National polls may show that the presidential race remains close – though lately, President Obama appears to have opened up a slight lead.
But when it comes to which candidate Americans think will win, the results are far more lopsided. A strong majority of voters believe Mr. Obama will win reelection – and that includes many who aren’t planning to vote for him themselves.
According to a new Yahoo/Esquire poll, 57 percent of Americans believe Obama will be the winner, versus just 30 percent who think Romney will win. (The same poll also found that 58 percent believe Obama would beat Romney “in a fistfight,” but that’s fodder for another time…)
That’s similar to what Gallup found in late August – when 58 percent of Americans said they thought Obama would win the election, versus 36 percent who thought Romney would. And that was just a slight increase from May, when Gallup found that 56 percent of Americans thought Obama would win, to 36 percent for Romney.
The expectation that Obama will win appears even stronger on Intrade, the online predictions market, where Obama’s odds of winning reelection are now hovering around 65 percent.
The interesting question, of course, is what impact these expectations have on the race itself. Do they make Romney supporters more determined to turn out for their candidate, while making Obama supporters more complacent? Or do they become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy?
According to Gallup, Americans tend to be pretty accurate with their predictions (at least, when it comes to picking the eventual winner, if not the margin of victory). In June of 2008, by 52 to 41 percent, they thought Obama would defeat Sen. John McCain. By October of that year, that expectation had become overwhelming, with 71 percent saying Obama would win versus just 23 percent saying Senator McCain would.
Likewise, back in 2004, Americans were almost always more likely to predict President Bush would be the winner than Sen. John Kerry. (The closest Senator Kerry came to winning that question was one poll where expectations were evenly split, immediately following the Democratic convention).
Our sense is that when expectations are this consistent – when one candidate is viewed as far more likely to win throughout an entire campaign – it creates a real challenge for the underdog. One of the biggest hurdles Romney has faced throughout this campaign is that he doesn’t seem like a winner, not to many in his own party, and not to members of the media who are covering him. And that can have a deadly effect.
As we’ve seen in recent days, Romney’s bad decisions are often magnified as acts of desperation, his good ones discounted as too little too late. During the GOP convention, some speakers seemed to be thinking more about 2016 than 2012, and numerous so-called “allies” have been freely offering public advice that sounds more like criticism. In other words, Romney is being treated like a losing candidate. That doesn't mean he can't win. But when a candidate is predominantly viewed through that lens, it creates a dynamic that seems to make winning even harder.
It’s been widely noted that, although national polls show the presidential race remains a virtual tie, the electoral college map clearly seems to favor President Obama.
As The Washington Post’s blog The Fix pointed out Wednesday morning, of the eight true tossup states (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio, and Wisconsin), Mr. Obama holds a lead in seven, based on the RealClearPolitics averages of available polling.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, leads in just Virginia – and that’s by just 1 point. As The Fix notes, if Obama were to win all seven of those states, he would wind up with a total of 319 electoral votes, well beyond the 270 he needs to secure reelection.
Of course, public polling isn’t always as accurate or plentiful as the private (and closely guarded) polls conducted by campaigns and "super political-action committees." So another way to gauge the competitiveness of states is by looking not just at polls but at campaign activity.
That's why, despite the Romney campaign's claims that Michigan and Pennsylvania are still swing states, it's probably more meaningful to note that they are not actually advertising in either one, and the Republican super PACs have also stopped running ads in those two states.
Conversely, when the Obama campaign revealed Tuesday that it was set to begin advertising in Wisconsin – a state Obama won by 14 points in 2008, and which no Republican presidential candidate has won since 1984 – it seemed to confirm that the Badger State will be one of the most fiercely contested battlegrounds this election. According to The New York Times, the Obama ads will begin running on Thursday.
The Romney campaign is also advertising in Wisconsin – along with all of the other tossup states listed above, plus North Carolina, which seems to be leaning more toward Mr. Romney of late, but which he probably cannot afford to lose.
The RealClearPolitics average currently has Obama up by just 1.4 points in Wisconsin. But perhaps even more to the point, Wisconsin has shown itself to be one of the most volatile and unpredictable states in the nation of late – as well as bitterly divided.
