In 2001, Republicans were on an electoral high. After crafting a shrewd GOP victory in both the presidential and legislative elections, Karl Rove made the now infamous promise of delivering a permanent Republican majority. Had someone reminded Rove of Albert Einstein’s description of politics as a swinging pendulum, he might have tempered his guarantee. Sure enough, a mere five years later, Democrats overtook both the House and the Senate.
Today, the pendulum continues to swing. Despite winning back the White House and increasing their margins in the legislative branch in 2008, Democrats may soon see the public move away from their own “political mandate.”
Recent developments are cause for President Barack Obama’s concern.
This summer, Gallup released a poll that indicates four of every 10 Americans have shifted to the right in their politics since January.
When coupled with Obama’s precipitous 10-point rise in disapproval ratings between March and June alone, his November mandate seems more like a half-hearted suggestion.
What’s more is that polling numbers on specific issues carry ominous tones for the administration. For the fist time since 2007, polls indicate that a majority of Americans feel the War in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. Even on his hallmark health care legislation, Obama faces a mixed political climate at best. The latest Washington Post survey indicates voters are split on the health care bill which passed the house, with 48 percent in favor and 49 against.
Equally concerning for Democrats is the growing popularity of conservative media.
Granted, conservative media has always earned a dedicated following. But right-leaning television programs have not only kept their lead over competitors, they have widened their gap. Fox News Channel — whose prime-time lineup features conservative pundits Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck — has experienced a 30 percent increase in viewers since May 2008. Meanwhile, CNN’s numbers have plummeted by nearly 40 percent.
When these polls and ratings are examined collectively, it is clear that on a grassroots level there is more than enough potential for an approaching Republican surge.
Still, while the numbers on the ground may keep David Plouffe up at night, a swing in Republican electoral momentum is far from certain.
Why? A look at GOP leadership — or lack there of — provides a quick answer.
Political movements are identified by their elected leaders, and if the GOP doesn’t find one in the coming months, its movement will be nonexistent. Let’s examine a few potentials.
In February, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s televised response to Obama’s address to Congress was underwhelming and awkward. Equally lackluster was Gov. Mark Sanford’s rejection of stimulus money, which was eventually sheepishly withdrawn. And no matter how popular her book tour is, Sarah Palin’s attempts at raising her national profile were apparently too much to balance with her elected position.
Without an identifiable leader, the potential for a Republican resurgence remains just that — potential. Until then, the Obama administration faces a window of opportunity to produce military, economic and political successes to woo the public. The clock is ticking, Obama. Or more appropriately, the pendulum is swinging.