Former-George W. Bush speechwriter, Matthew Dowd, has either officially lost his mind, or has started smoking crack.
That's the only conclusion I can draw from his column in the Washington Post saying that Sarah Palin is a serious contender for the presidency in 2012. Dowd gives himself the necessary ass-covering disclaimers ("I agree that her success is not probable...") but the meat of his column is that Palin should not be written off.
Sorry, Matt. I'm not buying. No way, no how.
There are many reasons why this is true. And, I grant you, back in 1999 I didn't think there was a snowball's chance in hell that a dope as big as George W. Bush would be elected president. (Not that he really was elected -- but that's another discussion.) But let's just examine a few of his claims.
1) He says that according to Gallup polls, no president has been elected with an approval rating below 47 percent, and nobody above 51 has failed to be reelected.
So, in other words, if Obama is below 47, he's toast and it won't matter who's running against him.
What Dowd seems to miss is that the opposition candidate has a direct effect on the incumbent's approval rating.
I would argue that Bush would have never hit 50 percent in 2004 if the opposition candidate hadn't been such a fuckup. Say what you will about John Kerry (who I think was a decent, honorable man and would have made a better president than Bush) he ran an extremely shitty campaign. Disapproval of Kerry turned into approval of Bush.
Same thing would happen with Sarah Palin, if she ran. It would redound to Obama's credit.
The second thing that's wrong with this is the fact that he's operating under a very small sample. How many sitting presidents have been defeated since World War II? (Which is when Gallup started up.) Three. (George H. W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.) How many have been reelected? Seven. (Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush.)
So, he's using 10 instances as his sample set.
2) Dowd claims that if Palin wants to have a future run she should be act more seriously.
Right now Palin's negatives are extremely high. And she's already a known entity. (Love her or hate her, you have some feeling about her.) Something very dramatic would have to happen to get millions of voters to change their minds about her. (If, say, she saved a bus load of children from drowning or something. But I think it would have to be something that dramatic and that improbable.)
3) There's an underlying assumption that Obama's popularity will continue to deflate.
Look, this hasn't been a good year for Obama's popularity. He inherited one hell of a big mess, and wading through it was always going to take a lot of time. Results weren't going to appear as quickly as we'd all like. Healthcare was always a fraught issue in American politics, and tackling it was going to sap some of his popularity. (Moreover, the Democrats should expect to lose seats in the house and senate next election.)
But Obama has given himself a lot of recovery time here. In 2012, healthcare will hopefully be law. And the nastiness of the teabaggers and their protests will be years in the past. Unemployment might not be great, but if the economy stays on track the numbers will be a lot better than they currently are.
In short, if Obama was going to pick a time to spend his political capital, he chose wisely.
4) Dowd says that Obama is a more polarizing figure than Clinton or Bush.
Yes, the GOP has gone off into crazyland. I won't deny it. Congressmen shout at the president during an address. The President is compared to Hitler for trying to give sick people healthcare. So, yes, Obama's numbers within the GOP are perhaps worse than Clinton's.
But Dowd is forgetting something critical: The GOP has shrunk very dramatically in the last 8 years. Independents and Democrats have swelled. So if Obama is popular with Dems and Independents, it's not such a surprise that the GOP base (which has gone to an incredible extreme, to the point where they're purging conservatives who don't follow the strict party line) Obama would be extremely unpopular.
That does not make him as pollarizing a figure as George W. Bush.