The rancorous recall election of Gov. Scott Walker, which Mr. Walker wound up surviving with relative ease, may reflect more enthusiasm (or better organization) on the Republican side. In addition, of course, it’s the home state of the Republican vice presidential nominee, Rep. Paul Ryan. Coincidentally, Mr. Ryan has begun running ads in the Badger State for his own reelection campaign to Congress, giving perhaps an added boost to Team Romney, without costing the Romney campaign a dime.
If Romney could shift Wisconsin into the Republican column, it would give him a tiny bit more breathing room when it comes to getting to 270. Of course, he still needs to win nearly all the other tossups. But at least it’s a start.
On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks both President Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney stood down their attack ads, at least for 24 hours. Both marked the occasion with solemn, national security-themed appearances – Obama at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, Va., and Romney at a National Guard convention in Reno, Nev. Both tweeted about their patriotic feelings and heartfelt reactions to that now-distant, terrible day.
Does that mean that campaign 2012 ground to a halt for a welcome respite? Nope, it doesn’t mean that, not really. The battle for the White House continued almost apace.
Those attack ads might not have aired in Ohio and Florida, for instance, but that doesn’t mean the campaigns pulled them off the Web. Targeted Internet political advertising – an increasingly important part of campaigning – kept right on going. We received both an invitation to sign President Obama’s birthday card and to donate $25 to Mitt Romney while flipping through web sites in advance of writing this article.
The candidates’ own campaign home pages were pretty much business as usual. Obama’s site featured a fund-raising appeal from First Lady Michelle Obama and some photos from the just-concluded Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. Mitt Romney’s page led with a big photo of the candidate and his VP pick, Paul Ryan, smiling and waving to a crowd, along with a video about the national debt that’s accumulated under Obama. Romney, at least, had his tweets about the day displayed in a corner.
The Obama team continued with their practice of giving interviews to media figures that aren’t members of the Washington press corps. On Sept. 11, the president appeared on the morning Miami radio show of Cuban-American rapper DJ Laz, where he razzed the host about the football Dolphin’s pitiful pre-season record before launching into a more traditional campaign defense of his Medicare policies.
The conservative news site Breitbart.com was quick to point out that another of DJ Laz’s nicknames is “pimp with a limp," and that Obama had time to talk football during the appearance but made no mention of 9/11 itself.
Meanwhile, the candidates traded veiled, long-distance shots at each other’s positions. In his speech in Reno, Romney said it was not the time or place to detail differences with his opponent, but continued on to criticize defense cuts scheduled to take place next year as part of the automatic budget “sequester," while saying the current end game for the war in Afghanistan lacks a clear mission.
In his own remarks at the Pentagon Memorial, Obama noted that “Osama bin Laden will never threaten us again." That’s an obvious point to mention in such a speech, but it also got mentioned quite a bit from the podium at the DNC in Charlotte.
Why the continued, sub-rosa campaigning? Well, modern presidential campaigns engage in ferocious political combat, and it’s hard to turn that off. Much political advocacy now occurs in small bites now anyway, via targeted e-mails, segmented Internet ads, direct mail appeals to specific groups, and so forth. It’s not all about ad buys in Colorado and whistle-stop speeches to hundreds of supporters.
Plus, the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 may mark a turning point of sorts. Many of the official ceremonies this year, even those at Ground Zero, were smaller than those of 2011’s tenth anniversary, wrote Vivian Yee yesterday in The New York Times.
“Even where the annual ceremonies are continuing largely unchanged, organizers are anticipating the day when the anniversary may be marked more quietly,” wrote Ms. Yee.
After all, as the event becomes more distant, it’s natural that society’s grief will lessen, adds Jen Doll at The Atlantic. But even so, it’s important to remember that’s not true for everyone, especially those who lost loved ones on what was a cruelly beautiful, yet awful day.
“As we talk of moving on and scaling back we should remember that there are plenty of people for whom, since that day in 2001, some things are forever unchanged,” writes Ms. Doll.
