OP-ED: The Worst Week
“Worst Week” screams the headline on the Drudge Report, right above President Obama’s picture.
Not so fast.
It is certainly true that Rasmussen Reports is showing the president’s approval rating hitting a new low of 40 percent. It is certainly true that incumbent presidents hoping to be re-elected need approval ratings closer to 50 percent, and that numbers below 40 percent are the kiss of death. It is certainly true that the president has his work cut out for him.
It is also true that Iowa Republicans handed the president his biggest win of the week when they handed the victory in the Iowa straw poll to Michele Bachmann.
I don’t know Bachmann. She might be a perfectly nice woman. But she is never going to be president. Not only that, but the better she does the worse it is for the Republican Party.
It is no secret that the process of selecting presidential nominees — on both sides — is pretty much a complete mess, designed to give activists more say than their numbers would ever merit and to reward candidates for their ideological purity rather than their electability. You can spend weeks or months — in fact, I spend most of a semester — analyzing how it happens that parties that should be focused on winning spend so much time, energy and money on contests that are more likely to reward losers.
But there it is. More people watched Bachmann on television last weekend than vote in Iowa. Seriously. Certainly more than would ever vote in a straw poll or even a caucus. That’s great if you’re an activist trying to make a point. It’s nothing less than terrible if you’re a moderate (of either party) trying to win an election.
On the Democratic side, it took a string of losses in the 1980s for the party to decide that electability should count for more than ideology. (Hello, Bill Clinton.) The problem Republicans face — in addition to the fact that the ideologues have all the energy on their side, as well as the money, the volunteers and the rest — is that they haven’t lost enough. Two terms of Clinton followed by two terms of Bush. Obama looks too weak for them, so they think they can mess around with Bachmann.
Now the Republicans have a number of potentially attractive candidates such as Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman (at least if anti-Mormonism doesn’t kill them). But the better Bachmann does the more the others have to imitate her. A party dominated by Bachmann and Sarah Palin is not a party that will produce a winner in November. Iowa in August, sure. Maybe even in January. But not when the great majority of Americans, who don’t think about elections 16 months away, finally get around to thinking about for whom they will vote.
I know many Democrats damn the tea party in words I wouldn’t use in a general interest publication. Not me. I say drink up. The president’s poll numbers may be low, but approval of the tea party is even lower. I would hope that by next November, Obama would actually win the election. But if that doesn’t work, second choice is that the Republicans lose it.
And that’s why it was a good week for Obama. He may not have come closer to victory, but the opposition party came closer to defeat. Given where the economy is and where it appears to be headed, perfect is the enemy of the good, and the good may be good enough.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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