Bill Whalen

Obama 365

One thing you probably noticed as your Sunday progressed: the clock fell back an hour; it got dark early.

And one thing you probably missed: we’re exactly a year away from the presidential vote. 365 days – and closing – until the public renders a verdict on the Obama presidency.

Given that it’s a convenient mile-marker on the campaign trail, the political media have weighed in on the President’s re-elect chances.

On the glass is half-full side, there’s this prognosis by Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times, who notes that some aspects of history are on Mr. Obama’s side (only once in the last 123 years – Jimmy Carter in 1980 – has the public dumped an incumbent when his party held the White House for only one term).

Arguing that the glass is in fact half-empty: the Washington Times’ Dave Boyer, who notes that Mr. Obama, should he win next year, would be only the second president in post-World War II America to have earned a second term with a sub-50% approval rating a year before the election.

The only incumbent to pull it off: Richard Nixon, who stood at 49% in 1971 (btw, the latest Washington Post poll has the President at 44%, 10 points below any of his four most immediate predecessors at this point in their presidencies).

And so we ping-pong back and forth with presidential numbers. A generic Republican defeats the President by 5% in a hypothetical two-candidate matchup (six months, ago Mr./Ms. Generic trailed by 2%). But give that Republican a specific name – say, Mitt Romney – and it’s Mr. Obama with a slight lead. The two run neck-and-neck in the 12 decisive swing states.

Here’s one other way to look at the state of the race – Allan Lichtman’s “13 Keys” to winning the presidency. Lichtman is an American University political historian. His theory: an incumbent has to fail at least six “keys” to be denied a second term. And he’s called every race correctly, going back to 1984.

Here’s how the “13 Keys” currently stack up (per my assessment – yours may differ):

  1. Party Mandate: After the midterm elections, has the president’s party gained or lost seats in the U.S. House of Representatives? The GOP picked up a net total of 63 House seats in 2010. Obama fails. Score: 0-1.
  2. Challenged from Within. Does the incumbent have to stave off a serious primary challenge, such as Ted Kennedy in 1980? At present, that seems unlikely, the Hillary crazy-talk notwithstanding. Obama passes. Score: 1-1
  3. Incumbency. The incumbent party’s candidate is the sitting president. That’s true, unless the President pulls an LBJ next spring. Obama passes. Score: 2-1.
  4. Third Party. There’s no significant third-party or independent campaign 11 months from now. The biggest wild card: Ron Paul. For now, he’s saying no to a third-party run. Obama passes. Score: 3-1.
  5. Short-term Economy. The question here: is the economy in a recession a year from now? As terrible as the economy has been under “44’s” watch, technically the country by definition is not in a recession – not for now, at least. Obama passes. The score: 4-1.
  6. Long-term Economy. Does real per-capita economic growth during the president’s term equal or exceed mean growth during the previous two presidential terms?  This past week, the Federal Reserve slashed its forecast for economic growth; good luck finding a nonpartisan bullish economist. Let’s assume Obama fails. Score: 4-2.
  7. Major Policy Changes. The White House can credibly say it’s done something big on the national stage. Obviously, that’s Obamacare, although: (1) it hasn’t played out in the courts; (2) it was a liability for Democratic “blue dogs” in the congressional midterms. Obama passes. Score 5-2.
  8. Social Unrest. Hello? Occupy Wall Street. Obama fails. Score: 5-3.
  9. Scandal. You’re going to say “Solyndra”, but for now that’s all about subpoenas and oversight hearings – a familiar pattern inside the beltway and small potatoes by Clintonian or Nixonian standards. Obama passes. Score: 6-3.
  10. Foreign Policy/Military Failure. There are good days and bad days in Afghanistan; tensions are rising in the Middle East. That said, “The Trip to Atlantic City” wasn’t a repeat of Blackhawk Down or Desert One. Obama passes. Score: 7-3.
  11. Foreign/military success: Bin Laden. Obama passes. Score: 8-3.
  12. Incumbent Charisma. Is the President charming, venerated, a national hero? Not in this election: the Obama campaign is betting on fear, not hope – the President being that messenger. Obama fails. Score: 8-4.
  13. Challenger Charisma: Obama is no Reagan. Then again, the same could be said of the Republicans looking to take his job. Obama passes (by his challengers failing). Final score: 9-4.

A couple of thoughts about Obama and the “13 keys”:

  1. It’s worth refreshing the list as we draw closer to the actual election. Before the bin Laden raid, the Obama Administration would have failed the 11th “key”. Before Occupy Wall Street, he would have passed the 8th. Things can change.
  2. Under the Lichtman formula, Mr. Obama’s a goner is he fails two more “keys”. Keep an eye on the 5th, 9th and 10th – a chance of a recession in 2012, a full-blown scandal emerging, and Mr. Obama looking overwhelmed and overmatched on the world stage should Israel and Iran engage in hostilities that have all sorts of aftershocks (energy prices, European relations, etc.).
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