1. I agree with Dr. Ceaser that Obama’s speech last night did not enlarge the man in any way. He seemed very much a party leader and not much more. Several good things came from the speech. The first is that now we’ve heard a whole bunch of the lines of bs he’ll be giving us next year. So when the debate moderator asks him what his approach to ending the deficit is, we can flip to another channel, make a sandwich or whatever. We know what he is going to say.
2. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t something effective in his line. His approval ratings are in the low end of the 44%-53% RCP job approval range he has been in since Fall 2009. If the economy continues treads water, he will be in a tough but not hopeless spot. His main chance is to a) seem reasonable and make his opponents seem unreasonable - this was the main theme of last night’s speech and b) offer painless, easy and false solutions to our medium-term budget problems and hope that candy + demonizing any Republican alternative that has some basis in reality will carry him to victory. Reid had even lower job approval ratings, and an even worse labor market (in Nevada) but was solidly reelected.
3. I wasn’t nearly as impressed with Speaker Boehner’s speech. I suspect the stuff about cut, cap, and balance went over the heads of much of the audience that wasn’t already on his side. Obama’s message was aimed at persuadables and (very dishonestly) toward low information voters. Boehner’s message seemed aimed at maintaining unity within the House Republican Caucus.
4. The actual wheeling and dealing is a confusing mess and there is a not trivial chance of something really ugly happening. Maybe Obama is winning by losing less than his opponents. Maybe it is mutually assured destruction. I think that argues for a Republican presidential candidate who is a non-Washington figure who projects brainy executive experience and has real credibility among conservatives. Run Bobby Run. Yeah, I know he has Washington experience, but he has spent the last four years cutting taxes, balancing the budget, and presiding over a state with a lower-than the-national-average unemployment rate.
5. Yuval Levin is right about the dishonesty of the Obama approach. As Levin says “They cant run on a liberal platform, so they have chosen to have no platform and no agenda at all in the hope of just running against Republican Medicare reforms next year.” Obama dare not articulate the combination of broad tax increases and centralized denial of care that it would take for him to implement his social democratic-leaning agenda. But that doesn’t mean that Republicans can’t lose by a) doing a lousy job of explaining center-right proposals for moving toward a sustainable welfare state and b) failing to turn next year’s election into a choice (between higher taxes and worse health care on one hand and a more sustainable welfare state that protects the vulnerable while increasing economic growth on the other) and not a referendum on whatever the Republican plan ends up being.
6. So I fear that the Republicans’ policy content, message, and messenger will matter a great deal.