With Tuesday's national-security speech commemorating the attacks of 9/11, Mitt Romney has a chance to move beyond a misstep that has ballooned into a real problem for his campaign: his failure to mention the war in Afghanistan or to thank the troops during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
The omission quickly became the biggest take-away from Mr. Romney’s otherwise well-received but unremarkable speech, and the candidate has been fending off questions about it ever since.
It has given Democrats an opening to further exploit a rare national-security edge for their side. Polls have shown President Obama leading Romney on national security and foreign policy throughout the campaign, though those issues are not nearly as important to voters as the economy.
A Politico piece out Tuesday details the “Kerry-ization of Mitt Romney,” referring to a coordinated effort by Democrats to portray Romney as “untrustworthy on national security,” just as Republicans portrayed Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 campaign. Ironically, this time it was Senator Kerry himself who launched the attack, with a scathing speech at the Democratic National Convention, in which he said: “no nominee for president should ever fail in the midst of a war to pay tribute to our troops overseas in his acceptance speech.”
Kerry also threw in this (also highly ironic) zinger: “It isn’t fair to say that Mitt Romney doesn’t have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position.”
But perhaps even more devastating than all the Democratic criticism has been the reaction from many Republicans to Romney’s omission.
Romney has struggled throughout this campaign to placate a chorus of Beltway critics on the right, many of whom were rooting for other candidates (or even would-be candidates) during the primary season. When the GOP nominee put conservative darling Paul Ryan on the ticket, it seemed like a master stroke that would finally win over many of those naysayers – and, for a time, it did.
But the Afghanistan omission quickly put an end to that honeymoon.
Shortly after Romney’s speech, Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol issued a biting critique on the paper’s website, in which he questioned “the civic propriety of a presidential nominee failing even to mention, in his acceptance speech, a war we’re fighting and our young men and women who are fighting it.”
On ABC’s “This Week,” George Will essentially stated that Romney’s failure to mention Afghanistan reflected the fact that his policy on it was untenable: “If Mitt Romney’s position is we should fight on in Afghanistan until we defeat the Taliban, whatever that means, he will lose and he should lose.”
For Mitt Romney to still be facing this kind of fire from the right – with just two months left before Election Day – is not a good sign.
Romney’s advisers argued, in their defense, that the candidate had given a speech to the American Legion the day before his convention address, in which he did address Afghanistan. But the choice to leave it out of the convention speech entirely seemed tone-deaf to many conservatives who, from the beginning, have questioned whether Romney shares their worldview. And it gave them an excuse to go back to not liking Romney all over again.
One full week after the speech, in an interview with Fox News, host Bret Baier asked Romney if he regretted “opening up this line of attack, now a recurring attack, by leaving out that issue in the speech?”
Romney tried to respond with a joke, saying: “I only regret you repeating it day in and day out.”
With today's speech, he may be able to turn the page at last. But the damage may have already been done.
Is President Obama’s post-convention bounce upward in the polls beginning to come down? We won’t know the definitive answer to that question for a few days yet, when more polls have published their latest results. But there’s at least one data point that shows Obama’s numbers returning to earth.
“Today’s data suggests that the president’s convention bounce has started to fade,” concludes Rasmussen in Tuesday's analysis.
Again, this is just one survey. Polls are bouncing all over the place at the moment due to the events of the Republican and Democratic conventions. Tuesday's RealClearPolitics rolling average of major surveys actually has Obama up a tick, to a 3.1 percentage point lead from Sept. 10’s 2.9.
But other individual polls are showing hints that Obama’s momentum is slowing, or that his bounce wasn’t as big as other surveys indicate.
A TIPP/Investor’s Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor poll released on Sept. 10 has Obama up by 2 percentage points, 46 to 44, among registered voters. And a new Washington Post/ABC News poll puts the presidential contenders in a virtual dead heat among likely voters, with Obama at 49 percent and Mr. Romney at 48 percent.
When all polls are taken into account, it still seems as if Obama may have received more of a boost from his convention than did Romney. But the gain may not be the game-changer that some early figures indicated.
Given that, Obama’s chance of victory actually declined overnight in Mr. Silver’s election forecasting model at his FiveThirtyEight blog. It is still high, however: The model puts the incumbent US chief executive’s reelection chances at 79.8 percent.
