The debt-ceiling poll numbers look grim for everyone — but especially for Republicans. While the public decisively disapproves of the president’s handling of the economy, it seems ready to blame Republicans if there’s no debt-ceiling deal. But given the president’s singular voice and presence against the backdrop of a divided opposition, I’m actually surprised the poll numbers aren’t worse. When one voice battles many, the one voice almost always wins.
Can this be fixed? Not in the short run. With a presidential primary battle heating up, leadership differences in the House and Senate, philosophical and tactical disagreements between conservatives, and a media that loves to exacerbate Republican tensions (where are the litany of stories about the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus and the barrier to deal-making?), it’s extraordinarily difficult to engineer a true one-on-one battle with the president.
But this is temporary. Absent an economic cataclysm that negatively fixes public opinion over the long term, inside of nine months the Republicans will have selected their “one voice” to take on the president. News stories of difficult-to-follow debt negotiations will be replaced by a much more direct confrontation of economic narratives supplemented by an avalanche of paid media. Barack Obama will “own” the economy, the Tea Party will have proven that it can put the national debt front-and-center in national consciousness, and the president will have to answer to a single opponent why he’s on track to out-borrow every administration in modern history.