Much has been made of President Obama's sneering screed against individual accomplishment and private success, and rightly so. He once again wandered from his poll-tested script and accidentally revealed his true colors, Romney pounced, and Democrats are flailing with shouts "out of context" and feigned thermonuclear outrage. Republicans would be wise to sink their teeth in and refuse to relent -- the Left's yelping is a tell. But in addition to hammering "you didn't build that" (and building a largely absent, but essential, positive message), the Romney campaign would be wise to exploit a second devastating comment the president let loose on the campaign trail this week. I quoted it in passing yesterday, but now the all-important video has emerged:
"Just like we've tried their plan, we tried our plan, and it worked...that's why I'm running for a second term."
If Obama's stated rationale for re-election is that his policies have been an empirical success, he has no real rationale for re-election. It's that simple. Obama has inadvertently set a trap for his own party; will Republicans spring it? Here's how it could go down: Highlighting Obama's assertion, Republicans aggressively ridicule this self-assessment, pointing to virtually everything as conflicting evidence: Weak GDP growth, with another recession possibly looming. An unemployment rate above eight percent for 41 straight months. Real unemployment at 15 percent. A shrinking workforce participation rate, ebbing to a 30-year low. The median household income slashed by $4,300. Healthcare costs rising, in spite of (or because of) Obama's unpopular and costly law. Poverty rates at a 50-year high. Millions of home foreclosures. Food stamp usage spiking to new heights. A national debt of $16 Trillion, with no end in sight. These are just a handful of the reasons why America's right track/wrong track numbers are deep underwater in poll after poll. A majority of Americans explicitly say Obama has taken the wrong actions to fix the economy, and according to the latest NYT/CBS poll, 70 percent of registered voters say the economy is in poor shape. In sum, regardless of what they may think of Barack Obama the man, the American people simply do not believe that his policies have worked. Notice that he's not even employing his go-to "we're headed in the right direction" formulation here; he's rendering a broader verdict, in the past tense. "It worked." A trio of Democrat pollsters strenuously warned against this sort of bravado and economic happy talk in a June memo:
Pollsters Stan Greenberg and Erica Seifert, of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, and Democratic strategist James Carville write in a research document for Democracy Corps that their party’s current frame for the 2012 race is not effective. Based on focus groups in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the strategists argue that voters are simply not convinced that the economy is on the move and it’s a mistake to try and tell them otherwise. “These voters are not convinced that we are headed in the right direction. They are living in a new economy – and there is no conceivable recovery in the year ahead that will change the view of the new state of the country. They actually have a very realistic view of the long road back and the struggles of the middle class — and the current narrative about progress just misses the opportunity to connect and point forward,” they write. “While we hear some optimism, this is framed mostly by the sense that this has to be rock bottom.” Obama manages to keep the race competitive because Mitt Romney is so distrusted by voters, the strategists contend. But if Obama is going to gain traction in the campaign, they continue, he needs to deploy a message “with minimal discussion of the recovery and jobs created and maximal empathy for the challenges people face.”
If Republicans can goad Democrats into a major debate over "it worked," Obama's allies likely won't be able to resist defending the statement. In doing so, they will rely on talking points that swing state voters forcefully and viscerally reject -- as Carville, et al's research has demonstrated. With several major economic indicators appearing to slow even further, Democrats' protestations will ring even more hollow as November approaches. The net effect would be twofold: First, it would fuel a narrative that President Obama is profoundly out of touch, corroding the advantage he currently holds over Romney on that front. (It worked? Is he serious?) Second, it would betray Obama's arrogance -- or at least his stubbornness. Undecided voters may find themselves alarmed and incredulous that Obama shows no awareness that his historic spend-a-thon hasn't "worked" by almost any reasonable definition, thus exhibiting no room or desire for self-correction. To drive this point home, Republicans can point out that the president's current "jobs plan" entails a second, unpaid-for, half-trillion dollar "stimulus" bill that couldn't even marshal a majority in the Democrat-held Senate, and an unpopular proposal to raise taxes on a million small businesses. This president is bereft of ideas, and his brazen statement that his previous efforts have "worked" indicates that he doesn't think he needs any new ones.
Four more years?