Mona Charen
Though President Barack Obama's first term was characterized by anemic economic growth, decreasing household income, prolonged joblessness, an unpopular health law, foreign policy blunders and bitter partisanship, the electorate seemed stubbornly unwilling to lay any of it at his feet. As late as July 2013, 35 percent of Americans assigned George W. Bush a "high degree" of blame for the economy versus only 19 percent who named Obama alone.

Now the spell appears to have been decidedly broken. The benefit of the doubt Obama enjoyed for more than four years has been depleted. The Benghazi, IRS and Veterans Affairs scandals; the disastrous rollout of Obamacare (and the revelation of presidential dishonesty); the molasses economy; the Syria "red line" fiasco; the feeble response to the Ukraine mess; the new EPA taxes on coal; and the utterly tone-deaf treatment of the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl trade have combined to convince the country that Obama is out of his depth. A Fox News poll found that 55 percent of voters believe that Obama has made the country weaker. CNN found that 61 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy, along with 63 percent who disapprove of his handling of the health care law, and 57 percent who disapprove of his management of foreign policy (the poll predated the Bergdahl trade).

It's tempting for Republicans to pocket these poll numbers as if earned. After all, one party's loss is usually the other's gain in a two-party system. But however disappointed voters may be with the Obama presidency, Democrats remain more broadly popular than Republicans. Nearly 51 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party compared with 47 percent who feel that way about the Democrats. Despite the president's stumbles, the generic ballot for the House still shows a slight edge for Democrats. This doesn't mean the Democrats have any chance of retaking the House or even improving their share of seats in November, but it does reflect the deep-seated reputations of the parties. While the president's overall disapproval rating (Washington Post/ABC) stands at 53 percent, Pew found that 68 percent disapprove of the job Republican leaders in Congress are doing.

Margaret Thatcher said, "First you win the argument, then you will the vote," and quite a few Republicans, both officeholders and policy analysts, are shaking off the intellectual cobwebs that had dulled their approaches to public policy for more than a decade. Many Republicans now recognize that they must propose reforms that speak to middle- and working-class voters, and shed their image as the party of the rich.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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