In the space of a few months in late 2009 and early 2010, Republicans won the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey and a special U.S. Senate election in Massachusetts -- all states that President Obama had easily carried in the 2008 election. In all three races, Democrats aggressively worked to tie their Republican opponents to the highly unpopular former President George W. Bush. In January 2010, a Politico headline delivered the following verdict: "Democrats' Bush-bashing strategy goes bust." Two and a half years later, facing off against Republican Mitt Romney, Obama still hasn't learned this lesson.
Last Thursday, Obama gave a widely-panned economic speech in Cleveland that, at its heart, was an attempt to turn the 2012 election into a referendum on Bush. "From 2001 to 2008, we had the slowest job growth in half a century," Obama said during the 54-minute snoozer. He later explained, "Gov. Romney and his allies in Congress believe deeply in the theory that we tried during the last decade -- the theory that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down."
It's easy to see why Obama is still bashing Bush. After all, it was the ferocity of the nation's backlash against Bush that put Democrats in control of Congress in 2006 and opened the way for Obama's meteoric political rise. Without Bush's unpopularity, a "hope and change" message from a freshman senator wouldn't have had much resonance in 2008.
The problem for Obama is that once somebody becomes president, Americans no longer care how bad the last guy was. All they care about is whether the new guy gets results. This was evident in 2010, when Democrats campaigned by warning the electorate that if Republicans regained power, they would restore Bush-era policies. Voters placed much more importance on the weakness of the economy, the out-of-control government debt, and Democrats' insistence on ramming through a highly unpopular health care law.
Some liberals were touting a Gallup poll released last week that found 68 percent of Americans still believe that Bush deserves a "great deal" or at least a "moderate amount" of blame for the nation's economic woes. But when Gallup took the same poll in late August 2010, 71 percent of Americans blamed Bush. This didn't stop the Republican tidal wave roughly eight weeks later, which swept them into control of the House of Representatives and netted them six Senate seats.
The more important finding in the new poll is that a 52 percent majority also blames Obama for the current state of the economy -- and he's the one whose name will appear on the ballot in November.