Obama’s problem is the strong suspicion among voters that someone with more experience and more knowledge of the economy could have avoided the pitfalls of the past 40 months. Liberals and conservatives disagree about the remedies, but on the big issues of the day; the economy, the health law, Afghanistan, debt , etc.; the status quo is deemed unacceptable. The best the president’s team can muster is to say that Obama staved off something much worse and, having trained on the job for four years, will do better next time.
Republicans say the credit for the end of the economic trauma of 2009 and the absence of a successful terror attack don’t belong to Obama, but for persuadable voters, results matter more than methods. Barring another panic or another terror attack, Obama won’t be Hoover. And that means Romney has a higher bar to surmount.
Of the nine incumbent presidents between Roosevelt and Obama who have run for another term, seven have succeeded. Voters generally don’t like to make a change unless they have to.
For several of the successful incumbents, they won on the first question: Do we want to keep the guy we’ve got. For Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, the answer was ‘yes.’ No change was considered necessary and their opponents didn’t have much of a chance to make their case, not that their foes were very formidable opponents to begin with. (Lyndon Johnson got a thumbs up as the heir to the slain John Kennedy, so he’s a special case.)
Obama is in the company of the other five incumbents: Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and his son. The public is grouchy and certainly open to the idea of a change. Obama’s case is particularly difficult because he promised so much – cut the deficit in half, create 7 million jobs, hyper-transparency, ban lobbyists from his inner circle, etc. – and then failed to deliver.
Obama’s task is certainly as difficult as those of Truman, Ford and Carter. Obama has advantages they didn’t, but a look at how Americans feel about his governance and the direction of the country suggests Obama is right to warn his team of a rough 24 weeks to come.
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