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Reflections on Obama-Romney

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We have one exit poll out showing President Obama’s Jewish support was down, but still close to 70 percent. That said, we’re expecting more polling data later Wednesday, albeit from partisan sources, so (for now) I’m going to hold off pontificating about the Jewish vote.

Instead, a few general observations:

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2004 Redux: Two Realities

From 1952 through 2000, a basic rule of U.S. presidential politics was that you either get re-elected in a landslide (Ike, LBJ, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton) or you get voted out of office (Carter, Bush Sr.). But George W. Bush (or, more accurately, Karl Rove) rewrote the rules in 2004, when he managed to eke out reelection despite owning an increasingly unpopular war and a sagging approval rating. Bush & Rove pulled off the previously impossible by defining their opponent as a flip-flopping, out-of-touch plutocrat from Massachusetts. This time around, we saw the same script (substitute sluggish economy for unpopular war).

Yes, part of this story is about not-so-popular incumbents with incredibly well-run campaign operations lucking out by drawing flawed opponents. But the deeper story is that Americans are increasingly living in dueling MSNBC-FOX News alternative universes. It used to be that we were capable of occupying a shared reality that transcended our personal politics. People would cross party lines to reelect a successful president or to throw the bum out. But these days, there is no objective reality or experience capable of swinging large numbers of voters. You’re either on the blue team or the read team, and that’s how you vote (except, perhaps, in Ohio this year).

Reprieve vs. Mandate

In evaluating his narrow reelection victory in 2004, Bush severely miscalculated, confusing a reprieve for a mandate. He stuck with Donald Rumsfeld as Pentagon chief, showed no signs of introspection or course correction, and pushed ahead with plans to privatize Social Security. By 2006, the GOP had lost Congress, and Bush was a pretty lame duck.

Second terms are tough, even when you win reelection by big margins. Nixon, Reagan and Clinton all were plagued by scandals. So, to those who fear that Obama in a second term will reveal himself to be the second coming of Karl Marx, I say: Relax, because he won’t get very far. Not with the GOP in control of the House and able to wield the filibuster in the Senate. Oh, yeah, and then there are those Democrats from centrist and right-leaning districts/states who have their own reelections to think about. Plus, with the fiscal cliff and Iran still looming, and Europe’s troubles not going away, it’s unlikely that Obama is going to have much room to set his own agenda. Real-life events have a way of taking over.

That said, presidents — even lame duck ones — do have plenty of leeway on foreign policy. So, if the problem is that you just don’t trust the president on foreign policy, then I’m not sure there is anything I can say to talk you off the ledge.

Demographics

The conventional wisdom this morning is that the GOP is done winning presidential elections until it can figure out a way to broaden its aging, very white base. And if you’re a Jewish Republican, that’s not such a bad thing. By that, I mean: Odds are immigration is not your main issue. You probably would have been just as happy (maybe even happier) with Romney had he taken a more middle-of-the-road approach to immigration reform and won the presidency by picking up several more states with sizable Latino populations. So, if the main Republican response to this election is to soften its stance on immigration, you won’t lose much sleep.

Which is another way of saying: Get ready for Jeb Bush (and Hillary Clinton).

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