If Obama’s bounce is indeed fading, that would not count as a surprise. There’s a reason the word pollsters use in this context is “bounce,” instead of “gain.” Bounces go up and come down. Monday, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse released a memo that dismissed convention bounces as a “sugar high” that some voters feel in the wake of their party’s quadrennial confab. His analysis here may yet prove right.
It may be next week, or even later, until the numbers calm down and stability returns to polls. (Stability, in this case, means their trends may generally mirror each other, whether the numbers do or not.) Then we can all get ready for the next big campaign event: the first presidential debate, on Oct. 3 at the University of Denver.
At issue is something the GOP nominee said during a discussion with host David Gregory about President Obama’s health-care reform law. Despite pushing similar state-based reforms when he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney opposes Obama’s health law, and has vowed to work to repeal it.
Romney told Gregory that he didn’t oppose the law in its entirety. He said there are parts of it that he’d like to duplicate in his own health plan.
“Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health-care reform that I’m going to put in place,” said Romney. “One is to make sure that those with preexisting conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like.”
As to the preexisting conditions issue, under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can’t turn away prospective customers who already have health challenges. In return, they get lots of new customers from the law’s mandate that everyone has to have health coverage.
On NBC, Romney implied that he’d keep the first part of that equation while getting rid of the second, since he’s opposed to the individual mandate.
The problem is that isn’t the full story in regards to Romney’s position on preexisting conditions coverage. In fact, Romney is proposing something much different than the blanket preexisting conditions protections of Obama’s ACA.
Later in the day the Romney campaign issued a clarification to National Review.
“Governor Romney will ensure that discrimination against individuals with preexisting conditions who maintain continuous coverage is prohibited,” a campaign aide told National Review’s Katrina Trinko.
By “continuous coverage,” the Romney team means just that – people who already have health insurance can’t be booted off due to preexisting conditions.
“That’s great for an individual who gets a new job. But continuous coverage isn’t so great for the individual who has spent some time without insurance, perhaps because of difficult financial times. Continuous coverage won’t do much for you in that situation,” writes Sarah Kliff on the Washington Posts’ Wonkblog.
Not only that, it’s already the law in most cases, points out Kliff, due to the 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
As to people without continuous coverage who have preexisting conditions, Romney would expand on current state efforts to cover them via high-risk insurance pools.
The GOP nominee “supports reforms that empower states to make high-risk pools more accessible by using cost reducing methods like risk adjustment and reinsurance,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul told the Huffington Post in June following a Romney speech on health care.
Now, does all this mean Romney was stretching the truth during his Meet the Press appearance? According to Democrats, it does. Current state high-risk pools generally offer poor insurance coverage at high prices, writes liberal Ed Kilgore Monday in the Washington Monthly.
“So once again, Mitt makes a reasonable sounding statement in front of a large audience, knowing he won’t be forced to disclose any details or actually make sense, and only later do we find out that it’s all smoke,” writes Kilgore.
Republicans, however, respond that Romney wasn’t stretching the truth. He does support covering preexisting conditions, and has a plan to do so, whether Democrats approve of it or not.
“This kind of mechanism, using high-risk pools combined with prohibitions on preexisting condition exclusions for the continuously insured, has been part of just about every conservative health-care proposal in recent years, including John McCain’s in 2008, the Ryan-Coburn alternative to Obamacare, and the congressional Republicans’ ‘Pledge to America’ before the 2010 elections,” writes Yuval Levin on the National Review blog The Corner.
Currently, it seems like President Obama got a substantial bounce upward in his poll numbers from the Democratic National Convention. Gallup’s tracking poll now gives Mr. Obama a 5 point edge over GOP nominee Mitt Romney, up from a 1 point lead prior to the Charlotte, N.C., festivities. This morning's Rasmussen Reports' tracking poll shows Obama with a similar 5 point lead – his largest margin in that survey since March 17.
But there’s a reason a post-convention poll gain is called a “bounce.” Bounces go up, and (usually) they come down. Where the polls will be when the numbers settle, nobody yet knows.
