06/04/2012 12:47 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2012

The Disappearing Second Term?

The recent disastrous jobs report, coupled with the ongoing crisis in Europe and the precipitous stock market decline, are terrible omens for President Obama's reelection. Again and again, incumbent presidents have been defeated by economic forces over which they have virtually no control. The global financial meltdown and the euro crisis were entirely out of Obama's hands, but if history is any indicator, he will become a victim of the economic crises. It is possible that an economic miracle will suddenly reverse all the political damage, but with only five months to go before the presidential election, that window is closing rapidly.

There will certainly be lots of Monday-morning quarterbacking among Democrats if Obama is defeated. One could argue that health care reform was a laudable fight that was launched at the wrong time, and that the White House wasted political capital on that effort. A stronger argument, however, might be Obama's failure to confront the broader dimensions of the financial crisis. Perhaps if he had taken the FDR approach -- fighting hard from day one for economic recovery as his sole mission -- he might have been given more slack by the electorate. It is worth remembering that FDR was re-elected in the depths of the Depression after little or no economic progress, largely because he was seen as a tireless, bare-knuckle advocate for the average person. Had Obama cultivated that image, he might be better equipped to fend off the challenge of the super-wealthy Mitt Romney.

While it is clearly too early to write off an Obama second term, it might be time for Democrats to begin developing a strategy if Obama appears headed for defeat. Unfortunately, most scenarios look pretty grim for the Democrats. Although there are a number of Tea Party Republicans in the House who are vulnerable, a Romney victory would probably mean that the House would remain in Republican hands. And the Democrats will have to fight hard to retain the Senate. In the next few months, Democrats will have to decide whether to retool their efforts away from keeping the White House and more into holding onto seats in the Senate, and perhaps picking up a few seats in the House. Not a pretty picture.

The larger question is what a Romney presidency might look like and what role the Democrats can play when the Republicans control the White House, along with one or possibly both houses of Congress, a situation that is very rare. All this comes at a time when more Americans than ever identify with the more progressive social and political ideology of the Democratic party as opposed to the far-right Tea Party-leaning Republicans. However, when the economy falters -- or even worse, when deep structural fissures appear -- voters invariably hold the White House incumbent responsible, and his party suffers the consequences.