A remarkable awakening has been taking place over the last 90 days in Washington.
On November 3, 2011, the ABC News/Washington Post President Obama’s approval rating sat at 44% with a disapproval rating of 53%. Three months later, the ABC News/Washington Post President Obama’s approval rating rose to 50% and the disapproval rating dropped to 44%. It went from (-9) to (+6); a remarkable change over three months. Remarkable in that it was a steady increase without the boost of any special or one off ‘bumps’ like the May 2011 6-10 point bump the President got after the killing of Osama Bin Laden. So what is behind this, with all due respect to Rick Santorum, surge?
The simple answer is a series of savvy political moves, the GOP clown car Presidential campaign, and the economic recovery. It is also a worth noting that the President has simply got better at the politics of the presidency. Whereas early on he allowed himself to get caught up in small matters such as the Professor Henry Gates/Cambridge Police Department kerfuffle, or seemingly always on the defensive, or even over exposure, most recently the President is laser focused and on the attack.
The three events that go the President’s groove back in gear were the road show he took to some of his nemesis back yards to point out infrastructure concerns. The visual images of the President promoting his American Jobs Act and infrastructure investment goals in Cantor’s Virginia, McConnell’s Kentucky, and Boehner’s Ohio were the first salvo in his establishing Congress as the bad guy and the opponent. The second event took place on December 6th at Osawatomie High School in Osawatomie, Kansas. Channeling the great American progressive Theodore Roosevelt, President Obama struck a winning populist tone that included this brilliant passage:
Now, in the midst of this debate, there are some who seem to be suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. After all that’s happened, after the worst economic crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, they want to return to the same practices that got us into this mess. In fact, they want to go back to the same policies that stacked the deck against middle-class Americans for way too many years. And their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everybody is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules.
I am here to say they are wrong. I’m here in Kansas to reaffirm my deep conviction that we’re greater together than we are on our own. I believe that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, when everyone does their fair share, when everyone plays by the same rules. These aren’t Democratic values or Republican values. These aren’t 1 percent values or 99 percent values. They’re American values. And we have to reclaim them.
The third event was the showdown with Congressional Republicans on extending the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits. The Republicans had thought they had outmaneuvered the President during the August debt ceiling negotiation only to find out that he placed them in a box. His threat to veto any bill that included the XL Pipeline and no defense cuts forced the GOP to back away from those demands and acquiesce to a temporary extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits. It clearly placed Congress and especially the Republicans in the role of the obstructionists who were putting ideology ahead of the plight of ordinary Americans.
While the President was schooling Congressional Republicans, it didn’t hurt his cause that the GOP field was a collection incompetent amateurs, reactionary misfits, ethically challenged recycled has-beens, misogynists, and a flip flopper. As Americans, and especially independents, began to learn more about the field, the more they began to dislike them. A healthy dislike is next to impossible to overcome in an election campaign and suddenly the current guys starts to look better.
But most of all, solid economic data on the jobs front, increased consumer confidence, and positive manufacturing indicators create positive sentiments like nothing else. Moreover, when the flywheel starts turning like it did in January, it builds momentum and picks up speed as it feeds off itself. While it is too early to pop the champagne corks, the President definitely is trending better than Lady Gaga on Twitter.
Yes, the President’s comeback is for real but the American public can be fickle. A hiccup in the recovery could wash away these gains, worse yet a global supply shock could cause some serious economic damage. As for me, I am standing by my Obama victory margin of 310-238 come November.