Obama’s Second Term

"Democratic" pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen argue that President Obama should decline to run for re-election.

“Democratic” pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen argue that President Obama should decline to run for re-election.

WSJ (“The Hillary Moment — President Obama can’t win by running a constructive campaign, and he won’t be able to govern if he does win a second term“):

When Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson accepted the reality that they could not effectively govern the nation if they sought re-election to the White House, both men took the moral high ground and decided against running for a new term as president. President Obama is facing a similar reality—and he must reach the same conclusion.

I’m pretty sure that Truman and Johnson accepted the reality that they would be wildly thrashed if they ran for re-election and thus declined to run.

He should abandon his candidacy for re-election in favor of a clear alternative, one capable not only of saving the Democratic Party, but more important, of governing effectively and in a way that preserves the most important of the president’s accomplishments. He should step aside for the one candidate who would become, by acclamation, the nominee of the Democratic Party: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Aside from the absurd fantasy nature of this proposal, it would truly screw his own party. The filing deadlines have passed on most of the early primary states, meaning “by acclamation” would indeed be the most likely path to the nomination.

Never before has there been such an obvious potential successor—one who has been a loyal and effective member of the president’s administration, who has the stature to take on the office, and who is the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy.

First off, there has frequently, if not almost always, been such a person: the sitting vice president. Second, while Clinton has lost most of the polarizing effect she had in the 1990s, she’s hardly a uniting figure. Third, it’s highly unlikely that anyone, much less Hillary Clinton, has the ability to rally the country around a united policy. Even the experts vehemently disagree with one another; there’s certainly no popular consensus.

Certainly, Mr. Obama could still win re-election in 2012. Even with his all-time low job approval ratings (and even worse ratings on handling the economy) the president could eke out a victory in November. But the kind of campaign required for the president’s political survival would make it almost impossible for him to govern—not only during the campaign, but throughout a second term.

Put simply, it seems that the White House has concluded that if the president cannot run on his record, he will need to wage the most negative campaign in history to stand any chance. With his job approval ratings below 45% overall and below 40% on the economy, the president cannot affirmatively make the case that voters are better off now than they were four years ago. He—like everyone else—knows that they are worse off.

All modern campaigns have been negative. The 2012 election, simply by virtue of the political, economic, and media climate we live in, will be horrifically so regardless of the nominees.

If President Obama were to withdraw, he would put great pressure on the Republicans to come to the table and negotiate—especially if the president singularly focused in the way we have suggested on the economy, job creation, and debt and deficit reduction. By taking himself out of the campaign, he would change the dynamic from who is more to blame—George W. Bush or Barack Obama?—to a more constructive dialogue about our nation’s future.

Alternatively, he’d be an instant lame duck and lose whatever ability he has now to force his own party in line and threaten Republicans with consequences should he hold onto power another four years.

A CNN/ORC poll released in late September had Mrs. Clinton’s approval rating at an all-time high of 69%—even better than when she was the nation’s first lady. Meanwhile, a Time Magazine poll shows that Mrs. Clinton is favored over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 17 points (55%-38%), and Texas Gov. Rick Perry by 26 points (58%-32%).

Because she’s not running for anything. Once she became the presumptive nominee, she’d become a target for all the vitriol that’s currently aimed at Obama. And she’d be forced to take stances on polarizing issues.

Not only is Mrs. Clinton better positioned to win in 2012 than Mr. Obama, but she is better positioned to govern if she does. Given her strong public support, she has the ability to step above partisan politics, reach out to Republicans, change the dialogue, and break the gridlock in Washington.

Where have I heard that before? Oh, that’s right: Pretty much every election in my lifetime. It’s a fantasy.

President Bill Clinton reached a historic agreement with the Republicans in 1997 that led to a balanced budget. Were Mrs. Clinton to become the Democratic nominee, her argument would almost certainly have to be about reconciliation and about an overarching deal to rein in the federal deficit. She will understand implicitly the need to draw up a bipartisan plan with elements similar to her husband’s in the mid-to-late ’90s—entitlement reform, reform of the Defense Department, reining in spending, all the while working to preserve the country’s social safety net.

Bill Clinton benefited from the combination of the post-Cold War “peace dividend” and the height of the dotcom bubble, which allowed substantial budget cuts while bringing in a windfall of revenue. Whomever is sitting in the Oval Office on 21 January 2013 is highly unlikely to face such favorable conditions.

We write as patriots and Democrats—concerned about the fate of our party and, most of all, our country. We do not write as people who have been in contact with Mrs. Clinton or her political operation. Nor would we expect to be directly involved in any Clinton campaign.

