Romney is the strongest possible nominee, but, as Galston demonstrates, even with Obama's weaknesses, pitfalls await. In the first place, a year is a long time in politics. The unemployment rate could decline dramatically. Obama could do the smart thing and focus his re-election effort on the Midwestern states that have decided presidential contests for more than 50 years, or the Republicans could "commit creedal suicide by nominating a presidential candidate outside the mainstream or unqualified for the office."
There is no question that Obama is vulnerable. He is the definition of vulnerable. His overall approval rating stood at 43 percent in the month of November. Higher than one might expect given the dismal state of the economy, but it is still well below what an incumbent seeking a second term requires. The president has lost support among all segments of the population. He earned a crushing majority (66 percent) of voters aged 18-29 in 2008. Today, only 48 percent support him. Sixty-seven percent of Hispanic voters supported him then, compared with 51 percent now.
The president has lost ground among unmarried voters (a Democratic demographic), those with a high school degree or less, those with some college and those with college degrees. Only voters with post-graduate degrees continue to support the president, though barely -- which tells you a lot about the value of education in America. Obama is underwater with moderates, and this is crucial -- because they decide elections -- with independents. Fifty-two percent of self-described independents voted for Obama in 2008, whereas only 39 percent support him today.
The president also loses the intensity battle. Of Republicans, 56 percent say they are more enthusiastic than usual about the election, compared with just 43 percent of Democrats. Only 21 percent of the electorate believes that the country is headed in the right direction, and a mere 15 percent say they are better off now than when Obama took office. Thirty-five percent say they are worse off.
In light of the above, some Republicans seem to have concluded that the party could nominate a ham sandwich and still defeat Obama. That, to put it mildly, is overconfident.