Of course, there are plenty of reasons why it might not work. In November 1996, unemployment was 5.4 percent. It's 9.2 percent now and is predicted to be at 8 percent or above in November '12. "The economic situation is so dramatically different," says a Republican strategist who is skeptical of the Obama-GOP win-win scenario. "You have anemic economic growth, you have unemployment that has been above 8 percent for more than 20 months, and you have a deficit that is more than a trillion dollars. Clinton had an economic strength that Obama doesn't have."
In the end, Obama might be doomed whatever he does. But as his campaign aides have pointed out, he's betting that voters will judge him on whether they feel he's taking the economy in the right direction, not whether he has reached any particular point. It's a pretty thin hope, but it might be a little more realistic if voters perceive him working with Republicans to go in that right direction.
To many Republicans these days, Obama resembles Jimmy Carter more than Bill Clinton. Certainly Obama's dour, eat-your-peas lecturing evokes the worst of Carter's sanctimoniousness. But Obama's popularity is nowhere near as low as Carter's was at the same point in their presidencies.
According to newly compiled figures from the Gallup organization, Obama's average job approval in the most recent quarter -- his 10th quarter in office -- was 46.8 percent. Carter's was an astonishing 31 percent. Obama is more in the range of Ronald Reagan (44.4 percent) and Clinton (49.3 percent) at that point in their presidencies.Both won re-election. As they seek to win the White House themselves, Republicans can only hope that Obama is not as savvy -- or as flexible -- as his predecessors.