When you have a failed president on your hands and a re-election just a little over five months away, it’s easy to panic and rationalize and do everything you can to convince yourself the problem isn’t your candidate but rather anything and everyone else. After a Texas inmate took close to 42% of the primary vote against Obama in West Virginia a couple weeks ago, desperate Democrats screamed racism at their own. Last night, Obama was humiliated by similar numbers in both Arkansas and Kentucky, a trend so troubling that even the Washington Post is looking beyond race — but not at the President’s real problem: a lack of enthusiasm in his own party:
And seasoned political observers who have studied the politics of these areas say race may be less of a problem for Obama than the broader cultural disconnect that many of these voters feel with the Democratic Party.
“Race is definitely a factor for some Texans but not the majority,” said former congressman Charles W. Stenholm (D-Tex.). “The most significant factor is the perception/reality that the Obama administration has leaned toward the ultra-left viewpoint on almost all issues.”
In Appalachia, many people are angry at the Environmental Protection Agency’s approach to mining, arguing that the Obama administration has made it more difficult for people in coal country to make ends meet.
The Post deserves credit, however, for not covering up the fact that Obama’s woes go beyond coal mining country:
In the 16 states in which voters were given an alternative to Obama on the Democratic primary ballot — whether it be an actual candidate, a write-in or simply “uncommitted” — Obama averaged 84.6 percent of the vote.
In the five states where there was a named opponent, though, Obama’s share of the vote was 72.7 percent.
This includes New Hampshire and North Carolina, two states Obama won in 2008 but where he lost 18 and 20% of the 2012 Democrat primary vote respectively. In NH Obama lost these votes to name candidates, in NC he lost one in five votes to “uncommitted.”
The Post’s coverage mirrors much of the coverage I’ve seen surrounding last night’s results. Essentially, there are two words the media is strenuously avoiding: “enthusiasm” and “gap.”
When you look at the banner year Republicans had in the 2010 midterms, that was all about turnout. Republicans came out, Democrats (bless ’em) didn’t. That’s how we won — an enthusiasm gap. Obama’s campaign is obviously very concerned about turnout, which is why the President has spent weeks now doing everything in his power to condescend to his base: the gay community, students, and single women. It’s also why he intentionally enflamed racial divisions in the crucial swing state of Florida (though a new poll shows that pretty much failed).
To the point, I’m old enough to remember the weeks-long narrative the media created around Pat Buchanan’s 37% showing in New Hampshire against then-President George H.W. Bush in 1992. The media used this result to tag Bush as a loser, an incumbent in trouble and unable to hold on to his base. This was all part of a bigger narrative the media was crafting to peg Bush as out-of-touch. Perot eventually won the election for Bill Clinton, but this certainly didn’t help.
Though today’s media won’t admit it, the difference between 1992 and 2012 is a big one and not good news for Obama. Buchanan was a legitimate insurgent candidate; after years as a columnist and television commenter, Buchanan was a known quantity with a serious campaign platform and access to all kinds of media coverage. Meanwhile, Obama is losing a larger percentage of the vote to inmates and relatively unknown attorneys. Moreover, Obama is losing nearly one in five votes to the likes of “uncommitted.”
In 1992, many Republicans voted for Buchanan. In 2012, a whole lot of Democrats are voting against Barack Obama. The closest the Post comes to acknowledging Obama’s troubles is with this:
Regardless of the reasoning, it’s clear that there is a bloc of Democratic voters in every state who want to register their opposition to Obama. … even a minor abandonment of Obama by self-identified Democrats could make a difference this time around.
It’s pretty obvious that the media is desperate to avoid narratives surrounding Obama’s glaring problems with his base. After all, with the economy going in the wrong direction and all of the very public Bain Capital rebellion (the centerpiece of Obama’s re-election strategy), Obama has enough problems.
But the media covering up this narrative doesn’t mean it’s not playing out in real time in the real world. Obama’s sole focus has been on securing his base for weeks now, and a large number of self-identified Democrats are obviously eager to register their unhappiness with their candidate. The media ignoring how serious this all is doesn’t mean it’s not serious. And if Obama had an “R” after his name, you can bet these primary showings would create the narrative of his candidacy, at least throughout the summer.
The media might not be able to dismiss reality forever though. Should unknowns and “uncommitted” continue to do well in the upcoming primaries, the media might find it has no choice but to start talking about a sitting President who’s looking like a loser.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC