For years, Republicans have marveled at President Obama’s success in blaming former President George W. Bush for the nation’s problems, particularly its economic problems.
Now, as Obama begins his sixth year in office, that success may finally be coming to an end.
Of course Obama inherited an economic mess. He deserved time to fix it. The GOP clock started at one year; after 12 months in office, would Obama own the economy? The public’s answer was no, the president should be given more time.
After two years, did Obama own the economy? The answer was still no. Americans still responded positively when Obama blamed his predecessor.
After three years, the story was the same. And in 2012, Obama ran for re-election by stressing the severity of the problems he inherited and arguing that a single four-year term just wasn’t enough time to fix things. He won handily.
Now Obama is starting year six in the White House. Does he finally own the economy?
Pollster David Winston, who works closely with the House GOP leadership, has tried to get at the question another way. The names “Bush” and “Obama” are so politically loaded that people sometimes retreat to party corners at their very mention. So Winston has been asking this instead: “Which is causing more problems in the economy? The policies of the past? Or the policies of the present?”
When Winston asked the question in November 2012, 53 percent of those surveyed said the policies of the past were causing more problems, and 44 percent said the policies of the present.
When Winston asked the same question not too long ago, in November 2013, 41 percent said the policies of the past, and 49 percent said the policies of the present.
That’s a pretty significant change.
What accounts for the change? Perhaps Americans simply decided that a president in his second term ought to be held responsible for the economy. In addition, the dramatic failure of the Obamacare rollout appears to have hurt Obama’s image as the man in charge – not just of health care but of the entire federal government.
The GOP know the public’s main concern is still jobs; in remarks this week, House Speaker John Boehner made clear jobs will be the GOP’s 2014 theme. But Republicans know they can’t just bash Obama (although there’s room for plenty of that.)
Instead, they have to have real proposals to create jobs, as well as an alternative to the mess of Obamacare. Disappointed by Obama, voters want to hear what Republicans have to offer. The opportunity is there, if the GOP is smart enough to take advantage of it.
• Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.