Republicans, who at the beginning of the year were reeling from a devastating defeat in the 2008 election, have seized the political moment with the health care debate and found their sea legs.
As the GOP in Congress claws its way back, politically, President Obama's "opportunity in crisis" agenda has been the best thing that has happened to Republicans since 1994, when they won a historic victory, gaining control of Congress for the first time in decades.
The "opportunity in crisis" is a strategy of President Obama's chief of staff and fellow Chicago politico, Rahm Emanuel. Obama was just sitting down in his chair in the Oval Office as the 44th president when Emanuel was telling the media that there was"opportunity in crisis," and signaled an aggressive and bold political agenda over the first year of the Obama presidency.
At the time, this seemed to win praise from the pundits and the Democrat Party's left-wing base. And so the new Obama administration began an aggressive policy program that has led to increased deficits, government takeovers of companies, the firing of a corporate CEO (at General Motors) and unpopular, left-wing proposals such as government-run health care and cap and trade, all while passing spending bill after spending bill that has resulted in record deficits climbing into the trillions.
Early warning signs that the "opportunity in crisis" strategy was cracking first came when late winter polls showed that President Obama's policies were losing support. This led to a theme among pundits and the media that while Obama was still very popular, his policies were not. Then came cap and trade, and now a battle boiling over the idea of government overhauling health care while surveys show that 80 percent of Americans like the health care they have.
Obama's "opportunity in crisis" agenda initially lost him the Republican vote he won during the election.
Fast-forward a few months and polls now show how independent voters are drifting away from the president.
As the guns of August sound over health care policy, Obama's government takeover of health care is on the ropes and being met with grassroots intensity not seen since the immigration debate. So how are Obama and his fellow Chicago politicos in the White House confronting the dropping polls and increased angst among the electorate? They're attacking Americans protesting at town hall meetings, attacking debate, essentially attacking free speech.
One can only imagine what the "mainstream media" might have done if President Bush attacked Cindy Sheehan or other anti-war protestors. Attacking the voter is attacking the customer and anyone on Madison Avenue will tell you that's a recipe for disaster. When a White House is attacking voters, it usually means they have run out of strategic ideas or the strategy they have deployed has over-reached and is spiraling out of control.
A recent Qunnipiac poll shows the president's job approval has seen a 16 percent negative swing since July 2 -- barely more than a month ago. His approval rating is now at 50-42, down from 57-33. According to Qunnipiac, voters disapprove of the way the president is handling the economy by 49-45 percent and they disapprove of his health care approach by 52-39 percent.
But some of the most devastating news in the poll is Obama's slide among independent voters, where his approval rating has gone from 52-37 on July 2 to an even 45-45 split in August. Ouch.
Don't look for it to get any better. As Congress comes back battered and torn over voter dissent on government-run health care, Sen. John Kerry is saying that the "next big reform" is energy through cap and trade legislation, another central element to the "opportunity in crisis" agenda.
It's now Republicans who have a lot to look forward to. The party that stands for limited government likely cannot wait for government to start again so they can have more debate over the "opportunity in crisis" agenda.
Also, in the fall, or soon thereafter, Team Obama will have to deal with the deficit or risk losing a huge base of voters in the 2010 mid terms. They will either need to talk about spending cuts to tighten the belt or break an Obama campaign pledge not to raise taxes on anyone but their definition of the rich.
There does not seem to be a politically plausible end in sight or exit strategy for the "opportunity in crisis" agenda. Far from exploiting an opportunity, this agenda has turned Obama into a divisive leader, sworn to risky liberal big government policies driven by trash and burn Chicago-style campaign tactics.
As a result the Republicans, if they maintain the will to hold the line, have the opportunity to win back the fiscal responsibility, limited government credentials that resonate with a winning center-right coalition, which resulted in victory for the GOP in the Reagan years and 1994.
Greg Mueller is president of CRC Public Relations, an Alexandria, Va.-based political and corporate communications firm. Mr. Mueller is a GOP consultant who worked as a senior adviser to GOP presidential candidates Steve Forbes and Patrick J. Buchanan and was a consultant to GOP Contract with America campaign.