“As with all bounces, it remains to be seen how long it will last,” concludes Rasmussen’s daily poll report.
Thus on Monday the Romney camp began pushing back against the notion that the conventions represented a break point in the campaign and that it’s now time for the GOP to panic. Among other things, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse released a memo urging supporters to remain calm about the latest polling numbers.
“While some of the voters will feel a bit of a sugar-high from the conventions, the basic structure of the race has not changed significantly,” argues Mr. Newhouse.
By that, Newhouse means that the nature of the economy remains unchanged. Twenty-three million Americans remain out of work, and unemployment has topped 8 percent. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps.
Obama’s favorability ratings have actually dropped in some polls in recent days, notes Newhouse. He says the number of battleground states has expanded to include Wisconsin and perhaps New Mexico. Romney/Ryan has lots of money it can now start spending on the general election, and Republicans still have an edge over Democrats in enthusiasm for the upcoming vote, according to polls.
“Mitt Romney will be the next president,” concludes Newhouse.
Well, that’s certainly possible. But in essence Newhouse’s argument is not about the polls per se, but a restatement of the Romney campaign’s underlying theory of the race. That theory is this: The election will be a referendum on Obama’s performance, and the sour economy will sink him.
Democrats argue that the recent poll numbers show that this theory isn’t coming true. Obama got a bigger bounce out of the Democratic convention than Mr. Romney received from the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., they say. And the latest polls may contain some details that spell danger for Romney.
Gallup’s tracking poll now has Romney leading Obama by only 53 to 41 percent among white voters, writes the left-leaning blogger Greg Sargent today at his Plum Line blog at The Washington Post. By some estimates, Romney needs to take 60 percent of whites to counter Obama’s large majorities among minority groups. Romney’s edge among college-educated whites is even smaller, at 49 to 46 percent.
“Keeping it close among these voters is key to Obama’s hopes of denying Romney the share of white voters he needs, given the President’s struggles with blue collar whites,” writes Sargent.
The pace of national polling should increase in coming days, with the conventions now over and the general election race fully underway. That means by the end of the week we should have a better idea as to whether Obama’s bounce marks a campaign break point, or whether it is indeed only a short-lasting sugar high.
It’s a good thing for Democrats that former President Clinton gave such a memorable speech last night. Because in the absence of that, the biggest headline coming out of Wednesday might not have been a positive one.
We’re referring, of course, to the debacle over the party platform. Now this might seem like a tempest in a teapot – after all, who reads party platforms, anyway? But it was a big, fat gift to Republicans that could actually linger for a while (certainly, the right-wing blogosphere isn’t going to let it go away anytime soon).
For those who haven’t been following all the drama, the mess started Tuesday, when right-wing outlets noticed that this year’s Democratic platform for the first time did not include any references to God, or to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Never mind that the 2008 Democratic platform’s sole reference to God was a throwaway line about “God-given potential.” Or that this year’s Republican platform also seemed to soften its position on Jerusalem. (It did call Jerusalem “the capital of Israel,” but it dropped language from the 2008 platform calling for the US Embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem). Republicans still pounced.
Democrats called the changes an unintentional “technical omission,” but were clearly thrown on the defensive. "If the narrative being presented on your station ... is the Democrats are godless people, they ought to know better," Sen. Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois blustered on Fox News. But of course, that's exactly the point: Republicans have exploited the image of Democrats as "godless" for decades – and in this case, Democrats gave them an opening to do it again.
On Wednesday – after President Obama himself reportedly personally intervened – Democrats decided to reinsert the references. That’s when it got worse. In a display of confusion that is undoubtedly already being made into a GOP attack ad, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa presided over a voice vote to change the platform language in which the “nays” actually seemed to outweigh the “yeas.” After three tries, Mr. Villaraigosa nevertheless went ahead and declared the vote passed by a “two-thirds majority” – at which point, he was booed.
So will any of this matter? Well, maybe.
Clearly, it is small potatoes compared with the one overriding issue in the race: the economy. But in a close election, small wedge issues can wind up tipping the scales. Already, Republicans have been making a big play to peel off support from Jewish voters, who, while a relatively tiny voting bloc, could still play a significant role in a state like Florida.
