Obama Effort to Define GOP 2012 Candidate Begins Today

“What I brag about most is what I was able to accomplish [as a state representative] when I was in Minnesota”

-- Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., when pressed by CNN’s Candy Crowley to identify her major legislative accomplishments.

President Obama is engaged for the next three days in what political operatives call “bracketing” – a technique by which you horn in on the media attention being paid to your competitor and muck up their message.

Consider that for a moment: The sitting president is in such dire electoral condition that he is looking to “bracket” the still-forming Republican field. While it reveals the lengths to which the president will go to define his eventual opponent, the willingness to go on equal footing with GOPers reveals the straitened circumstances of the president.

Obama’s first campaign bus stop will be in Minnesota, the home state of Rep. Michele Bachmann, one of the top three Republican contenders. Obama won the state by 10 points in 2008, and polls suggest he might do even better there in 2012 if Bachmann were the nominee. But it’s not your typical swing-state campaign visit.

Starting his bus tour in Minnesota is a good way to highlight the contrast between Obama and his preferred Republican opponent. Anything Obama can do to make Bachmann the face of the Republican Party is helpful to his cause, even if she is ultimately denied the nomination. The president wants to make sure that whether Rick Perry or Mitt Romney ends up the Republican winner, Bachmann will be a big part of the conversation for many months to come.

Surely David Axelrod hopes that she will bracket them right back.

Obama then heads down to Iowa on the second day of the trip, dubbed the “magical misery tour” by the campaign of GOP frontrunner Romney. There, Obama will look to rally supporters and highlight more success stories from his economic policies.

But again, the effort is to draw the contrast with Bachmann, who just won a resounding victory in the Iowa GOP’s big straw poll. You can hear the campaign’s message now: “We’re talking about putting American’s back to work, she’s talking about light bulb legislation.”

It is ironic that Obama benefited so greatly from not having such questions asked of and about him by the press corps in 2007, but he knows the power of a sudden burst of Iowa enthusiasm and a free ride in the press. He’s going to make sure Bachmann doesn’t get the same thing.

The complicating factor for Obama in his campaign swing, though, is Perry. The Texas governor unexpectedly extended his Iowa visit to stay around and do some bracketing himself.

Rather just visiting Bachmann’s state and the site of her big straw poll victory, Obama will be sparring indirectly with Perry, who is running as a job-creating chief executive.

Obama is taking his campaign swing just before a long vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, so whatever message emerges will likely linger for some time.

Obama’s Downward Polling Path Leads to Scorched Earth Tactics

“39 Percent”

-- President Obama’s latest Gallup job-approval rating, his first under 40 percent.

Every modern American president except Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy has fallen below the 40 percent threshold at some point in their tenures, but the when and why of the trip into the 30s matters.

Obama finds himself 10 points behind where Bill Clinton was at this point in his first term and 20 points lower than George W. Bush was in August of 2003. Clinton fell below the viability bubble in his first two years amid popular outrage over his most controversial policies, especially an attempt at a national health care law, but then shifted to the center, using Newt Gingrich as a foil. Clinton wouldn’t hit the 30s ever again. Bush never saw the 30s in his first term bust spent almost all of his second term there.

Ronald Reagan was at 45 percent in August of 1983 but he was rallying from a post-midterm swoon fueled by a wrenching return to sound currency after a decade of inflation that drove his job approval down to its lowest point of 35 percent in January of that year. By this point in his first term, Reagan had already begun the drive that would carry him to a 49-state re-election victory.

Jimmy Carter first saw the 30s just before the midterm elections, but his party rallied and helped push the Georgian back over 50 percent, briefly. By this point, Carter had slid back under 40 percent, even briefly skidding into the 20s during the summer of 1979.

George H.W. Bush was toting an unbeatable-looking 73 percent job approval rating in August of 1991, but historical hindsight shows us that he had already begun the steep, unbroken slide that would take him to 29 percent a year later.

Obama’s approval chart looks like the flight path of a Piper Cub losing altitude. He occasionally pops back up, but the pull of gravity keeps yanking the next low further down than the last one. Obama’s deal to extend current tax rates and the killing of Usama bin Laden gave him little bumps, but the general direction his been sputtering. Obama’s predecessors have seen wild swings, zooms up followed by dives downward, but the current commander in chief has mostly seen steady progress in the wrong direction.

History suggests that these trend lines are hard to reverse mostly because when voters have made up their minds about a politician, they are very hard to change. Public opinion is hardening against Obama. That’s why the president’s team is preparing a scorched-earth attack on whomever the Republican nominee will be.

It’s fashionable in Washington to say that it will be like the successful Bush 2004 re-election strategy, but the better comparison will be the 1964 campaign by LBJ. While Bush, who still had a considerable reservoir of popularity, sought to paint Kerry as a weak-willed plonker, Obama will need to emulate Lyndon Johnson who focused on firing up the Democratic base and then scaring the bejeebers out of the American people about Barry Goldwater.

Obama Weighs Compromise or Conflict on Jobs

“Playing it safe is not going to cut it. Not proposing anything bold and not trying to do something to definitively deal with our problems would mean that we’re going to have another year and a half like the last year and a half — and then it’s awfully hard to get re-elected.”

-- Christina Romer, former top economic adviser to President Obama, talking to the New York Times.

President Obama said last week that he would be revealing one job-creating idea a week “until every single American who wants a job can find one.”

The millions of unemployed might be prompted to ask the president why he is holding back on his plans. Why not just go ahead and let them all fly, maybe something will work.

But they wouldn’t really ask that because they likely know that there isn’t much left for the administration to do to get the economy going or stave off the threat of a double-dip recession. The president is not holding good ideas hostage, he’s just spacing out his talking points.

The debate that has gripped the White House is whether to make a final Clintonian plunge toward the middle in a bid to restore confidence in Washington and reestablish Obama’s credibility as a moderate. The he alternative is to accept the fact that even with compromise legislation, economic turnaround is out of reach and start pouring boiling rhetorical oil over Republicans in a bid to spread the blame around.

Expectations are dropping constantly for the super committee charged with deficit reduction and economists say that the absence of more cash pumping by the government and the presence of looming business regulations on health care and banking means the economy will be stalled for many months to come.

If the president shares that view, the only reason for him to seek common ground with House Republicans is to show his centrist side. But that doesn’t make sense if his campaign is intent on branding Republicans as extremist hostage takers.

Obama will more likely do to the House what the House has done to the Senate, fire off cannonades of legislation in a bid to make them look intransigent and keep Speaker John Boehner from pushing his own agenda.

**Today’s “Power Play Live w/Chris Stirewalt,” wades into the fallout from the weekend in Iowa. Former RNC Communications man Doug Heye and Democratic pollster Doug Schoen check in to talk about the political landscape in the Midwest with the president starting a bus tour as the GOP race takes shape. Don’t miss a minute of Power Play at 11:30 Eastern at http://live.foxnews.com**