Republicans Begin To Realize That Obama Won’t Be Easy To Beat

Republicans begin to discover that defeating an incumbent President isn't an easy task.

As the euphoria of 2010 starts to wear off and Republicans look to 2012, they’re beginning to realize that beating Barack Obama won’t be quite as easy as they thought:

Just four months after posting historic election gains, Republicans are experiencing a reality check about 2012: President Barack Obama is going to be a lot tougher to defeat than he looked late last year.

Having gone from despondency in 2008 to euphoria last November, a more sober GOP is wincing in the light of day as they consider just how difficult unseating an incumbent president with a massive warchest is going to be, even with a still-dismal economy.

“I consider him a favorite, albeit a slight favorite,” said former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove. “Republicans underestimate President Obama at their own peril.”

Much of the GOP realism is rooted in a long-standing truism of American politics – that absent a major crisis of confidence, it’s highly difficult to defeat a sitting president.

But aside from the traditional advantages of incumbency, Republicans are also fretting about the strength of Obama’s campaign infrastructure, the potential limitations of their own field and, particularly, the same demographic weaknesses that haunted them in 2008.

The best indicator of the GOP outlook on 2012 may be the shape of the party’s prospective field. Many of the contenders who can afford to sit out a presidential election cycle and wait for an open-seat race – Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush come to mind – seem intent on doing so.

The view among senior Republicans is not that Obama is a sure bet or that the GOP nomination is not worth having. Many are convinced 2012 will be more competitive than 2008 and that the White House can still be won.

But there is an unmistakable sense among Republicans that the breezy predictions of Obama turning out to be the next Jimmy Carter were premature.

“The people that are sitting around saying, ‘He’s definitely going to be a one-term president. It’s going to be easy to take him out,’ they’re obviously political illiterates – political idiots, let me be blunt,” said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in an interview.

As I noted last week, history indicates that Huckabee’s point is absolutely correct:

Since 1868, incumbent Presidents have been re-elected 15 of 22 times they’ve stood for re-election. The only losses were Grover Cleveland (1888), Benjamin Harrison (1892), William Howard Taft (1912), Herbert Hoover (1932),  Gerald Ford (1976) Jimmy Carter (1980), George H.W. Bush (1992). Each of these coincided with either a weak economy during the election year or the presence of a strong third party candidate on the ballot, and in Ford’s case there was the added factor of Watergate, his pardon of Richard Nixon, and the fact that he had never been elected to the Presidency or Vice-Presidency. The odds strongly favor an incumbent’s re-election and anyone who’s betting against Barack Obama at this point isn’t looking at the evidence closely enough.

And what does the evidence show us so far? Well, after a year of mostly negative approval numbers, and a devastating loss for his party at the polls, Barack Obama’s approval numbers are back in positive territory and seem to be trending upward at the moment:

This is a trend that began in the wake of the surprisingly successful lame duck session of Congress at the end of 2010, and picked up steam after the shootings in Arizona and President Obama’s speech in Tucson. Add to this the fact that individual Republican candidates continue to under perform in polling matchups against the President, and it’s rather apparent that the idea that Obama’s defeat is in any way inevitable is really a rather silly idea.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Campaign 2012, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I continue to believe that unless he faces a primary challenge (not apparent right now) or we experience some economic crisis that he’s blamed for President Obama is likely to win re-election.

  2. jwest says:

    It looks like a better case could be made that Obama’s presidency is tracking that of Jimmy Carter.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gallup_Poll-Approval_Rating-Jimmy_Carter.png

    Within the next year, people will be locking in their appraisal of the current president in the context of $4.00+ per gallon gas, 9% unemployment, continually falling home prices, a wave of new foreclosures and a weak, failing foreign policy.

    So, even though Mr. Obama can muster a thin win in a poll of adults now, I hope Doug doesn’t think it’s too much of a waste of time if we conservatives at least run a candidate to see what happens.

  3. Brett #2 says:

    I’m still surprised that we haven’t seen a single Republican announce their candidacy yet, considering how many had announced by early 2007 last time among both Democrats and Republicans. Hell, the first debate for Democrats was in April.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    It’s not just incumbency.

    Obama has a story. None of the Republicans do.

    Also, Obama has charisma. None of the Republicans do.

    And Obama has a secret weapon: Republican primary voters.

  5. jwest says:

    “Obama has a story.”

    We’re still hopeful we can find out the details by the next election.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    jwest: You would be an example of that secret weapon I was talking about.

  7. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    Charisma, a story and people to hate…hmmm……..I’ll bet he is a great orator too….

    Good grief….

