If economic conditions remain terrible, it's likely that the Republican Party will regain power. 9% unemployment would give even a radioactive figure like Sarah Palin a decent chance to win the presidency, and a double-dip recession would give her a very strong chance of success. This means there's a significant chance that by 2013 the country will be governed by a Republican Party that makes the Bush-era version appear benign by comparison.This is not implausible, but the tendency of actually quite a few liberal writers to assume that Sarah Palin will win if the economic situation doesn't change is simply weird to me. For that to happen, Palin is going to have to, you know, actually become popular at some point. Her favorable/unfavorable rating (not even approval ratings, though admittedly she doesn't hold any office at this point so it's irrelevant) is 29/43, which makes her substantially less popular than Rush Limbaugh. The idea that she would be able to mount a real challenge to Obama doesn't really seem to be rooted in the fact that she's been mounting one for some time now, to increasingly diminishing returns. Perhaps she will find her groove at some point, but making the sorts of adjustments necessary to win independent support would require her to do actual work to try to understand what the electorate outside the activist right thinks and what they want, which is not really something she seems inclined to work at. Indeed, Palin's lax work ethic most likely points to a Giuliani '08-like campaign where she simply expects the hordes to show up and vote for her, while nimbler opponents lock up turnout machinery from governors, congressmen and the like. I do believe that anything's possible, but my guess is that this is residual Bush '04 sentiment among liberals, i.e. that if the country will elect someone like that, they'll elect anyone. As someone who assuredly didn't vote for George W. Bush but could understand why he won (weak opposition, mostly, that didn't really define Bush in the way that he should have been defined), I can't really see why a nation weakened by economic turmoil would cast a longing eye on Sarah Palin, who seems to be mostly viewed as unpleasant, incompetent, and flaky. In fact, I think she's quite a bit weaker than John Kerry ever was as a presidential candidate because, unlike Kerry, she comes essentially predefined and polarizing, and seemingly uninterested in making the public like her.
It's definitely true that the state of the economy is central to political success. But it's not the only determining factor. If it were, Ronald Reagan would have been trounced by Walter Mondale in 1984. Perhaps this isn't the right analogy (then again, I don't really think that there are very many good historical analogies), but this strain of pessimism has always baffled me with respect to many liberals. I wonder if Chait is reacting to Paul Krugman's column predicting another imminent recession, which is a column that he seemingly publishes twice a year and has gotten correct one time, so far as I can tell, and that one time wasn't the most recent one I recall, when he insisted that we didn't nationalize our banks at our own peril. They're not nationalized and we're doing okay. I actually quite like Krugman when he explains the substance of economic issues, but at some point liberals need to face the fact that he's not an especially good prognosticator and is not immune from excessively emotional analysis, which is why I only pop in on his column/blog intermittently. Case in point: Krugman thought that Obama's health plan as a candidate in '08 not having an individual mandate was evidence that Obama didn't care about the issue, which kind of exposes both problems, doesn't it?