In addition to showing Texas Governor Rick Perry’s commanding lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann in the Republican presidential primary, the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll also contains what must be disheartening news for the White House. Despite the debt ceiling fight—where President Obama demonstrated his political maturity in the face of complete Republican recklessness—only 39 percent of Americans trust the president to do a “better job” on the federal budget deficit, compared to the 42 percent who trust Republicans. Likewise, Americans are tied at 40-40 on who they trust to successfully create jobs, and only slightly prefer Obama when it comes to who they trust to handle the economy—Obama gets 42 percent support to 39 support for Republicans.
If anything, this is a sign that the White House’s preferred strategy—let’s make Obama the “adult in the room”—isn’t working. Instead, we have a more familiar dynamic: now that the choice is between a Republican message on deficit reduction from Republicans and a Republican-lite message on deficit reduction from Democrats, voters have opted for the genuine article.
That said, the situation isn’t hopeless; with tomorrow’s jobs speech, President Obama has the chance to move away from his usual rhetoric of compromise, and confront the Republican Party on its relentless attacks on Democratic attempts to improve the economy. As it stands, the public wants President Obama to stand up for himself and his party. According to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center, 37 percent of Americans say that Obama should challenge the GOP more often, a ten point increase from earlier in the year. As a whole, Democrats are desperate for the president to stand up to the GOP—57 percent want him to be more forceful.
In general, people don’t watch political events, and presidential addresses are no different; in all likelihood, tomorrow’s speech will be watched by few, and forgotten very soon. But consistent rhetoric can make a difference, and if Obama uses his jobs speech to inaugurate a new era of regular confrontation with the GOP, then he might find himself with a few more people on his side.