President Obama says he can win a third term. Could he?

The 22nd Amendment aside, could President Obama, as he claimed Tuesday, win a third term?

(AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)
President Barack Obama delivers a speech to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Tuesday, July 28, 2015. Closing a historic visit to Africa, President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged the continent's leaders to prioritize creating jobs and opportunity for the next generation of young people or risk sacrificing future economic potential to further instability and disorder.

Obama 2016?

In a display of late-term confidence, President Obama said Tuesday that he could win another term in office if he wanted to, setting tongues wagging in the US about whether Mr. Obama could actually win a third term.

"I love my job," he said in a historic speech before the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "I actually think I'm a pretty good president — I think if I ran, I could win — but I can't!"

It wasn't all bravado: Obama highlighted his success at the ballot box to chide African leaders who hold onto power for decades, only being forced out by coups or death.

"[U]nder our Constitution, I cannot run again," he said, adding, "The law is the law — no one person is above the law, not even the president."

The 22nd Amendment aside, could President Obama, as he claimed, win a third term?

The claim may not be so far-fetched.

Among the cardinal laws of electoral politics is the power of incumbency. The last three presidents won re-election. And as the National Review has pointed out before, of the 32 presidential elections in which an incumbent was on the ballot, 22 have won. That's a nearly 70 percent re-election rate.

If it works for a second term, who's to say it wouldn't work for a third?

And thanks to his well-run campaigns and inspired oratory on the stump, Obama is known as a phenomenal campaigner. His voter coalition – the young, racially and socio-economically diverse crowd that propelled him into office in both 2008 and 2012 – has been historically energized. He could, ostensibly, tap on them for 2016.

But the polls may tell a different story.

Fewer than half of Americans think Obama's doing a good job, according to almost every recent poll.

CNN has his approval ratings at 49 percent, while the latest Gallup data suggest it's only 46 percent. In fact, the last time his approval rating was at least 50 percent was May 2013 – more than two years ago. 

Of course, all this talk is hypothetical thanks to the 80th Congress, which on March 21, 1947, passed the 22nd Amendment, limiting the president to two elected four-year terms.

That amendment can be attributed to the overzealous ambitions of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected four times starting in 1932.

Of course, Obama is not Roosevelt and 2015 is not 1932.

Which is why, despite dubious conspiracy theories that Obama wants to repeal the 22nd Amendment, allowing himself to run for a third term, the president quickly assured his African audience Tuesday – and Americans listening back home – that he has no interest in a third term.

“I’m looking forward to life after being president,” Obama said. “I won’t have such a big security detail all the time. It means I can go take a walk, I can spend time with my family, I can find other ways to serve. I can visit Africa more often.”

While he has the stage, however, Obama couldn't resist weighing in on the 2016 race.

Possibly in a veiled reference to 2016 Democratic contender Hillary Clinton, wife of the 42nd president Bill Clinton, as well as Republican contender Jeb Bush, son of the 41st president Bush and brother of the 43rd president Bush, Obama appeared to caution American audiences from giving any candidate a de facto third term.

“Old people think old ways,” he said. “I’m still a pretty young man, but I know that someone with new insights and new energy will be good for my country."

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