With Mike Huckabee’s decision not to seek the Republican presidential nomination coming on the heels of Haley Barbour’s three weeks ago and other prominent Republicans such as John Thume, Bobbie Jindel and Jeb Bush taking themselves out one has to wonder why they are being so hesitant. Indeed one would have the feeling that they were seeing the same political landscape the Democratic candidates were seeing in May 1991 when George H.W. Bush was at 91 percent approval. Are those of us on the right drinking our own kool-aid and ignoring some political strength of President Obama that would make him a lock for reelection? So it’s time to not talk about positions and take a look at the numbers, the picture they paint is interesting.
Right from the start let’s look at the number that many feel is the single best predictor of the overall political climate, the differential between those who consider the country to be on the right track or the wrong track. Using the real clear Politics averages, this is currently at those feeling the country is on the right track of 35.0 percent and those feeling it is on the wrong track at 56.4 percent, an almost unprecedented -21.4 percent differential and a number which has remained relatively constant since last fall’s midterm elections. Regardless of their public statements, this has to cause president Obama’s political advisors considerable heartburn as they plan for the campaign. The RCP Presidential Approval average stands at 51.4 approval and 42.6 disapproval reflecting a modest 5 or 6 percent bounce the president received after the elimination of OBL. Like the right track/wrong track this has been relatively stable since the summer of 2010. In head to dead match ups with hypothetical republican candidates the RCP averages show Obama leading by 5.8 percent against a generic Republican. To be blunt, these are not the numbers of a President who is a sure bet, if there is such a thing, for reelection. Most incumbents have strong double digit leads against generic opponents since there is always a stature gap which is only addressed once a challenger wins their nominations.
Perhaps more telling are not the political numbers, but the economic since as James Carville famously told us, “It’s the economy stupid”. Here the story is much more problematic for the administration and perhaps more predictive of the political climate in 2012. Using Bureau of Labor Statistics Numbers, Unemployment in April was 9.0 percent, with 205,000 more people on the unemployment rolls and likely many more “long term unemployed” who are not looking or underemployed. This number has been locked in a one prevent band for over 2 years now and seems to experience resistance when it challenges 8.5 percent. One political fact, no president has been reelected with unemployment over 7.5 percent in the modern era, period. The recovery is indeed a recovery, the US economy has had positive economic growth for the past 7 quarters, but the 1.8 percent annual growth rate in the first quarter of 2011 offers the president nothing to rejoice about.
Please understand I am not trying to create some form of predictive model, with 17 months until the 2012 general election anything can truly happen, but what we have is a landscape of what is likely to be a very competitive election. So why have a number of candidates stepped back after flirting with running this year? Part of it may be the rough treatment any republican is likely to receive from a media which remains very much President Obama’s booster club. Part of it is while the landscape is that President Obama seems likely to raise One Billion Dollars, which is an unimaginable war chest for any challenger to raise. All that having been said, let those who are not totally committed walk away now. As former speaker Tip O’Neil famously said, politics ain’t bean-bag. You do not get to the white house without a singular focus to get there. At the risk of using too many quotes, let me close with Speaker O’Neil’s nemesis, President Ronald Reagan, “the future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave”. So let’s see who has what it really takes to earn a ticket to the race which will determine who sleeps in the white House on the night of January 20, 2013.