I hadn't thought about the fact I bolded, but it's a good point. It's true that the economy will be a major determining factor here. But you have to have somebody to beat somebody. The president has a pretty unique hold on the public's attention and imagination in our system, for better or worse, and due to the personality-centric model of contemporary politics, for the Republicans to beat Obama they are fundamentally going to have to find somebody that the public actually likes more than Obama. None of their top-tier guys come close, with the possible exception of Huckabee, who has serious problems himself.
Nonetheless, we are quite confident in our assertions. President Clinton’s easy reelection to a second term in 1996 should imply nothing about 2012. The pendulum of American politics cannot swing so quickly in just two years, except maybe in 1994-1996.
Despite his upset victory over heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the ’08 Democratic contest and his easy win over a much more seasoned John McCain in November two years ago, Barack Obama lacks the political skills necessary to adjust to the new realities of divided government. Unlike Bill Clinton, Obama is an inflexible liberal who couldn’t find the center with both hands, even if his career depended on it. And there is no chance at all the new Republican leadership in Congress could over-reach and repeat the errors of Newt Gingrich and his allies. The GOP legislative caucus contains no core of rigid ideologues that might go too far and create an opening for Obama.
Historically, incumbent presidents who have sought another term have won them by a two-to-one margin. Those aren’t impressive odds. How many of us would bet on a horse with minimal chances like that? Since 1900 only one incumbent president whose party captured the White House from the other party four years earlier (Jimmy Carter) has been beaten. The other incumbent losers—Taft, Hoover, Ford, and the senior Bush—were from a party that had held the White House for two or more consecutive terms. But the key is that Carter and Obama are practically twins; both won the Nobel Peace Prize. Enough said. Moreover, the present moment is unprecedentedly perilous for an incumbent president. There’s really no comparison in the existence of the American Republic, save for about a dozen crises like the Civil War, economic panics, the Great Depression, world wars, and 9/11.
Of course, as the Republican blogs would say, there's always Marco Rubio. But will he Jindalize after inevitably being asked to respond to Obama's next SOTU, or will he be smart and decline the offer?