the way for Reagan’s reelection. Furthermore, Mondale was a totally boring candidate; by comparison, Al Gore looks as charismatic and feisty as a youthful Muhammad Ali.
And that’s the problem for Republicans — whoever wins the nomination is going to be as weak a candidate as Mondale (though not necessarily as bland). Sarah Palin may motivate the G.O.P. base, but she is not going to win a general election. Mitt Romney? Please. He’s almost as dull as Mondale, and a phony to boot. Obama would destroy him. Newt Gingrich? I’ll give you 20 to 1 odds.
OK, so maybe an exciting, lesser known Republican candidate will emerge between now and primary season. After all, at this point in 2006 Obama would have been given no chance of winning the presidential election of two years later. So who’s it going to be? That whirling dervish Tim Pawlenty?
Barring an economic meltdown of the scale that finished off John McCain’s campaign, Obama will be president until January of 2017. For better or for worse.