I don’t question their patriotism, but it’s questionable how much these two are still Democrats. Caddell reportedly left the party in 1988 and has subsequently made a living as a Democrat who can be counted upon to denounce Democrats. Schoen did work for Hillary Clinton’s 2000 campaign but isn’t exactly a Progressive, arguing constantly for lowered taxes, against ObamaCare, and against Occupy Wall Street. Both are Fox News contributors.

Regardless, I don’t think they’re writing these op-eds to damage the Democrats but rather because they live in a fantasy world about how politics works. The notion that, if only we elected the right kind of leader president, why, we’d all come together and do what’s best for the country is certainly appealing. But so is Santa Claus and unicorns bearing gifts of Macallan 18. All are equally likely.

The one part of the piece that’s almost certainly true is that a second Obama term would be a disappointment to Democrats. But it’s not because the tactics needed to win re-election would tear the country apart but because the dynamics of American politics don’t make for good second terms. He’d immediately be a lame duck and ambitious Democrats would start scrambling to position themselves for 2016. The best of his staff, almost certainly to include Clinton, will depart for less stressful and more lucrative positions outside of government. And his agenda is already either enacted (ObamaCare, gays in the military, getting out of Iraq) or wrecked on the sharp rocks of reality (closing Gitmo). But Obama’s chances of getting a second term are strong enough that he’s surely going to give it a shot and hope to buck the odds.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Caddell and Schoen must have some contractual requirement to write this same column once every year because, look at what was posted here at OTB on November 13th, 2010.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Laugh out f’ing Loud…the WSJ Opinion page…one of the most partisan rags in existence…doesn’t think Obama should run. I wonder if it is because they understand that the clowns running on the GOP side all have fatal flaws and thus have no chance against the incumbent?
    A lame duck Obama is better than a first term “Not-Romney” or Romney any day.
    I long for a real Conservative to run. There ain’t one this go ’round.

  3. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    The Wall Street Journal still is publishing political editorials??

  4. gVOR08 says:

    Both are Fox News contributors.
    Regardless, I don’t think they’re writing these op-eds to damage the Democrats but rather because they live in a fantasy world about how politics works.

    James, if they’re FOX News contributors, of course they’re trying to damage Democrats. And as to whether they’re trying to damage Democrats or live in a fantasy word – false dichotomy. The answer is both.

  5. Hey Norm says:

    @ gVOR08…
    As regular Fox News contributors odds are that they, along with Fox News viewers, do live in a fantasy world. I believe it is a requirement for hiring. Sort of like a drug test, only different.

  6. Kylopod says:

    >I don’t think they’re writing these op-eds to damage the Democrats

    I respectfully disagree. Schoen and Caddell are concern trolls. Their entire purpose is to regurgitate right-wing talking points but to imply they have some kind of special authority to say these things simply because they continue to identify as Democrats. It’s all done for the consumption of Fox’s conservative audience, who thrive on seeing their views confirmed by “even” a couple of Democrats. The idea that there’s any sincerity to their “concerns” is laughable.

  7. Where have I heard that before? Oh, that’s right: Pretty much every election in my lifetime. It’s a fantasy.

    Indeed. There are a certain number of columns (this one, the fantasy third party candidate, the threat of a brokered convention, etc,) that emerge every election cycle.

  8. Franklin says:

    The Wall Street Journal disappeared into obscurity almost a decade ago.

  9. mantis says:

    “Democratic” pollsters Pat Caddell and Doug Schoen argue that President Obama should decline to run for re-election.

    And you take the bait and send them traffic.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    As Sullivan notes these two blame Obama entirely for Republicans refusing to negotiate.
    As if by magic, were Obama to drop out, Republicans would suddenly be falling all over themselves to come to the negotiating table and, one would assume, suddenly be OK with revenue increases. This evades entirely the issue of Grover Norquist and his vice-lock on the balls of the Republicans.
    Obama is on the right side of fiscal responsibility…the end result of the failed Super-Commitee will be cuts to administrative costs of Medicare, cuts to Defense, and revenue increases when the Bush Tax Cuts expire as originally designed. That is unless Republicans reduce the cuts to Defense…because in truth they are just fiscal frauds.

  11. PD Shaw says:

    @Doug Mataconis: So, next year’s editorial writes itself:

    After a hard-fought re-election in which Obama surmounted many obstacles, the toughest decision still lies ahead — Obama must resign. Once he realizes that re-election over a troubled and poorly managed Republican campaign marks the high point of his second term, he should take the logical next step being urged privately by many party insiders. The real question now is how to do it? Should he simply declare victory and hand over the keys of state to an interim coalition headed nominally by Vice President Biden, or should he simply apologize and take a hasty leave on the Marine One helicopter?

