Scott Brown: Good News for Obama 2012?

At first glance, it would appear that Scott Brown’s unlikely victory is bad news for President Obama’s long-term political future. Senator-elect Brown explicitly ran against the current health care reform bill, favoring federalist experimentation rather than a one-size-fits-all national approach. As health care reform was the central focus of President Obama’s first year in office, and Massachusettes is one of the most liberal states in the country, Brown’s victory there is a clear repudiation of the leadership of President Obama and Congressional Democrats during the past year. Nevertheless, I think a case could be made that Scott Brown’s victory will help the President in the long run. There are three main reasons:

1) Brown’s victory was too stunning to ignore. No one would have predicted it even a month ago, and I was still skeptical yesterday that Massachusetts was going to elect a Republican senator for the first time since 1972 – and to replace Ted Kennedy, of all people. Congressional Democratic leadership and the Administration will no longer be able to convince Blue Dog Democrats they know best and that Obama will be able to leverage his popularity to preserve their seats. That card has been played – not only in Massachusetts, but also in Virginia and New Jersey – and it wasn’t  a winner. This means that the Administration and the Congressional leadership will have to adjust their strategy, and pay more attention to voter sentiment. It’s probably too late at this point for this to help the Democrats much in November; they will take a well-deserved beating in this election. Nevertheless, it’s a lesson the Obama Administration will keep in mind going forward, just as the Clinton Administration pivoted after the Hillarycare debacle. President Obama will be forced to govern more like the moderate, fiscally responsible Democrat he campaigned as. And that is likely to increase his odds of re-election.

2) Voter sentiment moves in cycles. At this point it is possible, if not likely, that Republicans will retake the House. Either way, the November elections will be interpreted as a repudiation of the Democrats and Democratic leadership. This is not surprising, however it is possible that the anti-Democrat sentiment will be spent not long after the election. Republicans are still unpopular after the Bush years. If/when the economy improves later in 2010 and throughout 2011 (and if Obama governs more as a moderate), the resistance to him among Independents (although certainly not Republican partisans) is likely to wane.

3) President Obama is still personally quite popular. People like Obama. What they don’t like is the health care bill or the state of the economy. Health care will go away at some point; the economy (hopefully for all of us) will improve. And Obama will still be Obama; a talented politician who is capable of appearing likable, reasonable and non-ideological to a large segment of the American populace. Obama’s personal popularity, combined with a more poll-centric approach to governance, and an improving economy are likely to help him in 2012, provided he and his team make the necessary adjustments.

Naturally, the analysis above could be quite wrong. Things change quickly in politics (e.g. imagine writing predictions about the Coakley-Brown race in November when she was up 30). There could be a double-dip recession. Scandal could engulf the Administration. There could be a dramatic foreign policy event.  But it seems most likely to me that the Scott Brown victory will help, rather than hurt President Obama in the long run. As someone who is deeply concerned about judicial appointments, I hope I’m wrong about this, but it’s worth keeping in mind the possibility.

8 Responses to Scott Brown: Good News for Obama 2012?

  • I think you may have a good point here. I don’t really see the GOP putting up a strong candidates in 2012 at this point, and as we saw with Clinton in the 90s, while partisans may not like it, the electorate seems to be quite happy with a president whose personality they’re fond of and a congress of the opposite party. Indeed, many Democrats now take a fair amount of pride in the fairly moderate legislation which made its way through in 94-00.

  • jh says:

    Well we shall see. I sort of disagree with Darwin that the GOP recruiting class of 2012 is not strong. I seem to be hearing different.

    In fact when we look at the last three elections NJ, VA, and now MASS it appears the canidiates have been very very strong. The VA Governors race was very very disciplined.

    THe questions as you point out is What will Obama do. Can he do a Clinton? I am not sure. One thing about the Obama adminsitration that has shocked me is how he acted as n EXECUTIVE. He basically made Reid and Pelosi co- Prime Ministers. Further Clinton had the experience of being chastized early on by the voters in Arkasnas. A lesson he learned from . Does Obama have that experience.

    We shall see

  • jh says:

    Oh Ok. Well you might be right. Again 2012 is so far away anything can happen.

    Though I am gaining interest in this Governor from Indiana. I hear he is good and might sort of be the new fresh face.

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    “I am gaining interest in this Governor from Indiana”

    You mean Mitch Daniels, who is creating quite a buzz. He seems to have done pretty well as far as keeping his state solvent despite the recession. A lot of Illinois residents wouldn’t mind borrowing him :-)

    Don’t forget Tim Pawlenty or Bobby Jindal either.

    It seems as if ALL the strongest potential GOP contenders for 2012 are governors – can’t think of any Senators or Congressmen who stand out. Has that ever happened before?

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