Likewise, in rust-belt states like Ohio and Michigan, cultural matters may hold more sway. For white, middle-class voters who were offended back in 2008 by Obama’s comments about "bitter" rural Americans who “cling to guns or religion,” this kerfuffle could reopen old wounds.
Above all, it was a distracting sideshow, an unforced error on the part of Democrats that didn’t need to happen. The only question is how much it will cost them.
Elizabeth Warren gave a stirring populist speech to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday night. Currently much pundit discussion is focused on Bill Clinton’s defense of President Obama, and rightly so, but Ms. Warren – the warmup act – got some of the biggest cheers of the evening by attacking Wall Street and positioning herself as a champion of a beleaguered middle class.
The bio of the Senate hopeful from Massachusetts, which includes a stint waiting tables at 13 and marriage at 19, gave her credibility with delegates on this issue. She talked about the middle class being hammered, and that people “feel like the system is rigged against them.”
Then Warren chided Mitt Romney for saying “corporations are people, my friend.” She brought the crowd to its feet by adding her own twist to this much-used Democratic attack.
“No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people,” said Warren. “People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love, and they die.”
The last words of those lines were drowned out in the hall, inaudible over the roar of the audience.
But did Warren stretch some facts to make her charges? That’s what some independent fact checkers say. In particular, they’ve focused on her flat assertion that Romney’s economic plan raises taxes on middle-income earners.
Here’s the way Warren put it Wednesday night: Romney “wants to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. But for middle class families who are hanging by their fingernails? His plans will hammer them with a new tax hike of up to $2,000 dollars.”
She’s not the only Democrat who’s said this from the podium this week. Keynote speaker San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said pretty much the same thing, for instance. The only problem is that strictly speaking it is not true, according to FactCheck.org.
“Democrats base their claim on a study that doesn’t necessarily lead to that conclusion,” says the FactCheck.org site.
Here’s the fuller context: Mitt Romney has promised that if elected he’ll cut tax rates for all while keeping federal government revenue level by eliminating some deductions and broadening the US tax base. He’s added that he won’t raise taxes on the middle class.
But according to an analysis from the Tax Policy Center, he can’t do all those things. There isn’t enough credible base-broadening available to make those numbers work.
“In other words, Romney has overpromised. But that’s no reason to assume ... that Romney would choose the course of breaking a promise not to raise middle-income taxes. He could choose, for example, to renege on his promise to cut rates or to keep the amount of revenue neutral rather than violate his promise not to raise taxes on those in the middle,” writes FactCheck.org.
(It’s worth noting that the Romney campaign has challenged some of the Tax Policy Center numbers that lie at the heart of this issue.)
An ABC News fact-check site also dinged Warren for saying that she talks to Massachusetts small business owners all the time, and that “not one of them ... made big bucks from the risky Wall Street bets that brought down our economy.”
Not even one?
“The idea that no one in the Bay State, so close to New York and Wall Street, benefitted from the bankers’ profligacy is off the mark,” writes ABC’s Gregory Krieg.
In the end, while Warren may have helped her image with national Democratic delegates in the hall, it’s not clear whether her convention appearance will help her win over the independent voters she’ll need to unseat Republican Sen. Scott Brown.
Independents make up nearly half the Bay State electorate, so their electoral role there is decisive, according to the Democratic-leaning poll firm Public Policy Polling. And many of them may perceive Warren as too strident and harsh. In a late August PPP survey, 50 percent of independents said they were worried that she is “too liberal.” By contrast only 19 percent said they felt Senator Brown is “too conservative.”
Among all voters Brown led Warren by 49 to 44 percent in the survey.
“Scott Brown’s been able to hold up his image as a moderate, and that has him in a good position right now,” said Dean Debnam, president of PPP, in an Aug. 21 press release. “Democrats will have to convince voters who like him to vote against him anyway to keep the Senate from going Republican.”
