The question already being widely asked by political junkies after the killing of Usama bin Laden: will the immediate bump in the polls for President Obama last? Should we, as "The View" co-host Joy Behar suggested Monday, “just skip the next election?”
The answer in a word: no. In fact, it’s easy to come up with ten reasons why:
1. Who Gets Credit? Within a couple news cycles, the airwaves were already buzzing with controversy over whether President Obama had taken too much credit for the success of the operation. His words were carefully chosen to create the impression that Bin Laden’s capture resulted from initiatives undertaken on his watch. Notably, two words that never passed his lips in assigning credit, among all the “I’s” and “my’s,” were “George Bush.”
Yet the big break in the Usama chase came four years ago, when detainees spilled the beans on the identity of one of bin Laden’s trusted couriers. Moreover, Central Intelligence Director Leon Panetta has acknowledged that valuable intelligence resulted from enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT).
Oops. In 2007, candidate Obama was harshly criticizing his predecessor’s policies on EIT as “an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security.”
The president repaired some of the damage by inviting his predecessor to visit Ground Zero. But his initial gracelessness in failing to share credit rapidly tarnished his aura.
2. It’s the Economy, Stupid. Past election cycles have demonstrated that, short of world war, short-term foreign-policy successes won’t overcome a prolonged economic downturn. Today’s headlines can’t obscure the prospect of $5 per gallon gas, rising food prices, continued high unemployment, a potential double-dip recession and trillions of dollars in deficit spending that will produce an extended budget battle.
3. Déjà Vu 1991: A veritable trove of commentators have already weighed in with an obvious parallel: in spring 1991, such leading presidential contenders as Mario Cuomo, Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, Bill Bradley and Jay Rockefeller were scared off by a foreign policy triumph that drove George H.W. Bush’s approval rates to stratospheric heights. A year later, they were kicking themselves when a much more modest recession rendered the incumbent eminently beatable – and Bill Clinton waltzed to the nomination.
4. Attacks from the Left: The very success of the Usama bin Laden initiative is already raising questions from the Moveon.org set. The White House is already on the defensive on how and why Bin Laden was killed, especially with its delayed admission that the terrorist was unarmed when he was assassinated. Plus the mission has already revived attention to his stepped-up use of drones and reversal on closing Guantanamo and led to calls from the left to expedite America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
5. Biting the Hand that Feeds Him: President Obama is exulting over an operation carried out by elite troops with expensive technology. Yet the president has called for severe defense cuts that outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pointedly warned could sap our military strength, and surveys suggest the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" will result in the defection of exactly this kind of crack forces.
6. The Real Foreign Policy Story of Coming Months? Libya: The stealth story of the weekend was the bombing attack that allegedly killed Mummar Qaddafi’s son and three grandchildren. The obvious question – was this an attempted hit on the dictator? – underscores the reality that Libya is an expensive misadventure with no clear mission, leadership or end game that will increasingly fall into our laps as their own defense cuts stretch the French and British thin.
7. UBL Doesn’t Undo ObamaCare: The president’s greatest vulnerability becomes even more of an issue in 2012. More ObamaCare provisions will kick in, while premiums are projected to continue skyrocketing, and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the individual mandate will create a headache for the administration no matter how it comes down.
8. Culture Wars: Tracking down Bin Laden doesn’t change the fact that President Obama represents values far out of step with mainstream America’s. Also potentially on tap for next year are Supreme Court decisions on California’s Proposition 8 barring same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act – events that will blow the culture wars wide open again.
9. BHO, Tax-Hiker: The compromise President Obama closed with Republicans last year to avoid the expiration of the Bush tax cuts runs out in 2012, and the president has pledged he will not extend the cuts. Explicitly running as a tax-hiker has not proved a winning strategy in the past – just ask Walter Mondale.
10. Tea, Anyone? The Tea Party, conservative talk TV and radio and the blogosphere – though sharing in the celebration of Bin Laden's – will not give President Obama much breathing room.
Rush Limbaugh was openly mocking the president on Monday and conservative blogs are already re-airing familiar anti-Obama themes.
After 9/11, Democrats were back on the attack against George W. Bush within months. In this case, the president’s “honeymoon” is already waning after a few news cycles.
So my advice to prospective GOP candidates: take a deep breath, and keep focused on November 2012. These days, a week in politics is a lifetime.
Robert Maistros is a Republican strategist.