By Martin Gould
Barack Obama has shown such poor leadership as president that he needs to step down before the next election for the good of the country, Democratic pollsters Patrick Caddell and Doug Schoen say.
They made their call on the day that Obama was criticized anew for failing to prevent the collapse of the congressional budget supercommittee, which is on the verge of announcing that it has failed to reach agreement on ways to solve the country’s debt crisis.
"One year ago in these pages, we warned that if President Obama continued down his overly partisan road, the nation would be 'guaranteed two years of political gridlock at a time when we can ill afford it.'" Caddell and Schoen write. "The result has been exactly as we predicted: stalemate in Washington, fights over the debt ceiling, an inability to tackle the debt and deficit, and paralysis exacerbating market turmoil and economic decline."
Now the pair say Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to be prodded into taking Obama’s place as the Democrats’ candidate in November next year.
“Even though Mrs. Clinton has expressed no interest in running, and we have no information to suggest that she is running any sort of stealth campaign, it is clear that she commands majority support throughout the country,” the respected pollsters write in an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal.
Their comments came amid mounting criticism of Obama’s detachment from the workings of the supercommittee. As it neared its deadline, the president was off the mainland U.S. for nine days, hosting an Asian-Pacific summit in Hawaii before jetting off to Australia and Indonesia. He returned to Washington on Sunday.
“He’s done nothing,” blasted Mitt Romney, the favorite to be the Republican challenger at next year’s election, on Monday. “It is another example of failed leadership. He has not taken personal responsibility to get the supercommittee to find ways to balance the budget and cut spending.”
Florida Rep. Allen West slammed the president, saying, “He has stood by and done nothing to encourage bipartisanship among this committee.” West said Obama must now stop the automatic trigger that would see $600 billion “ripped” from defense spending in the next 10 years.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, also faulted President Obama for not getting involved.
"The Republican House laid out a good plan. The president, except for his irresponsible budget and the Republican Senate, has done nothing to lay out a plan that can be analyzed by the American people," he said.
"The commander-in-chief is absent from battle," he told Fox News.
When the debt committee was first organized over the summer, the White House was left out of the negotiation in order to reduce any feared injection of politics, and let the lawmakers communicate among themselves.
Former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg said Obama’s absence from the heavy-lifting of budget negotiations was indicative a series of disconnects from policy.
“Throughout his term, President Obama has avoided leading on the issue of fiscal responsibility,” wrote Gregg, a Republican who also was New Hampshire's governor and a U.S. representative, in an op-ed in The Hill. “He walked away from his own commission, the one led by former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, when he found its report filled with inconvenient choices.
“Now in a week when leadership is needed to push this critical committee to do something big and bring the nation’s fiscal house back into order, the president once again disappears. It causes one to wonder, why?”
Meanwhile, criticism on the left came from the least likely source: Chris Matthews of liberal MSNBC took to the air on Saturday to ask, “Why does he want a second term?
“What’s he going to do in his second term?” added Matthews. “More of this? Is this it? Is this as good as it gets? Where are we going?”
But the Wall Street Journal critique from Caddell, who worked as a pollster for President Jimmy Carter and Schoen, who did the same for President Bill Clinton, was the most damning. They said, they were writing “as patriots and Democrats,” who are “concerned about the fate of our party and, most of all, our country.”
They liken today’s position to the electoral years of 1952 and 1968 when Democratic presidents Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson both decided to step down once they had “accepted the reality that they could not effectively govern the nation if they sought re-election to the White House.”
“Both men took the moral high ground and decided against running for a new term as president,” they write. “President Obama is facing a similar reality—and he must reach the same conclusion.”
Whereas the Democrats lost in both ’52 and ’68, this time Clinton’s overwhelming popularity would be a hedge against claims that the president cut and run, they argue.
“Never before has there been such an obvious potential successor—one who has been a loyal and effective member of the president's administration, who has the stature to take on the office, and who is the only leader capable of uniting the country around a bipartisan economic and foreign policy.
“This is about more than electoral politics,” they add. “Not only is Mrs. Clinton better positioned to win in 2012 than Mr. Obama, but she is better positioned to govern if she does. Given her strong public support, she has the ability to step above partisan politics, reach out to Republicans, change the dialogue, and break the gridlock in Washington.”
The pollsters, who often write articles together, say that the question facing Obama isn’t whether he can win in 2012, but whether he deserves to. To beat the GOP candidate, they argue, his campaign would have to be so negative that it would make governing during a second term “almost impossible.”
“He has to make the case that the Republicans, who have garnered even lower ratings in the polls for their unwillingness to compromise and settle for gridlock, represent a more risky and dangerous choice than the current administration—an argument he's clearly begun to articulate,” they say.
But withdrawing from the election would be a game changer that would force Republicans to soften their stance on a whole range of issues.
“By taking himself out of the campaign, he would change the dynamic from who is more to blame – George W. Bush or Barack Obama? – to a more constructive dialogue about our nation's future.”
And they argue that the current secretary of state would have a better chance of winning – and a better chance of governing effectively.
“Her argument would almost certainly have to be about reconciliation and about an overarching deal to rein in the federal deficit. She will understand implicitly the need to draw up a bipartisan plan with elements similar to her husband's in the mid-to-late '90s—entitlement reform, reform of the Defense Department, reining in spending, all the while working to preserve the country's social safety net.”