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A Very Beatable President

But the GOP can still blow it.

Dec 26, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 15 • By JAY COST
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Proponents of a so-called emerging Democratic majority, who argue that the nonwhite vote will eventually transform the Democrats into permanent occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., consistently make a category error when they discuss these voters. African Americans, no doubt, are solid Democrats who support their party year in, year out, regardless of the national climate. Yet Hispanics are not Democratic loyalists. They are swing voters who tilt Democratic. The difference between these two groups is like the difference between Massachusetts and Pennsylvania—the Bay State almost never votes Republican for president, while the Keystone State does so in a reasonably good year for the GOP.

And Obama’s numbers among Hispanics and other nonblack minority groups are less than stellar. The most recent reading from Gallup shows the president earning 52 percent approval from Hispanics, which compares unfavorably to his 67 percent share of the Hispanic vote in 2008. The same goes for the youth vote—again, a swing group with a Democratic tilt. Gallup finds Obama with just 50 percent approval from adults aged 18 to 29, down from 66 percent among these voters in 2008.

So if demographics will not save Obama, what about his message? His campaign team has already made fairly clear their approach to the 2012 election. The president will focus relentlessly on inputs. Obama is going to gloss over the weak performance of the economy to emphasize all of the “important” things he has done to fix the problem. We see this in the daily drumbeat out of the White House: The “do-nothing” Congress has not acted to fix the economy, so Obama will. The idea is to emphasize the energy and vigor of the president in tackling the problem, so people will at least believe he is trying. FDR benefited from this appearance, but that was in large part because he was actually doing everything he could. With Obama, it is mostly a posture he adopted after the 2010 election.

The other major message will be pure demagoguery: The Republicans are the party of extremists who threaten the republic. This message is reminiscent of the Herbert Hoover reelection effort; in late October 1932, the beleaguered president said:

We are told by the opposition that we must have a change, that we must have a new deal. It is not the change that comes from normal development of national life to which I object, but the proposal to alter the whole foundations of our national life which have been builded through generations of testing and struggle, and of the principles upon which we have builded the nation. .  .  . Our people should consider [carefully] whether they will support changes which radically affect the whole system which has been builded up by a hundred and fifty years of the toil of the fathers.

Team Obama will basically make the same case: The Republican program is at its core radical and anti-American. Will it work for them? The best way to answer this question is with another question: Did it work for Hoover?

The Obama strategy as it has developed is insufficient to produce reelection. The president is going to need assistance, either from more robust growth or a fumble by the Republicans. Bad demographic math, phony activism, and Hooveresque demagoguery is not enough to win.

Add all this up, and we’re left with this conclusion: If things continue on the same trajectory as they have over the last three years, the president will face a near insuperable challenge for reelection. Provided that the GOP nominates a reasonably attractive candidate, it will truly be one for the history books if Obama can be reelected with a terribly weak economy, a massively unpopular health care bill, an obscenely large deficit, and no compelling case for a second term.

It could happen, obviously, but I would not bet my money on it. Not in this economy!

Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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