From the Wall Street Journal:
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Back in the dog days of George W. Bush’s second term, when each month seemed to bring new lows for the president’s approval ratings, there was almost always this consolation: The surveys would show that Congress was even less popular than he was.
In general, that’s going to be the advantage an executive enjoys over a collective body such as a legislature. Hence the decision by Barack Obama to take a page out of Harry Truman’s 1948 playbook and campaign for re-election against a “do-nothing Congress.” Given his record, it may be his wisest course.
It’s also a gift to Republicans—if the party’s presidential nominee has enough wit to turn it to his advantage.
Let’s take the politics first. However useful the “do-nothing Congress” theme may be for Mr. Obama, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Harry Reid in an election when the Democratic majority he enjoys in the Senate is up for grabs. To the contrary, it opens the door for Republicans to turn the tables in a way that squeezes Mr. Reid and his fellow Senate enablers: between a Democratic president attacking them implicitly, and a Republican presidential contender attacking them explicitly.
Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who was a colleague in the Bush administration, sums up the challenge this way. “Our nominee,” he says, “needs to talk about the do-nothing Senate, and remind voters that Harry Reid and the Democrats are in control there. Republicans need to constantly remind voters that the problems in our economy and with the health-care bill are the result of Democratic control—and that in the Senate this control continues to block reform and advance the Obama agenda.”
The good news is that the Republican contenders are mostly in a good place to advance this argument. As a former leader in the U.S. Senate, Rick Santorum no doubt understands how important a majority in the Senate would be to a GOP president. So does Newt Gingrich, who had his own experience with the Senate leadership when he served as speaker of the House.