  12. Mr. Prosser says:

    @Kylopod: @PD Shaw: Both of you hit this one out of the park.

  13. tomcj says:

    Mr. Joyner, your blog is quickly becoming a must read for me. Thank you for this wise essay.

  14. ponce says:

    It’s amazing how dumb these “top level” political operatives are.

    Dick Morris, Karl Rove, etc. just seem to be nasty morons willing to do or say anything for a buck.

    No wonder American politics is in such a sorry state.

  15. Scott F. says:

    James Joyner –

    I think you are wrong about the potential of a second Obama term. He remains personally popular, so should the economy improve over those four years (which is as likely as not), it will redound to his benefit. Ambitious Democrats would be wise to partner with him and there’ll be new goals on his agenda.

  16. jan says:

    This Chris Matthews’ rant against Obama, with MSNBC’s Alex Witt, appeared to be a political catharsis of his soul — truth that has been bottled up for some time as to his real observations of Obama’s 3-year ‘leadership’.

    Matthews has been one of Obama’s most devoted followers, from the very beginning of his run for the ’08 presidency. So, for him to suddenly crumble, making the following assertions, makes one really wonder what is going on behind those WH doors:

    “No peace corps, special forces, moon programs….nothing to root for…what are we trying to do?….What does he want to do with a 2nd term?…..More of this?….Is this as good as it gets?……does not say what he is going to do….he never says what he is going to do about reforming health care, medicare, medicaid, SS…Is he going to deal with long term debt…how?….Is he going to reform the tax system… how? ……..Just tell us….Why are we in this fight with him?…..it’s the people around him, little kids with propellers on their head…..they’re all virtual….Their ideas of running a campaign is a virtual universe….no it’s not, it’s meeting with people, forging alliances….Obama should be sitting late at night with Senators, members of Congress and governors, working together on how they should win this political fight that’s coming…..not a single phone call since the last election……I ask members of congress, when did you hear from him last?…silence …he never calls…he doesn’t like their company…..

    The very questions Matthews is angrily asking are the questions on so many people’s minds, democratic, independent and republican. Obama has not been a transparent president. He has not had the ability to bridge partisan differences, ease the racial divide, improve the circumstances brought upon this country by the crash of ’08, only making these problems worse. In another clip, not included here, Matthews goes on, to indict the president and his wife further, saying they don’t even seem to enjoy the presidency, being the First Family of this country.

    Perhaps, in ’12 we will become another
    Spain, following in their election steps towards reversing the consequences of where social progressive policies/politics have taken them — into financial ruin.

  17. Drew says:

    Heh. A man with no executive experience fails as an executive. Whodathunkit?

  18. Hey Norm says:

    @ Jan…
    I do not know if I have ever seen anyone so willing to ignore facts in order to make a partisan point…and then fool herself that it is not partisan. You lady, are a kook…just like the clowns who penned the WSJ piece…and for that matter Chris Matthews.
    What is he going to do about Health Care???…Have you heard of the PPACA? What is the Republican solution? Applaud sick people dying like they did during one of the 567 debates?
    What is he going to do about long-term debt??? Well, you ignoramous…he has done it…with the failure of the doomed-from-the-beginning Super-Committee, a necessary step to circumnavigate the Tea Stained caucus, long term debt goes down by about $7T auto-f’ing-matically. That is the biggest debt reduction in history by far. He schnookered the Republicans into it…and they got less than they would have if they had dealt with him in the beginning.
    He has been more transparent than most Presidents…certainly more transparent than the last Republican President.
    He hasn’t bridged bi-partisan divide? Who’s fault is it that he cannot do the impossible? The Republicans vote against things they support just to vote against Obama. Mitch “The Turtle” McConnell said his number one job is to beat Obama. That’s the only job Republicans care about. Yet you think it’s a failure that falls entirely on Obama???
    The economy is worse than in ’08??? How exactly? Almost every single indicator is trending in the correct direction. UE, which is a lagging indicator, is trending in the right direction and if not for a shrinking public sector – which you claim to want – UE would be better by over a million jobs. Name an example of a comparable economy in a comparable hole doing any better? Unitl you can I suggest you STFU about the economy.
    This countries economic troubles are the result of de-regulation, historically low effective tax rates, and the Republican war on the middle-class which has led to an inequity — and thus lack of demand — not seen since the height of the Guilded Age just before the Great Depression.
    By a dog, name it Clue, and then you will have one.

  19. jan says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Norm, all you are ever able to do is deride the messenger, rather than simply think about the message.

