How Obama Could Lose

By Begala, Paul | Newsweek, March 12, 2012 | Go to article overview

How Obama Could Lose


Begala, Paul, Newsweek


Byline: Paul Begala

Yes, things are looking up for the Democrats. But foreign policy could upend everything this fall.

If there was one iron law I learned in my years working in the White House it is this: stuff happens. (Of course, we had a more scatalogical way of putting it, but you get the point.) Life is uncertain, and the White House is uncertainty cubed. I often felt like one of those old vaudevillians who spun plates on The Ed Sullivan Show. A good day meant no plates dropped.

Looking at the presidential campaign today, we see the Republicans forming a circular firing squad, an economy that is improving, and a president who is finding his voice as a powerful champion of middle-class families. That means that in September, the Republicans will be even more divided, the economy will be even stronger, and the president will have an approval rating in the 70s.

No way.

The GOP will unify. Where once their central organizing principle was opposing communism, now it is opposing Barack Obama. As long as he is on the ballot, the Republicans will be able to reunite. There is not much the White House can do about that. The reality is the GOP demolition derby will end soon enough, and the president will be in a neck-and-neck race all year.

The economy, too, is a variable. If I knew that the economy was certain to continue to grow, I would not have to work my fingers to the bone on a keyboard, or yak myself hoarse on cable news. But let us hope, if not expect, that the fragile recovery strengthens a bit.

That leaves the biggest and most important wild card of all: foreign policy. Between now and the election a lot can happen--and a lot can go wrong in the world. Here are just a few wild-card scenarios:

War with Iran. Israel is our closest ally. Support for Israel is one of the last issues on which most Democrats and most Republicans agree. So an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear installations could quickly involve the United States. Oil prices could skyrocket, and terrorism against Americans could spike--overseas and even here at home. The political fallout is impossible to predict. It is entirely likely that Americans would rally around their president, as we did in 1979 when Iranian terrorists seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. …

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