The last Republican to take on a Democratic president never recovered from his primary season wounds VIDEO
A flood of new data points to one clear conclusion: At least for now, President Obama and his Republican opponents are heading in opposite directions.
A CBS News/New York Times poll released last night puts Obama’s approval rating at 50 percent — his best performance in that survey since the spring of 2010 (not counting last May’s brief bin Laden bounce). The poll also shows Obama enjoying his best score since the summer of ’10 on his handling of the economy and his best score since at least late 2009 (when the question was first asked) on job creation, and finds voters more optimistic than they’ve been in nearly two years on the overall direction of the economy.
This comports with other recent surveys. According to RealClearPolitics’ database, three polls released in the last two weeks have the president’s job approval at or over 50 percent. Before this, you have to go all the way back to the very end of the bin Laden bounce, in mid-June, to find a single poll with Obama that high. (In that same span, three surveys put his approval rating below 40 percent.) The relationship between Obama’s improving fortunes and the economic headlines of the past few months — declining unemployment since last September punctuated by a jarringly strong January jobs report — seems undeniable.
But something else is happening too. Since the start of the year, the general election positioning of Obama’s would-be Republican challengers has eroded as their intra-party fight has intensified.
Mitt Romney, who despite his latest crisis remains the favorite to capture the GOP nomination, was running 2 points ahead of Obama — 47 to 45 percent — in a CBS/NYT poll released just after New Year’s, but he now trails by 6. In fact, Romney has run behind the president in every poll released this month, with RealClearPolitics pegging his average deficit at nearly 6 points. Romney’s slippage is particularly pronounced among independent voters. A Pew poll earlier this week showed him 9 points behind Obama among them; three months ago, Romney led the same group by 12. Nor is Rick Santorum, the latest Consensus Romney Alternative to emerge in the GOP race, any better positioned. In the CBS/NYT poll, he loses to Obama by 8 points.
There is, to be sure, reason to take this all with a grain of salt. Primary seasons can be rough and candidates who end up performing well in the fall can look terribly vulnerable during their nomination campaigns; the story of Bill Clinton in 1992 comes to mind. And the encouraging economic news of the past few months could give way to demoralizing headlines in the months ahead, reversing Obama’s polling gains and lowering his approval rating to crisis levels.
But the convergence of the best economic news of Obama’s presidency with a messy GOP nominating contest also calls to mind the path that the last Democratic president took to reelection.
Like Obama, Bill Clinton began the 1996 cycle on the heels of an epic midterm election defeat and with the opposition party convinced it had found the formula to defeat him. But the Republican Party’s image plunged in 1995 and early ’96, the product of overreach by its new congressional majority and the toxic antics of a House speaker named Newt Gingrich, while the economy — and Clinton’s approval scores — improved. By the time Bob Dole, who suffered an embarrassing series of early primary season defeats (including to Pat Buchanan in New Hampshire), finally secured the GOP nomination he was running far behind Clinton. And despite predictions throughout the spring of ’96 that the race would ultimately tighten, it never really did.
After his defeat, Dole was known to lament that the election had come two years too late. Obama’s recent gains are tenuous, but it seems a lot more likely now than it did a few months ago that the 2012 Republican nominee will end up saying the same thing.
* * *
I was on MSNBC’s “The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” last night and talked about Santorum’s surge, Romney’s struggles and Obama’s good fortune. Here’s the segment:
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Guantánamo prisoner on hunger strike cries for help on Twitter
- 3 possible solutions to international tax avoidance
- “I just want the U.S. to send my father home”
- Army weapons engineer tied to white nationalist organizations
- Ted Cruz against the world
- David Vitter's hypocritical, punitive, horrible new amendment
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- Could hackers destroy the U.S. power grid?
- Democrats may be even worse than Republicans at regulating Wall Street
- Eric Holder versus journalism
- A progressive defense of drones
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
- Murkowski: Palin too disengaged to run for Senate
- In IRS scandal, new GOP tactic is ignorance
- Code Pink activist berates Obama at national security speech
- Cuomo: "Shame on us" if New York City elects Weiner
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
Alex Pareene surveys the burgeoning and bloated world of political news and opinion and explains the day's most essential story in Opening Shot, posted by 8:30 a.m. each weekday. Bookmark this page; follow @pareene on Twitter.