Thursday, September 9, 2010

Obama's Problem Isn't That He's Been Too Moderate

From Jay Cost, at Weekly Standard, "Obama Tries to Rally the Base":
The President's attempts at bipartisanship typically ranged from half-hearted to specious, and his policies were never centrist. Centrists in the 111th Congress - of both parties - typically voted against the President's agenda. Of course, if you're on the left-hand side of the country, at, for instance, the New Republic or the American Prospect, the President did look awfully centrist. But from the perspective of middle America, he did not. Still, as wrong as this view is, I think the White House, like a lot of liberals, genuinely believes that the President tried earnestly to extend the hand of friendship, but had it bitten. The fact that it thinks it genuinely tried just goes to show that it - and, for that matter, much of the liberal intelligentsia - totally misunderstands American conservatism and the Republican party. That's ironic because the Tea Parties have a distinctly Jeffersonian Republican flair to them, and the DNC touts Thomas Jefferson as the party's founder.

Regardless, the President is facing a situation in which the opinions of Republicans and Independents are essentially set, and have been set for a while. Republicans have been long gone, obviously. But so are Independents. Gallup has had the President's job approval with Independents under 45% for almost four months. There is nothing the White House can do between now and the election to bring them back. Not with Recovery Summer turning into Recovery Sputter.

So what is left for the White House? Rally the base.

That is going to be the strategy coming from the West Wing for the next two months. That's why the President was never going to listen to moderates in his own party about the Bush tax cuts. It's why he is going to union meetings to talk about...sigh...more infrastructure spending. It's why he's talking about how his opponents treat him like a dog. Expect more stuff like this. He'll call out Fox News and Glenn Beck. For the next two months, the message from the White House is going to be like Ponderosa for the left: all you can eat red meat.

That's all the White House has left. Their hope - faint as it is - is to cede Independents, but amp up the Democratic base so the party does not get swamped by Republicans voting 90-10 against the Democrats.

My sense is that even if the White House manages to amp up its base, it is still going to lose the House. Take the basic Gallup numbers, recalibrate them for the 2006 turnout, and you still see a GOP win of +4 or thereabouts. Even with the (totally unrealistic for this year) 2008 numbers, you see a tie in the House vote, which I think would tilt the House to the GOP, thanks to the Democratic vote being concentrated in heavily Democratic districts. The White House is concerned that, if the turnout models continue the way they are, the final vote in November will be in line with Rasmussen and ABC News/WaPo, something like +13.

In other words, the White House, at this point, might be happy to walk away with a 1994-style loss. The worry is something closer to 1946 or 1894, when the Democrats struggled to get 45% of the vote.