Mr. Gibbs’s “blunder,” however, was not a mere slip of the tongue. His, this time, was a Freudian slip.
Mr. Gibbs is no stranger to making inadvertent remarks during his daily press briefings — at least those remarks of the kind that force him to revisit issues previously addressed. But his recent observation on the 2010 mid-term elections may be a sign of a deeper political consciousness within the White House political inner circle. In fact, a Barack Obama presidential run in 2012 may look more appealing with Republicans, rather than Democrats, in control of Congress.
No two presidential elections are alike. And the race in 2012 may be just as unique, except for one important factor. The political context dictated by the parameters of Congress’s legislative balance of power has the clear potential of looking more like the 1996 presidential election than any other in history.
Chiefly, the 1994 takeover of Congress by the Republicans led President Bill Clinton to move to the center and reclaim independents in his re-election bid two years later. But more appears to be at play this year in consideration of an eventual re-election bid in 2012 by President Obama.
A leadership realignment in Congress, even if in just the House, from the Democrats to the Republicans, may politically benefit the Obama presidency — and may be outright appealing to the president himself — for three reasons.
First, Obama has no longer a need for Democrats to control Congress’s legislative agenda. Domestically, from the stimulus plan to healthcare and financial reform, Obama has achieved his major policy goals. And while cap-and-trade legislation remains outstanding, given the stubbornly slow economic recovery, it may be too much of a hot-button issue to tackle anyway. Cap-and-trade may be, indeed, only a cherry on top of Obama’s legislative cake — a cake which already constitutes plenty.
On the foreign policy front, what remains of crucial importance is Afghanistan. On that, President Obama would rather deal with Republicans in Congress than a Democratic leadership held hostage by the anti-war left of his party. A "tough on foreign policy" attitude conservatives usually boast would translate into the kind of legislative support Mr. Obama needs to make definitive progress in that war.
Second, a congressional Republican majority may force President Obama to govern from the center and attempt at reclaiming support among the crucial independents. A conservative majority would give Mr. Obama an opportunity to show he can compromise across party lines while giving independents an opportunity to take a second look, albeit a distorted one, at the often polarizing president’s governing approach.
Finally, with a conservative takeover of Congress, President Obama would have the opportunity to remind his Democratic base why they voted for him in the first place. In fact, it is much easier to define your opposition when this is in control, as Republicans would be if they controlled the House or all of Congress.
Conservative Republican Newt Gingrich and his "Contract with America" kept the liberal base in play for President Clinton during his re-election bid. The post-1994 mid=term elections legislative climate in Congress helped define the political context of the subsequent 1996 presidential election.
Likewise, a Republican comeback in Congress fueled by the Tea Party — the independent-minded, small government, conservative movement — would mean the same to the Democratic base for President Obama in a 2012 run.
With polls showing an increasingly weakened President Obama and a looming takeover of Congress by conservative candidates this year, it is only inevitable that such a scenario is brought up during White House political strategy sessions. And, for all involved, including the president, such a development would not be that bad after all. It may even be desired.
Mr. Gibbs knows that. He is part of the inner circle. His take on the upcoming mid-term elections was more of a Freudian slip than a mere slip of the tongue. At least not one of those gaffes we got so used to.
And for that, sorry Mrs. Pelosi.
Nino Saviano is a Republican political strategist and president of Savi Political Consulting.