IN PICTURES: The 2012 Democratic National Convention
Has Bill Clinton become President Obama’s defender-in-chief? It sure seems like it following the rousing and partisan Wednesday night address to the Democratic National Convention. If there was a bottom line to speech reaction, it was this: Nobody but the Big Dog could have clearly laid out such a detailed (and lengthy) case for Obama’s reelection. That was a point on which Democrats and many Republicans agreed.
“Clinton made a stronger case for the president’s reelection than either Obama or his campaign have been able to muster,” wrote Fred Barnes in the conservative Weekly Standard on Thursday. (Not that Mr. Barnes agreed with many of Clinton’s points – more on that in a bit.)
From the moment he sauntered on stage to his signature Fleetwood Mac song, “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," Clinton looked like a speaker delighted to have returned to the high reaches of the political game. As Jonathan Bernstein notes on his A plain blog about politics, the ex-president appeared energized by more than just the adulation of the crowd – though he loved that, too. Clinton seems to just love every aspect of the politician’s profession, including talking about policy.
“What he’s brilliant at doing is transforming [wonkish details] into something that can impress average voters by sounding like it’s extremely substantive while at the same time impressing policy folks by actually being extremely substantive, and (usually, and as far as I could hear tonight) factually honest,” wrote Mr. Bernstein.
For instance, Clinton laid the foundation for his defense of Obama’s economic record by citing facts and figures about the rate of job losses at the very end of George W. Bush’s term. He contrasted those with the slowly accumulating job gains under Obama, admitted that wasn’t enough, and tied the whole thing to the administration’s attempts to jump-start investment in solar energy and other developing technologies.
“He inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs,” said Clinton. “Conditions are improving and if you’ll renew the president’s contract, you will feel it.”
The last president to preside over sustained economy growth also summed up the Democratic attempt to blame things on Bush, though he didn’t invoke Bush’s name directly.
“In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in.”
Then he turned to a sustained attack on the GOP, of the I’m-doing-this-more-in-sadness-than-in-anger variety. He tried to make a case that Obama has been willing to compromise and work across the aisle, in the process using the fact of his wife Hillary’s appointment as Secretary of State as evidence that the incumbent is willing to work with his political foes. Of course she’s a Democrat, but you’d hardly have noticed that if you were caught up in the rhythm of Clinton’s argument.
He defined the GOP as a party controlled by its right wing and driven, not just by opposition to Obama, but by hatred.
“Democracy does not have to be a blood sport,” he said, to audience cheers.
And then the policy wonk appeared, and Clinton went point by point through the GOP’s arguments against Obama. On Medicare, he noted the VP nominee Paul Ryan’s budget contained the same reductions in expenditures as Obama pushed through with the Affordable Care Act. Congressman Ryan and nominee Mitt Romney now decry those reductions as dangerous to the program.
“It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did,” said Clinton.
On Romney/Ryan’s budget plan, Clinton noted that they propose tax cuts as well as reductions. In essence, according to the ex-president, the Republicans are saying we need to climb out of our debt hole by first digging it deeper. On welfare, he decried GOP attack ads that assert Obama is gutting work requirements. Independent fact-checkers have widely judged those ads inaccurate.
“Their campaign pollster said, ‘We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.' Now finally I can say: That is true,” said Clinton, to laughter from the crowd.
But in defending Obama’s record, Clinton implicitly abandoned his own, judged conservative Barnes. When he was in office, Clinton famously once said “the era of big government is over." But now he’s defending what the Weekly Standard writer calls Obama’s “hyper-liberalism."
“On top of that, the Clinton wing of the Democratic party – that is, pro-business moderates and conservatives – has all but vanished since Obama became president,” Barnes wrote.
Plus, Clinton’s speech was just long, and somewhat self-indulgent, said GOP critics.
“The speech went on and on and on, likely sending all but the fawning media off to bed,” wrote conservative Jennifer Rubin on her Washington Post Right Turn blog.
And Clinton may have led his party into a political trap. At one point, he asked the crowd if they thought they were better off than four years ago, and they responded with an overwhelming shout of “Yes!”
That’s a clip that could show up in Republican ads that attempt to portray the Obama administration and its defenders as out of touch with the US.
“In fact, most voters think they are worse off than four years ago,” writes National Journal's Ron Fournier.