    Chris Matthews is one your own! It’s news when even he has come to the end of his rope in supporting Obama! No matter how you place your progressive cookie cutter, in trying to make mince meat out of Matthew’s discouraging discourse, the fact of the matter is that the public mood, other people’s perspective view Obama as doing a lousy job of being a real leader!

    Even at the end of the Bush years, there were partisans who still lavished defensive praise on him. You’re one of those, rationalizing everything, blaming anyone else but your own party, except you’re now at the other end of the political spectrum!


  20. Rick Almeida says:


    He has not had the ability to bridge partisan differences

    To be fair, I don’t think anybody on either side of the aisle has this ability.

    I am extremely pessimistic about the future of our country, and it is not at all in my nature to be pessimistic.

  21. mantis says:

    Hilarious. Jan actually thinks Chris Matthews is someone liberals listen to.

  22. Rob in CT says:

    All it knows is that Chris Matthews is supposed to be “one of our own” and thus, if he says something, it is meaningful. It can then cite him as proof that Obama is bad, and it thinks it has scored a point.

    This is the flipside of a liberal saying “hey, even David Frum says the GOP is nuts” without caring about the sustance of the critique.

    The reason defections like Frum’s have been noteworthy is that it’s not just Frum, and by and large the defectors/cast-outs have been saying the same things. And those things ring true. I actually cordially loathe Frum for his neoconservatism. But his argument about the Conservatives going off the rails is cogent. As is Bruce Bartlett’s version of the argument. Or Daniel Larison’s.

    Chris Matthews, on the other hand, fired off a rant that makes little sense. Most of it isn’t even about policy – rather about political tactics. Some of it is just plain silly (what, Matthews wants a new Apollo Program? Please). Some of it sounds like sour grapes (he never calls!).

    Wrapped within that may be 1 valid criticism: the charge that Obama doesn’t work well with (Dem) congresscritters (note his argument is “why should we fight for him” – this is about Dems). I don’t know the truth (or lack thereof) of that. Even if it’s true, frankly there’s nothing I can do but be disappointed by it. It’s not gonna make me vote for Romney.

  23. Hey Norm says:

    @ Jan…
    I ran thru FACTS that dispute the messenger. Your message, that Democrats have moved further left, is verifably wrong. It is disproven by FACTS. You choose to ignore the real world in order to create a message that fits your pre-conceived beliefs. Did you offer up one fact in rebuttal to my comment? No.
    Matthews is not one of my own. He’s a editorialist and not a shitty one at that. Have you ever seen me quote Matthews? And your clip is out of context…if you really think Matthews is going to vote for the latest Not-Romney over Obama then you are as delusional as Eric Florack. He may have issues with Obama…but who is he going to vote for? Gingrich…the current leader of the pack? Right.
    I read people like Frum, the subject of this post, and Bartlett and Sullivan. Because they are moderates. Centrists. I don’t always agree with them. There are things in this Frum column I disagree with. Just because you are content to read someone like Drudge and believe whatever he says without question you should not project that weakness of intellect on everyone.
    I am not blaming everyone else but “my party”…though I am registered as an Independent and have been my entire life. However the Republican party, as exemplified by wingnuts like you, have become so out-there…so blithely detached from reality…that I have little other choice of where to stand. Truth be told If Obama was a Republican you would be naming airports and schools after him already. He has done more in his first term than any President in my lifetime…and he has done it in spite of a record-holding oppstructionist party more interested in political gain than actually governing.

  24. Hey Norm says:

    @ Norm…
    My comment should have read that Matthews IS a shitty editorialist.

  25. Drew says:

    What are your FACTS, Hey Norm?

  26. Hey Norm says:

    @ Drew..
    Reading comprehension problems?

  27. G.A.Phillips says:

    Hey Norm, you sound like a koolaid slaming Obama worshiper just like Matthews ececpt you still got the tingle I see.

  28. Hey Norm says:

    @ GA Phillips…
    Another fact filled rebuttal.
    As I said…blithely untethered from reality…

  29. tomcj says:

    I find it amazing that GA Philips and Jan and Drew ignore what Hey Norm wrote and instead rely on useless conformist boilerplate to make the point that President Obama has not engaged our problems, which he has, instituted corrections, which he has for all the reasons Hey Norm actually posted, and isn’t a better choice than any of the Republicans who would turn over even more wealth to the wealthiest and also institute policies guarenteed to assuage the Protestant Evangelicals while forcing new battles in the Culture war that already divides us.

    It astonishes me that right wing people are so predictable that all they do is assert in a manner that isn’t even meant to persuade anyone of anything.