How the GOP Awakened Obama
It seems increasingly clear that the Republican Party is accomplishing what Democrats could not: the reelection of Barack Obama. Until the past summer, Obama was largely somnolent and passive. The Left was enraged by his somnolence and passivity. It was flirting with the idea of a third-party candidate.
Then came the budget battle over raising the debt ceiling. Even then, Obama wasn't fully animated. He had essentially capitulated to Republican demands for slashing the size of the federal government. He offered a 10:1 ratio of cuts to tax hikes. The GOP held out, or at least the Tea Party faction did, though House Speaker John Boehner clearly wanted to cut a deal. The Tea Party said no. It took Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell to figure out a way around the impasse by setting up a series of votes over the year that do and don't count in raising the debt ceiling, allowing the GOP to maintain some pretense of virginity. The upshot is that since then, Obama has been reinvigorated. The GOP, to put it another way, awakened a slumbering giant.
Obama's State of the Union address signaled that he is uninterested in compromise. Instead, he's rolling out a populist campaign while Newt Gingrich eviscerates Mitt Romney, who is now on the defensive about his wealth, how he earned it and how he disposes of it, whether in accounts in the Cayman Islands or Switzerland. If Gingrich wins in Florida, Romney will be finished and exposed as a hollow man who should never have run in the first place.
As the GOP conducts what amounts to a civil war, the focus is not on the economy, which is, in any case, slowly improving. If it improves enough, Romney's entire raison d'être will disappear. For now, the GOP appears intent on backing Newt Gingrich, who is essentially bragging that his prime credential to become president is that he's willing to debate for hours and bring a knuckle-duster. This is evidence of his sober judgment? This is supposed to induce swing voters to back him? As Charles Krauthammer recently observed, Obama "could not have chosen more self-destructive adversaries."
Even at the time, it was pretty obvious that the GOP should have grabbed the deal that Obama was offering it over the debt ceiling. Now it is rolling the dice. Instead of tax cuts, it may well see its long-standing causes evaporate into the ether if Obama is reelected. He will be in no mood to compromise on taxes or budget cuts. Rather, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will be all but a certainty.
Obama has deftly turned the upcoming election into a referendum on wealth and taxes. With the Federal Reserve announcing that it will hold down interests rates until 2014 and with German chancellor Angela Merkel indicating that Germany will back the euro, the chances of an economic upset are low. The more likely prospect, in my view, is that the economy will continue to improve.
Nor are the chances high that he will confront a serious foreign-policy crisis. Iran may claim that it's going to close the Strait of Hormuz, but its threats appear to be bluff and bombast. North Korea is preoccupied with its succession crisis. In his State of the Union speech, Obama barely touched upon foreign policy, apart from making the bromidic declaration that American is the "indispensable nation." Shades of Madeleine Albright! But whether he really means it is another matter. He clearly has no appetite for a new war with Iran. Iraq is just a memory now. And Afghanistan will soon be one as well.
Whether all this is enough to win Obama a second term is another matter. He has no grounds for complacency. But a new, feistier Obama has emerged, one sounding populist themes that he viewed with disfavor only a few years ago but has now come to embrace. So far, Obama has every reason to believe that his fortunes have decisively turned for the better.