Will Obama’s Unconventional Approach Prove Successful?

Barack Obama did not become President of the United States by conventional means.

And if he is re-elected to a second term in 2012, it won’t be by conventional means either.

This became apparent this week when he reached agreement with congressional Republicans to extend Bush-era tax cuts for households earning more than $250,000.

From an economic perspective, there are widely divergent views on the wisdom of extending the tax cuts. Only time will tell the decision was a good one or a bad one.

But from a purely political perspective, the agreement with the GOP makes sense for the President.

If the economy recovers before the 2012 election, it will look as though he made the right decision. Should the economy continue to struggle, Republicans will be unable to argue that he refused to work with them on what they identified as a fiscal priority.

In addition, by working cooperatively with the opposition party, the President has stolen some of the thunder Republicans had hoped to have when they take control of the House in January.

As for the Democrats, their immediate reaction to the President’s decision has been one of disappointment, disapproval, and outright anger. But come 2012, where else are they going to turn?

Moreover, characterizations that Obama has lost his “base” are somewhat misleading.

Think back to 2007 when the Democratic establishment had practically anointed Hillary Clinton as the party’s 2008 presidential candidate. For the most part, it was not until Obama’s upstart campaign started to gain momentum that he garnered support and endorsements from party stalwarts. Eventually, as it became clear that he would win the nomination, the rest of the Democratic establishment hopped on board the bandwagon.

The network that Barack Obama assembled to win the nomination and the election was not a Democratic network per se; it was his own unique network that transcended the traditional party establishment. As Republican political strategist Stuart Stevens told New York magazine in the aftermath of the 2008 election: “They have basically invented their own party that is compatible with the Democratic Party but is bigger than the Democratic Party. Their e-mail list is more powerful than the DNC or RNC.”

New Jersey’s 2009 gubernatorial election provided further proof that Obama’s network was uniquely his own. While there were several factors that contributed to the defeat of Democratic incumbent Jon Corzine, it was clear that large numbers of new voters who turned out to cast ballots for Obama in 2008 felt no obligation to support the Democratic candidate for Governor.

Likewise, Democrats in Congress have shown little evidence that they are a loyal “base” for the President. Over the past two years, rarely have they put their necks on the line for the leader of their party. Instead, they forced the President to jump through hoops and make concessions in order to gain the votes needed to pass major initiatives such as health care reform. And when the midterm elections took place last month, most Democrats ran away from the President and his agenda.

As the wheels begin to spin and set the 2012 presidential race in motion, Barack Obama finds himself surprisingly close to where he was at this juncture of the 2008 campaign – a candidate whose own party has doubts about his ability to win.

In 2008, he proved the doubters wrong. Much has changed in the two years since he took office. To win re-election, Obama will need a different strategy than the one that proved successful in 2008. Whether he can find – and implement – a winning strategy for 2012 is not yet clear. But despite what the poll numbers and his critics are suggesting, it’s far too early to count him out.

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