With his approval numbers hitting new lows it’s no surprise that Barack Obama’s numbers in our monthly look ahead to the 2012 Presidential race are their worst ever this month. He trails Mitt Romney 46-43, Mike Huckabee 47-45, Newt Gingrich 46-45, and is even tied with Sarah Palin at 46. The only person tested he leads is Jan Brewer, who doesn’t have particularly high name recognition on the national level at this point.
It’s not that any of the Republican candidates are particularly well liked. Only Huckabee has positive favorability numbers at 37/28. Romney’s at 32/33, Gingrich at 32/42, Palin at 37/52, and Brewer at 17/20. But with a majority of Americans now disapproving of Obama it’s no surprise that a large chunk of them would replace him as President if they had that choice today.
I think the sudden reversal of fortune for Obama and the various Republicans is a good excuse to dust off one of the all-time great Jonah Goldberg columns:
Recall, if you will, the episode of the Simpsons when Homer is selected to be a space shuttle astronaut. News anchor Kent Brockman is scheduled to interview the shuttle crew while they are in orbit.
But just before they “switch live” to the crew of the corvair craft, there’s a mishap on board. Homer, unaccustomed to weightlessness, is veering, out of control, straight toward the ant farm the crew brought along for study.
When news anchor Kent Brockman cuts to the live feed from the shuttle, the ants float by the camera lens — momentarily appearing gigantic. Then they lose the picture. Brockman instantaneously reports:
“Ladies and gentlemen, er, we’ve just lost the picture, but, uh, what we’ve seen speaks for itself. The Corvair spacecraft has been taken over — ‘conquered’, if you will — by a master race of giant space ants. It’s difficult to tell from this vantage point whether they will consume the captive earth men or merely enslave them. One thing is for certain, there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to . . . toil in their underground sugar caves.”
When it becomes clear that the bugs are in fact not a “master race of giant space ants”, Brockman quickly removes his “Hail Ants” sign hanging just behind him, covering the station logo.
The moral of the story is that journalists (and party hacks) love power. Whether it’s a new insect overlord or a candidate suddenly surging at the polls, the chattering class works under the assumption that whoever has power now will have it for a long time.
When Obama’s presidency was beginning and his job approval and favorable ratings were high, the press deemed opposition to him and his agenda foolish and doomed. Charlie Crist looked wise for embracing him and holding a rally for the stimulus. Arlen Specter’s party switch was considered a shrewd and winning maneuver. Since 2008, most polls that put Obama against Palin head-to-head showed Obama winning, and any interest she had in running was largely deemed folly.
By 2012, these numbers may look different again, and Obama may lead his potential GOP opponents.
However, I suspect Obama’s 2012 standing will be more similar to his standing in 2010 than to 2008′s euphoria. Obama’s 2008 bid and his early popularity were based on what he would do, on promises, on a vision, on potential. His standing today is based on what he has done as president. The perception of Obama won’t change until the reality of what Obama is delivering changes.
In light of this, if Obama delivers a circumstance where Americans feel good about the state of the country, he’ll probably beat any of the above names. If he doesn’t, he’ll probably lose to any of them, even Jan Brewer.