Underwater and In Over His Head

Tonight, seven Republicans take the stage one last time before the Iowa caucuses to share their visions for America. And when the caucuses and subsequent primaries kick off the new year, the nation’s attention will largely be on the Republican race.

But it’s important that we remember exactly why we must elect one of these seven candidates in 2012. Over the coming year, Americans cannot forget what the past three years of the Obama presidency have brought: a steady stream of broken promises and failed policies.

Chief among those broken promises is the economy. President Obama promised he would fix it -- and in less than one term.

How else do you explain these words from February 2009: “If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition.”

But the economy is far from fixed. In fact, by most objective measures, it’s far worse. Unemployment is higher. Underemployment is higher. Poverty is higher.

And it’s taking a toll on his approval in the polls -- especially in swing states.

For months he’s been underwater -- meaning more Americans disapprove of his job performance than approve. According to the most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, President Obama’s approval rating has dropped 31 points since his career high. And in the most recent NBC News/Wall St. Journal poll, Obama’s approval on the economy is even worse. Only 39 percent approve, while 57 disapprove. On top of all that, most polls show that at least 70 percent of Americans believe the country is on the “wrong track.”

Team Obama has seen those numbers, and based on the president’s own standard from 2009, they add up to a “one-term proposition.” That is, unless they can move the goal posts.

Facing a losing re-election battle, the Obama campaign is frantically trying to backpedal on their own standards, insisting they simply didn’t know how bad things were. Said President Obama on Tuesday, “We understood that it was bad, but we didn’t know how bad it was.”

First, it’s very troubling that an administration would admit they weren’t competent enough to grasp the state of the economy. Claiming incompetence as the best defense against accusations of failure underscores how terribly desperate Team Obama is.

But roll back the clock to 2008 and 2009, and it seems they knew exactly how bad things were.

Obama in September 2008: “We are going through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.”

And in November 2008: “We are facing an economic crisis of historic proportions.”

Leading economists knew, too. Harvard’s Martin Feldstein, a former Reagan adviser, wrote in January 2009, “This recession is likely to last longer and be more damaging than any since the depression of the 1930’s.”

But just in case the White House only listens to liberal economists, here’s Paul Krugman in the same month: “This looks an awful lot like the beginning of a second Great Depression.”

Clearly, the White House is in denial -- a conscious, calculated denial. If they admitted they knew how bad things were, then they’d have to accept responsibility for failing to lead on the economy. They’d have to admit failure and that President Obama is in over his head.

So what does that mean for our 2012 election strategy? Simply put, we have to hold Obama to his original standard. Keep the goal posts where they are -- where he placed them.

Three years ago, he promised to fix the economy in less than one term. Three years ago, he promised to deliver hope and change. Today, the economy is broken, the country feels hopeless, and we’re still longing for change.

The president says he can still deliver -- if only he has a second term. But once you break one promise, the second is not so believable. And President Obama has said that’s grounds to fire him.

Tonight, the Republican candidates will debate a range of topics and issues. But on one issue, there is no debate: Barack Obama must be a one-term president. Even he says so.

Reince Priebus is the chairman of the Republican National Committee.