Does it mean anything for 2012?
President Obama is clearly in a safer place in his re-election campaign after the killing of Osama bin Laden over the weekend. It removes the critique that he is soft on foreign matters, such as that of former Sen. Rick Santorum, who claimed recently that the president does not believe in American exceptionalism. As far as most Americans care about the war in Afghanistan, and even to a certain extent in Iraq, it was about getting bin Laden.
OK, Barack Obama is now quite likely to be re-elected, though there’s little chance he’ll keep the lead of 56 to 38 he polled yesterday. While he will have this in the background, the Republicans will soon begin to focus entirely on the economy. Compare this to George H. W. Bush, who seemed a shoo-in in 1991 after his Gulf War victory, but was beaten by Bill Clinton in 1992.
And what does this mean for who the Republicans are more likely to choose? Again, this isn’t clear. Tyler Cowen reckons that they will give up on trying to win from the centre, pick an extreme candidate and lose badly. Sort of like how they picked Barry Goldwater in 1964 when Lyndon B. Johnson seemed unbeatable. The Economist’s Democracy in America blog on the other hand that it will move them towards the centre, with former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman in the strongest position. It really is far too early to look at poll numbers for any of these to asses any such impact.
Possibly the biggest thing this will do for President Obama, if even at a subliminal level, is to enhance his reputation for being cool-headed, which was one of the things during the final months of the 2008 election that strengthened him against John McCain, in his reactions to events such as the financial crisis or violence in Georgia. People will remember that he kept a poker face on Saturday night while he was roasting Donald Trump at the Correspondents’ Dinner, throwing his attempt at a campaign completely out of the water. That he dealt with the serious business of the budget and possible government shutdown, with the frivolity of whether he would release his birth cert, all while knowing this was coming down the line.