Democrats are waking up to a terrifying realization: there is nothing President Obama can do to get himself re-elected next year. Things look just that bad. On the other hand, there are plenty of things Republicans can do to get Obama re-elected. And they seem to be doing them.
How bad have things gotten for Obama? Well, he did get the debt deal. The idea was to avoid default and thereby keep the confidence of the markets and not put the U.S. credit rating at risk. So what happened? No sooner did he sign the debt deal than the markets crashed. And the U.S. credit rating got downgraded.
There's the thanks of a grateful financial sector for you.
Meanwhile the economic picture remains grim. Unemployment seems stuck at over 9 percent. That's considerably worse than when Obama took office (7.8 percent). Economic growth is faltering. Consumer confidence is lower than it has been in any presidential election year since the 1950s, save two -- 1980 and 1992. In both those years, incumbent presidents failed to win re-election.
Given the terms of the debt deal, there are no fiscal tools the Obama administration can use to stimulate the economy.
The script for the Republican campaign virtually writes itself: "On whose watch did unemployment soar and the U.S. lose its AAA credit rating?" Michele Bachmann gave the Republican answer last week: "It happened on your watch, Mr. President."
Democrats are intensely frustrated. They believe President Obama got rolled by the Republicans in the debt negotiations. He caved in on his demand that new revenues be part of the deal. When Democrats implored him to use his power under the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling himself and call the Republicans' bluff, President Obama hid behind his lawyers.
Is there anything President Obama can do to turn things around? He could take out Osama bin Laden. Oh, wait. He's done that.
"The opportunity is right there for us," GOP presidential contender Tim Pawlenty said last week. "The main way we're going to goof this up, as Republicans, is to nominate the wrong candidate." Which Republicans may be well on their way to doing.
Pawlenty would be a plausible presidential candidate, but he's likely to be finished off by the Iowa caucuses where he is running well behind fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann. Jon Huntsman, another plausible candidate, is doing worse than Pawlenty and may not survive New Hampshire.
Right now, Republicans have two and a half candidates with a serious chance of winning the nomination -- Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry. Perry hasn't quite decided whether or not to enter the race (he's the half candidate).
Romney would be the strongest of the three, but his nomination could very well split the Republican Party. Tea Party supporters consider Romney an unreliable conservative forever discredited by his support for the Massachusetts health care plan. Some of the many factions of the Tea Party could very well bolt the GOP and run their own ticket.
The Tea Party suffered enormous damage in the debt negotiations. Opinion of the Tea Party is now two-to-one unfavorable, according to last week's New York Times-CBS poll. The number who feel the Tea Party movement has too much influence over the Republican Party went from 27 percent in April to 43 percent now.
How much influence does the Tea Party have? Tea Party activists didn't like the budget deal. So every single Republican running for president, save one (Huntsman), came out against the deal.
Tea Party activists are likely to rally behind either Bachmann or Perry, if he runs. If Bachmann were to win the nomination, she, too, would split the party. Establishment Republicans want nothing to do with her. Too extreme, too unqualified.
Perry is supposed to be the only candidate who can hold the Republican Party together, but he is looking less and less electable by the day. Perry is another Texas governor in a country that is still suffering from Texas fatigue after eight years of George W. Bush. Fairly or unfairly, Democrats would portray a vote for Perry as a vote to go back to the Bush years.
The opposition research file on Perry's record in Texas is bulging. Perry seems blissfully unaware of any line between church and state, having just sponsored a Christian prayer-and-fasting rally to save the country. He is at war with Texas's beloved university system. And the leaked transcript from his college years reveals grades that are less than impressive. Some Democrats have started calling Perry "Bush without brains."
Odds are that Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives next year, and given the mix of seats up in 2012, there's a good chance they will win control of the Senate. If that happens, a presidential victory will give Republicans total control of government. Do you really want the Tea Party running the country? That may be the best argument Democrats have got for keeping Obama in office.