President Obama heads into this speech with sagging numbers, a health-care bill that has no clear path to passage, double-digit unemployment, and a lack of any sort of political momentum. A critical misstep of the Obama team thus far was the focus on health care when the country cared about jobs. Now, the rumors are that tonight’s speech will focus heavily on the topic that Americans have been waiting to hear from him about: jobs, jobs, jobs.
But will it stick?
Months of being stuck on the wrong agenda item has had a significant impact on Obama’s poll numbers. Given all of the effort put into health care, it may seem all too convenient for a complete shift into “jobs, jobs, jobs” mode overnight. Whether or not he puts forward a compelling, credible plan to create jobs — and whether or not those plans actually improve the unemployment numbers before November — will be the two most important items coming out of tonight that will impact Democrats’ fortunes in this year’s elections.
The major risk facing Republicans right now is overconfidence. Tonight, it is likely that Obama will lay out plans that will focus on jobs and spending. If Republicans do not present policy ideas of their own, explaining how conservative principles can be translated into smart policy and real solutions, it will be possible for Democrats to gain back their ground. Remember: It was just over a year ago that Obama was being inaugurated, and no one could have predicted that in January 2010 Republicans would win the Kennedy seat in Massachusetts. To think that the winds of political fortune can’t change again just as fast is naïve.
Republicans need to go on offense and not let Democrats reclaim the mantle of being the party of policy solutions. When Americans say the nation is on the wrong track, as they do loudly in polls these days, then Americans want answers, not rhetoric, and whoever can provide this will reap rewards in November.
— Kristen Soltis is the director of policy research at the Winston Group, a strategy and polling firm in Washington, D.C.