  8. Ernieyeball says:

    ” …the context of $4.00+ per gallon gas…” This is a prediction of the future. Will Swami jwest the psychic please help us and BE MORE SPECIFIC as to exactly when this event will occur. I am requesting a precise date. I know you can help us all!!!

  9. TG Chicago says:

    …the idea that Obama’s defeat is in any way inevitable is really a rather silly idea.

    Good thing you knocked down that idea! Even though this post doesn’t actually name anybody who voiced that notion.

    Really, what’s the point of this post? Unnamed people allegedly are starting to realize that presidential elections are hard? Wow! Breaking news!

  10. jwest says:

    Ernie,

    Precise dates? I’m not sure I could do that and if I could I would surely charge you to hear the answer. The $4.00 a gallon prediction is a natural outcropping of the current prices, Middle East instability, increased Chinese consumption, reduced domestic production and increased speculation driven by investors seeking higher returns.

  11. jwest says:

    Oh, I forgot to include conservative’s greed and our desire to make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

  12. ponce says:

    “The $4.00 a gallon prediction is a natural outcropping of the current prices…”

    During the recent spike in oil prices, fully one third of the price of oil was due to U.S. speculators driving it up.

    When the price of oil dropped, U.S. taxpayers covered their losses.

  13. Dividist says:

    The GOP are unlikely to lose their advantage in the House. With the Dems defending 23 of 33 seats in the Senate, the GOP taking the majority in the Senate is practically a foregone conclusion.

    I voted for McCain, but for those of us who do not trust either party with all the keys, Obama getting re-elected is not a problem. In fact, with a GOP House and Senate – it’s optimal.

  14. anjin-san says:

    > The $4.00 a gallon prediction is a natural outcropping of the current prices, Middle East instability, increased Chinese consumption, reduced domestic production and increased speculation driven by investors seeking higher returns.

    In other words, no matter who was President, the price of gas would be high. Yea, hang your hat on that.

  15. mantis says:

    Oh, I forgot to include conservative’s greed and our desire to make the poor poorer and the rich richer.

    Don’t worry. The people you elect haven’t forgotten.

  16. jwest says:

    Anjin-san,

    You know full well that whatever is wrong with the economy will be blamed on Obama. It worked in reverse for Clinton, riding a tech and dot com bubble to low unemployment and high tax revenues, but it’s a two edged sword that still has the blood of Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush on it.

  17. Tlaloc says:

    I continue to believe that unless he faces a primary challenge…

    I really wish that was likely to happen but there’s just no way the dems are going to rediscover a sense of ethics by then. We’re stuck with two pro-torture parties for the forseeable future. Thatk you so much GOP and Obama voters.

  18. Kylopod says:

    @jwest

    Neither Carter nor Bush Sr. entered office during a recession. It was the fact that the economy had apparently worsened during their time in office that crushed them. That’s why Reagan’s “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” was so effective. In fact, unemployment was quite high on Election Day in ’84–7.2%–but because it (and other economic conditions) had improved since he entered office, he was easily reelected.

  19. Dividist says:

    BTW Reynolds – You still owe me a bottle of 15 year old Laphroaig.

  20. Wiley Stoner says:

    If OTB was reflective of the nation, the addled idea Obama might win reelection might have a chance. I guess most commenters here choose to ignore the results of the last election. Not a single Democratic gain, not one. Obama won election by spending vast sums of money, running as a centrist and running against George W. Bush. Bush is not running, Obama is not a centrist but a radical leftist, and the donations from the sources he had before will have dried up. He has revealed who he is. When he lost the independents, which he did, he lost the chance for reelection. Only time will tell, but can you spell Palin landslide?

  21. ml says:

    I just don’t get it. I don’t believe in polls. Obama is not doing a good job. His domestic and foreign policies has failed. He have a ‘lack’ of inexperience and leadership. If Mr. Obama doesn’t fix the economy and have things turn around, he will lose the election in 2012 and will be a one term President. Mr. Obama has been playing golf, taken vacations, playing sports,and partying at night at the White House. That show he isn’t doing his job.

  22. Kylopod says:

    >I guess most commenters here choose to ignore the results of the last election.

    There is no known correlation between midterm elections and the subsequent presidential election. If there is any correlation at all, it is a negative one. Reagan and Clinton suffered terrible midterms and went on to be easily reelected. Carter and Bush Sr., in contrast, endured relatively modest losses yet were voted out of office two years later. Bush Jr. actually saw his party gain seats during the 2002 midterms–which is highly unusual–yet he was just barely reelected, with a narrower margin in the popular vote than any other incumbent president in history. In sum, midterms don’t tell us much about a president’s reelection prospects, for better or worse.

