The Fix passes along a depressing chart “from Robert Blizzard, a Republican pollster at Public Opinion Strategies, that details the arc of presidential approval in second terms”:
Ezra assesses the situation:
Politically and substantively, this is a low for the administration. “Things suck right now,” says one Senate Democratic aide. “They suck unbelievably much, considering where we were six weeks ago.”
The question is whether it’s rock bottom. Perhaps soon HealthCare.gov will improve, congressional Democrats will relax, and the narrative will shift to “comeback” mode. In that world, it’s even plausible that Republicans could underperform in 2014 and decide to take another look at immigration reform before their standing with Hispanics dooms them in 2016, too.
It’s also possible, however, that the Web site will continue to fail, the Obama administration’s agenda will continue to flounder, and the damage will simply mount, leading to a disastrous 2014 for Democrats and an early end for the White House’s second-term ambitions.
Given how volatile our politics is right now – remember the conventional wisdom only six weeks ago? – I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. Except this one: a president can survive a judgment of incompetence in a critical area – like the website clusterfuck. And a president can survive being exposed as a focus-grouped liar on a political promise. But both at once? That could be a fatal combination. And Obama really has no one to blame but himself.
This does not mean an indictment of an entire presidency, or even the sign of a failed presidency. In their second terms, Clinton and Reagan were both exposed as liars – in the Lewinsky mess and the more serious Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. They were deeply wounded by both dramas, but were retroactively deemed successful nonetheless. The average approval ratings for all presidents (via Gallup) makes Obama look typical at this point, not an outlier, and actually more approved than he has been for much of his presidency:
I’m not saying this isn’t his worst crisis yet. It is. He may get pummeled some more in the polls. But if the ACA avoids a death spiral, if the GOP overplays its hand or is exposed as having nothing to propose to fix or replace the ACA, if the media shifts from pile-on to come-back mode, then things shift a little. I stick with my recent judgment: if Obama hangs in for stronger economic growth next year, if the ACA eventually works out, and if he can get to a breakthrough on Iran – so near, yet still so vulnerable – then he remains a transformational president.
He is beleaguered on both fronts – but that is partly because he is attempting two hugely ambitious and history-changing projects. We’ll see now, perhaps more than at any point in his presidency, if he has the mettle to endure. And that’s what this is about right now: endurance, and a battle of wills.