President Obama and his top campaign officials have mapped out a new 2012 re-election strategy: Run against an unpopular Congress.
Mr. Obama, whose job approval ratings have been relentlessly stuck at around 43 percent for much of the past year, thinks he can convince enough voters that Congress is the cause of all the economic ills that plague our country.
That’s right, the man Mitt Romney has been calling “the great complainer,” “the great blamer,” “the great excuse-giver” will run on a campaign platform that his policies are blameless. It’s all the fault of Congress, which won’t pass his latest economic stimulus plan to borrow and spend more money and raise taxes on investors, small businesses and corporations.
Forget about those lofty promises Mr. Obama made in his 2008 campaign speeches about stopping the bickering and changing the tone in Washington. White House aides told reporters last week that he is going to “double down” on what they call an “outside strategy” - that he is fighting for the middle class against a do-nothing Congress that has become the paymaster of wealthy special interests.
It’s going to get ugly, too, because when you attack Congress, that implies everyone in it - the Democrats who run the Senate and Republicans who control the House. What will Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi say about that?
But Mr. Obama and his aides think the best politics this year is to stay above the fray on Capitol Hill. He doesn’t exactly say this, but the implied message to his fellow Democrats, who likely will lose the Senate in November, is, “You’re on your own.”
“In terms of the president’s relationship with Congress in 2012 … the president is no longer tied to Washington,” deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told The Washington Post over the holidays.
No longer tied to Washington? Does he really think he can just walk away from three years of impotent economic stimulus bills and the voters will forget what he proposed, or that it didn’t work? Or that he will be able to campaign around the country and ignore the economic and fiscal issues Congress will be dealing with over the course of the coming year?
Mr. Obama’s legislative war cry last year - “We can’t wait” - apparently has been changed to, “You’re gonna have to wait until I’m re-elected.”
But if he thinks he’ll be able to convince enough voters that Congress is to blame for what ails us and that he has kept his promises, Republicans have a lethal counteroffensive strategy ready and waiting.
For months now, an army of opposition researchers at the Republican National Committee has been digging up every exuberant, exaggerated claim Mr. Obama has made on behalf of his policies. Those words are going to be thrown back at him between now and November, reminding the voters that he made over-the-top promises that remain unfulfilled. Among them:
c That his $800 billion spending stimulus bill would lift 2 million Americans out of poverty. In fact, the Census Bureau tells us that more than 6 million Americans have fallen below the poverty income line during the past three years of his presidency.
c That his home foreclosure assistance program would “help between 7 and 9 million families restructure or refinance their mortgages.” Actually, his administration has spent a great deal less than it promised and helped only 2 million, at best.
c In his 2008 nomination acceptance address to the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Obama said his plan to invest $80 billion in clean technologies would create 5 million jobs. So far, the money spent on the projects has produced nowhere near that jobs figure and has come under investigation for bankrolling loans sought by wealthy donors to Mr. Obama’s campaign.
Internal government documents obtained by a House oversight committee found that the program was heavily politicized, and a fat loan to a solar panel business publicly promoted by Mr. Obama went bankrupt, costing taxpayers a half-billion dollars. An investigation by The Washington Post last month found that the program “was infused with politics at every level.”
c Appearing on the NBC “Today Show” in 2009, Mr. Obama said that if the economy did not recover within three years, “then there’s going to be a one-term president.”
These and other Obama remarks will be the political fodder for a tidal wave of Republican videos on television and the Internet over the ensuing year. But none will be more ubiquitous than his claims that he has stabilized and turned around the economy since its plunge into the Great Recession.
But official government data draw a starkly different picture: A nearly 9 percent national unemployment rate, a weak economic growth rate that’s barely creeping along at a snail’s-pace 1.8 percent, and millions of discouraged workers giving up and leaving the labor force because they cannot find jobs.
That is the sober reality of the dismal Obama economy: weak capital investment, banks reluctant to lend, home values continuing to decline, college graduates unable to find jobs and nearly a dozen states permanently stuck with double-digit unemployment rates.
A recent Republican National Committee ad uses Mr. Obama’s own words to indict his performance as president. An Internet spot titled “It’s Been Three Years” shows candidate Obama saying the “real question” is whether or not Americans will be better off in four years.
The ad flashes forward to a one-on-one interview with ABC News analyst George Stephanopoulos in October in which Mr. Obama says, “I don’t think they’re better off than they were four years ago.”
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.