What to do if you’re an incumbent president running for reelection with no accomplishments to your name? You’re presiding over the most anemic economic recovery in 70 years. Unemployment is still above 8% three years after the recession supposedly ended. Your signature stimulus and health care bills are massively unpopular, and your approval rating hasn’t broken 50% in months.
That’s the task facing President Obama as he campaigns for another four year term. Gone is the “hope and change” rhetoric or the pledge to “change the way that we do business in Washington.”
Gone indeed is any attempt by the incumbent to offer a strategy to improve our common economic circumstances and prospects. In its place, Obama is attempting to assemble support with parochial appeals to separate pieces of the electorate, hoping he can tape together an electoral majority. He has overladen this approach with a healthy dose of cynicism and class warfare rhetoric designed to focus the public’s anger on other Americans – anyone besides the man in charge.
I cannot help but call this President Obama's Humpty Dumpty reelection strategy. Just who are the specific targets of the Humpty Dumpty strategy? Here's my list:
Liberals. Start with President Obama’s relentless focus on the “1%” of wealthy Americans who he constantly attacks and, worse, implies are responsible for our poor economic circumstances. Never mind that the 1% already pay approximately 37% of all federal income taxes. Never mind that his plan to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and implement the so-called “Buffet rule” would have virtually no impact on our long term deficit picture or create one single new job. The ploy here is purely political, designed to pin the economic blame elsewhere through class warfare and fire up far-left liberals who favor economic redistributionist policies.
Women. There has been a gender gap in America for years so it must be because Republicans are waging a “war on women.” Obama’s weapons here focus heavily on yet more federal laws supposedly mandating equal pay for “similar” positions. (Note: Equal pay has been the law of the land for many years.) He is also placing heavy emphasis on free contraception and access to abortifact drugs, going so far as to require every health plan to cover these costs. Obama is even willing to throw the Catholic Church and the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom under the bus in pursuit of another wedge issue.
African Americans. At the recent NAACP convention, Vice President Biden renewed a 25 year old feud with retired Judge Robert Bork, who currently serves as co-chair of Governor Mitt Romney’s justice task force, attacking Bork for wanting to roll back civil rights in America. In 1987, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a budding presidential candidate, Biden attempted to ride to the White House with attacks on Bork’s judicial record. He succeeded in defeating Bork’s Supreme Court nomination, but his presidential aspirations were cut short when he was caught plagiarizing his speeches from a British politician and quickly dropped out of the race. At the same NAACP convention last week, Attorney General Eric Holder lashed out at GOP-inspired state voter registration laws requiring individuals to show an ID before voting, arguing that such laws would be harmful to minority voters. Though Democrats are skilled at playing the race card, the dance is more complicated this year since, for political reasons, Obama will have to utilize surrogates like Biden and Holder to handle this grubby business.
Hispanics. Having done nothing for four years to effectively reform immigration, Obama issued an executive order this year suspending arrests of certain categories of illegal aliens. Obama also sued Arizona over a state law that essentially requires the state to help enforce federal immigration law, something the feds have refused to do themselves. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law’s centerpiece and rejected Obama’s position.
Gays. In 2008, Obama made a big deal of his “opposition” to gay marriage. Most everyone suspected he didn’t mean it, and indeed after “careful consideration,” he now supports gay marriage just in time for this election. Most Americans rightly see this as a purely political conversion. He was against it before he was for it. Obama’s views even on issues of this magnitude are disposable and interchangeable.
The common denominator with all of these piecemeal campaign strategies is that they form no coherent whole, no larger vision for America. All are primarily designed to enhance DNC and Obama Campaign talking points and contribute very little toward solving the major problems we face. Worse, they divide Americans because their primary purpose is to focus blame on anyone and everyone but President Obama.
Politics is a rough and tumble business, and thankfully, Americans tune out most politicians and political promises. But any Obama victory based on this Humpty Dumpty strategy would be achieved at a high price.
His divisive platform would have no mandate for anything positive, allowing the country’s downward drift to worsen while he scrambles to address the great economic crises we face. Bipartisan cooperation would be difficult to achieve, and the 2012 election would have provided little focus or clarification for any way forward.
This year, the only thing worse for Obama than losing this election might be winning.
A longtime Republican political activist, Frank Donatelli is executive vice president and director of federal public affairs for McGuireWoods Consulting LLC, and serves as counsel with McGuireWoods LLP. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain tapped Frank to serve as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, where he coordinated the RNC’s fundraising and organizing activities directly with the McCain-Palin presidential campaign. Frank is the former chairman of GOPAC, an organization dedicated to educating and electing a new generation of Republican leaders. He previously served as Political Director for President Ronald Reagan.