Conventional wisdom has it that the presidential election is going to be a nail-biter.
I don’t think so.
Pessimism is the reason for my optimism.
I am pessimistic that the economy is going to get any better. The European crisis is not settling down as Greece readies to depart the EU. China’s rapid growth is slowing precipitously. Brazil’s economy faces significant headwinds as commodity prices continue to fall. And the American business community, facing uncertainty from the Obama healthcare-law implementation and Dodd-Frank, is content to wait out the year rather than going on a hiring binge. A collapsing economy will lead to collapsing polls for the president.
I am also pessimistic that Congress and the president will produce anything of note before the lame-duck session despite the fiscal crisis facing the American government. Unlike the 104th Congress, which was able to force welfare reform through the system twice before President Clinton signed it, this year the House and Senate are controlled by different parties that can’t even agree on which weeks to work, let alone forge bipartisan compromise on the biggest issues of the day. It is highly unlikely that the president will be able to get Congress to do anything other than kick the can down the road until next year.
I am pessimistic that the president’s campaign will drop its left-wing populism and chart a more centrist course. Despite all evidence that its attacks on Bain Capital have backfired (Bill ClintonBill ClintonWhat to know about Trump's national monuments executive order Larry Summers: Mnuchin squandering his credibility with Trump tax proposal Patagonia threatens to sue Trump over national monuments order MORE, Corey Booker, Ed Rendell, Harold Ford), the folks in Chicago are moving full speed ahead. At the end of day, a presidential campaign is a reflection of the candidate, and the Obama campaign is a reflection of the president. He is a left-wing populist, but left-wing populists rarely win presidential races.
I am also pessimistic that peace is going to suddenly break out in the world. Syria, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iran, Mexico, Venezuela, Egypt, Iraq, sub-Saharan Africa — the list goes on and on. All of these places are hot zones, all keep the president awake at night, and none of them will be solved anytime soon. The problem for the White House is that this president lacks any coherent doctrine to help define the terms of engagement, with the possible exception of leading from behind. Going into the final stretch of a campaign, when voters want clarity and strength, the president’s opaqueness can become a significant liability.
Right now, the poll numbers for the president look pretty good. His personal approval ratings are relatively high, while Mitt Romney’s seem underwhelming. In the key swing states, Obama is now beating Romney or within the margin of error. And the president’s personal popularity is strong.
But beyond the poll numbers, the figures are grim. Unemployment is terrible, higher at this point than any other presidential reelection bid since FDR. The right track/wrong track number, a leading indicator of whether a president is going to get reelected, continues to by abysmal. Consumer confidence sank 3 points in May, and is now in the same range that led to the dismissal of Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.
If these trends continue, the bottom will start falling out of the Obama reelection campaign. The media have done a very good job of making this a horse race, and perhaps it still is. But right now the chances are far greater that Mitt Romney will be inaugurated next January.
Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com.