Published for www.commentarymagazine.com, May 15, 2012
In his column today, David Brooks asks why President Obama is doing so well in the polls when the fundamentals in the country are so bad. “The key,” according to Brooks, “is his post-boomer leadership style.”
Brooks adds that “the secret to his popularity through hard times is that he is not melodramatic, sensitive, vulnerable and changeable. Instead, he is self-disciplined, traditional and a bit formal.” While declaring that “Obama is a slight underdog this year: the scuffling economy will grind away at voters,” David concludes that Obama’s leadership style “is keeping him afloat. He has defined a version of manliness that is postboomer in policy but preboomer in manners and reticence.”
There’s something to Brooks’s argument. The president, after all, is higher in the approval ratings than objective circumstances would warrant.
On the other hand, the fact the Mitt Romney is ahead of Obama in several polls, even after a bruising primary battle, and that Obama is only drawing 43 percent support against Romney in the most recent CBS News/New York Times poll has to be a source of concern for the president. Many people forget that Jimmy Carter was ahead of Ronald Reagan in the Gallup Poll just a week before the 1980 election–but independents and undecided voters broke in massive numbers toward Reagan in the end. It’s usually the case that a challenger wins most of the late-deciding voters (especially in an economy this weak), and in all likelihood that will be the case in 2012. The polls will be relatively close for the next several months, with some fluctuations, but if Romney heads into the last week of the campaign tied or with a slight lead, he’ll win by a comfortable margin.
This election, like most elections, will be decided on substance, not style; on objective circumstances, not ginned-up attacks. Which is why Mitt Romney is extremely well-positioned to become the next president of the United States.