By Mark McKinnon - 09/18/12 10:43 PM EDT
Who really wants the job of president of the United States anyway?
The blood of Americans has been spilled on the sovereign soil of our consulate in Benghazi. An effigy of the president is burning in Afghanistan. And al Qaeda has called for more attacks on Western embassies.
Meanwhile, here at home, nearly 6 in 10 Americans think our country is on the wrong track. The labor participation rate is at the lowest point in 30 years. And the Congressional Budget Office says the economy will slide into a “significant recession” as a result of tax increases and spending cuts to come in January.
Both campaigns appear to be functioning in an echo chamber, hearing only their own voices, seemingly disconnected from both perceptions and realities.
While fires blaze in the Middle East, President Obama has time on his calendar for Beyonce and Letterman, and the “Pimp with the Limp” DJ Laz. But not for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mitt Romney is no better. He pounced on the opportunity to score political points by prematurely criticizing the president’s handling of the attacks in Libya and Cairo, and came off looking small for his poor timing.
Whoever wins the election Nov. 6 will not have much to celebrate.
Is either man really prepared for the job ahead?
The president wants to keep moving forward; the challenger wants to change course. But the path of the nation will be determined by more than just who wins the Oval Office. While an international crisis can change everything, the battle that matters most right now could be in Congress.
Republicans are likely to hold control of the House. After the wave election of 2010 and redistricting gains across the country, their majority there is secure. Democrats would need a net increase of 25 seats to regain control. They might pick off a few seats, but not enough to matter.
The story is different in the Senate. Democrats have to defend 23 of 33 seats; Republicans, only 10. A change in control would require a net Republican gain of three seats, if a Vice President Paul Ryan is the tie-breaker, or a net of four, if Joe Biden remains in that role.
So, there are four scenarios to consider.
What happens if President Obama is reelected and control of Congress remains split between the parties? Nothing?
Or if Obama is reelected, but Republicans gain the Senate? Does anything move forward outside of executive orders?
Likewise, what happens if Mitt Romney is elected but Congress remains divided? Will the Senate stonewall?
Or if Romney is elected and Republicans are the majority in both houses? Will he then get resistance from those to his right in his own party?
Despite the horrid pictures from overseas, the economy here is still the top worry for voters.
For two years, Obama had control of it all: House, Senate and White House. But the priority was not placed on fixing the economy. And the voters spoke. His party lost the House in an historic reversal in the midterm. And the president’s favorability is now below that of George W. Bush at this same point in 2004.
If Obama wins in November, he need only look backward — not to blame, but to see how to go forward with the economy. Though the bubble eventually burst, Bill Clinton experienced success in his second term because he realized his legacy was tied to that of the nation. And he was willing to put vanity aside and work with a Republican Congress to ensure the longevity of both.
Still, it is astounding that victory is not assured for Romney in looking at the still abysmal unemployment rate, the drop in personal income and the coming tax tsunami. But for many on the right, he is not the confident, commanding conservative they hoped for. Paul Ryan is more their happy warrior.
It will all come down to who turns out more of their base and, even more importantly, who captures the middle. You can’t build a bridge to the other side without the middle. With early voting nearing, the three presidential debates could be the last chance to move the middle.
Whether it’s President Obama or President Romney sitting at the Resolute desk in the Oval Office, more than rhetoric will be required to slow the rise in unemployment, heal the divide in Congress and put out the flames abroad. Restoring confidence will require hard work. And they will really have to want the job.
McKinnon is a co-founder of No Labels and a former adviser to former President George W. Bush.