    >Obama is not a centrist but a radical leftist

    Please tell me just three Obama Administration policies that are to the left of what he campaigned on.

  23. sam says:

    “Only time will tell, but can you spell Palin landslide?”

    Heh.

  24. anjin-san says:

    > Neither Carter nor Bush Sr. entered office during a recession.

    Quite right. And Obama entered office with the country teetering on the edge of a honest-to-goodness depression. People outside the Foxverse know this. Considering where we started, Obama has done a pretty good job on the economy, and damage control is hard work.

    The people who are stupid enough to buy into the Obama=Carter meme are never going to vote for him anyway, that’s Palin’s base.

  25. anjin-san says:

    > If Mr. Obama doesn’t fix the economy

    GDP & DOW are back at pre-Bush meltdown levels. American corporations that were on the brink of failure a few years back are now flush with record amounts of cash. There is more good economic news now then bad.

    Cleaning up a disaster of the magnitude of the one Obama inherited is not something that is done with a few sound bites, it requires years of hard work.

  26. Moosebreath says:

    Wiley,

    “Not a single Democratic gain, not one.”

    Except for Delaware-at large and Louisiana-2 (we know Hawaii-1 doesn’t count, since it isn’t really part of the US).

  27. Pug says:

    Charisma, a story and people to hate…hmmm……..I’ll bet he is a great orator too

    Good luck portraying Obama as the hater against the back drop of the modern Republican party.

  28. george says:

    In general, independents don’t like or trust the candidates from either party, and so they vote for the incumbent on the “better the devil we know” principle. Unless the economy really tanks, in which case the principle becomes “what have we got to lose”.

    The same thing happened with Bush 43 – he looked to be an easy target, but he’d been in office for four years and most people’s day to day lives hadn’t changed much … and that was enough to get him re-elected.

  29. Kylopod says:

    >In general, independents don’t like or trust the candidates from either party, and so they vote for the incumbent on the “better the devil we know” principle.

    Actually, most independents are closet partisans.

    http://www.themonkeycage.org/2009/12/three_myths_about_political_in.html

  30. jwest says:

    At this point back in ’79, Carter had a 28 point lead on Reagan.

  31. Kylopod says:

    >At this point back in ’79, Carter had a 28 point lead on Reagan.

    Which poll are you referring to? I checked Google News for Feb. ’79 and found this:

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Ul8uAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wtkFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3799,1575821&dq=carter+reagan+poll&hl=en

    Carter had a 17-point (not 28-point) lead over Reagan, though Reagan had been leading Carter in previous polls, Carter’s approval rating was sharply declining, and he was already receiving a challenge from Kennedy.

  32. anjin-san says:

    > At this point back in ’79, Carter had a 28 point lead on Reagan.

    Keep hanging your hats on something that happened 30 years ago, by all means. Meanwhile Democrats are a little busy trying to clean up the disaster the last GOP administration left…

  33. michael reynolds says:

    Dividist:

    Dude! I’ve been looking for you on my email, searching by key word “bet” and “scotch” and every other goddamned thing I could think of. MobileMe has it’s share of problems. (But such a pretty interface.) I was just at Total Wine yesterday (not buying cigars because I’ve given them up. Yeah, that’s the ticket) thinking I need to get the kid to help me search. Searching “mw” not much help.

    Okay. I just searched Laphroaig, and I think that did it. Assuming you haven’t changed your email.

    Sorry about that.

    Michael

  34. Ernieyeball says:

    “Only time will tell, but can you spell Palin landslide?”
    FANTASY DELUSION
    Are just 2 ways I can think of!

  35. anjin-san says:

    > a bottle of 15 year old Laphroaig

    The Scotch of choice when I was tending bar in Sausalito many moons ago. There was this thing we used to make called a “boozy smoothie” (rum, no scotch). Many interesting side effects. Good times…

  36. An Interested Party says:

    It looks like a better case could be made that Obama’s presidency is tracking that of Jimmy Carter.

    Awwww…hope springs eternal…maybe something like the Iranian hostage incident will happen to help you…

  37. Ernieyeball says:

    “Precise dates? I’m not sure I could do that and if I could I would surely charge you to hear the answer. The $4.00 a gallon prediction is a natural outcropping of…”

    You’re “not sure”? I am certain you can not. Your guess of $4.00/gal. at some unknown time in the future is pretty much worthless information. I have consulted the “Search economic terms A–Z” page at The Economist website. I find a definition for “natural monopoly” but no natural outcropping or outcropping. What are you talking about?