Mitt Romney is now facing strong criticism from the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Laura Ingraham and other prominent voices on the political right, many of whom never fully embraced him in the first place and are now furious as they argue the former Massachusetts governor is bumbling away a campaign he should win.
Meanwhile, for almost the entire year, the president has had sustained backing from liberals, even those who spent much of Obama’s first three years casting him as insufficiently assertive in pushing for progressive causes and against congressional Republicans. Some familiar critics of the president, such as Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who has suggested Obama should do more to combat high black unemployment, have simply stayed silent. Others, such as MSNBC host Ed Schultz, who strongly criticized the president for not backing a Medicare-style option in his health care plan in 2009, have reemerged as enthusiastic backers.
This spring, when Newark Mayor Cory Booker slammed the Obama campaign for focusing too much on Romney’s work at Bain Capital, other Democrats sided with the president’s team and scolded Booker, one of the party’s rising stars.
The divide between what Obama adviser Robert Gibbs once dubbed dismissively the “professional left” (people whose jobs are in liberal politics) and the president’s team has been largely dormant this year.
This shift reflects two dynamics. First, the president has moved toward liberal activists in terms of political views. Obama, who spent much of last summer negotiating a deficit deal that liberals worried would raise the eligibility age for Medicare and rely much more on spending cuts than tax increases, has campaigned on traditional progressive causes. The Democratic National Convention was full of speeches highlighting Obama’s defense of abortion rights, calls for tax increases on the wealthy and his new policy making it easier for children of undocumented immigrants to be granted legal status.
Just as importantly, some liberals say privately they understand this is simply not the time to take on the president, even if they feel he should be pushed more on some issues. (And the White House is watching carefully for any criticism. When Demos scholar and former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert criticized the administration for not doing enough on poverty, top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett quickly penned an op-ed rebutting some of his claims)
One prominent black Democrat told me that he would be ready to push the president after the election, when a major legislative debate over taxes and spending is likely to happen. With a series of tax cuts due to expire under current law, liberals are determined to make sure Obama does not reach a compromise that is too far to the political right, particularly one that continues tax cuts passed under President Bush for income above $250,000 per year.
This approach from the left of course has some risk. The campaign is often the time when a politician determines and articulates his agenda and starts to build public support for it. During the Republican primary, conservatives effectively forced Romney to pledge to push for the repeal of “Obamacare,” reduce the maximum tax rate from 35 percent under current law to 28 percent and call for big cuts in government spending. If the former governor wins the presidency, conservative activists would expect him to enact those policies.
On the other hand, liberals expecting the president to end the war on drugs, make aggressive moves to combat black unemployment or keep the retirement age as it is currently would have limited leverage in a second term, since Obama has not made specific promises on any of these issues during his run.