The economy is showing signs of slow recovery. How much of that is the result of any Executive policy is pretty much academic – if it continues or picks up speed, Obama will damn well take credit for it, just as he will be unable to escape blame if it takes a turn for the worst. In the short term at least, a bad economy is “good” for Republicans (just as the tanking of the economy in 2008 was “good” for the Democrats winning the White House in the first place).
My question is, what does the GOP do if the economy continues to pick up speed going into Election Day? So far in their debates they’ve put all of their eggs in the “economy” basket. the message has pretty much been: Obama is a failure because the economy has failed, and we’re just the guys to fix it.
So what do they do if that argument loses power? The GOP orthodoxy is “Obama’s policies are so bad that the economy WON’T recover, so we don’t have to plan for that.” But even if you believe that, even a blind squirrel finds a nut – they need a plan for that eventuality, and I don’t know what that is.
Foreign policy will be a tough nut to crack this time around – Obama has a string of success in that arena. The traditonal canard of “Democrats are weak on defense” doesn’t work for a guy that sent assasins into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden.
Social issues have worked for the GOP in the past, but I’m hard pressed to see that being a strong weapon in this race. You can beat the “values” drum against a candidate that isn’t in office yet but telling horror stories of what they’ll do if given power – to do it against an incumbent, you need to actually point to what they’ve done. The only major social reform the Obama administration has made that comes to mind is the repeal of DADT. The prime argument against the repeal was the effect it might have on readiness, and in that respect the repeal has been spectacularly successful.
The health care reform is a wierd amalgam of social and economic issues – it’s unpopular, but it’s also extremely complicated and won’t take effect until after the election, so I don’t see it really driving support one way or another. Obviously taxes will ALWAYS be an issue, but if the economy is improving, the impact of the argument is reduced drastically.
What am I missing? I am sure that Karl Rove and other GOP spin-masters have this gamed out, but I’d be curious to see what they have come up with. Obviously if the economy gets worse or even remains only in weak-gain territory, the economy will continue to drive the discourse – but hope is not a strategy, and the GOP needs to prepare for the possibility of running against an Obama with an improving economy.
For those confused by the title of the post, a military leadership principle is “Plan for success, prepare for failure” – you can draw up your plan as if it’s going to succeed, but you need to have contingencies in place for what to do if your planning assumptions fail you. In the case of the Republicans, they’re planning for “failure” of the economy right now – but they need to be prepared for success.