One of the debates within the GOP leadership is whether the eventual presidential candidate should mount an aggressive, attack-style campaign against President Barack Obama or take a less confrontational path.
Among those who favor a softer approach, the thinking is that the electorate is put off by mud-slinging politics. Since polls indicate that President Obama is personally popular, a kinder, gentler style would be more appealing to the undecided and independent voters. As some point out, the president was just named America's most admired male.
In politics, the kid glove method loses. The idea that voters are turned off by overly aggressive campaigning is one that's advanced by candidates who sense that defeat is in the offing. Look at the passive and futile campaign John McCain waged in 2008. For contrast, consider the recent ads Mitt Romney and others launched in Iowa that put the skids to the former leading contender Newt Gingrich.
Come November, I expect a good old-fashioned political brawl with both sides throwing plenty of punches. President Obama is an exceedingly vulnerable incumbent. Three years ago, he promised the moon but has since delivered next to nothing. Platitudes like "change you can believe in" and "transparency in government" won't work this time around.
During this election cycle, President Obama won't be able to count on abstract promises. His performance record is a yoke around his neck that he can't free himself from. Voters are disillusioned, broke and angry. Congress' approval rating is 11 percent, the lowest since Gallup began polling decades ago. That's a more accurate benchmark of where President Obama stands than his 42 percent job performance approval rating.
President Obama's 3-year record is cast in stone. Since the 2012 election will indisputably be a referendum on his accomplishments, or lack thereof, the American electorate can decide for itself whether he deserves a second term.
In 2008, candidate Obama convinced voters that he would deliver an economic recovery, cheaper health care, reduced spending, bipartisan leadership and the highest ethical standards ever seen in Washington.
Instead, President Obama has presided over economic stagnation, rising health care costs, record spending and deficits, unparalleled partisanship and a White House that can barely contain scandals like Fast and Furious.
Nevertheless, President Obama likes his chances. Back in September, he said: "I just have to remind people that here's one thing I know for certain: The odds of me being reelected are much higher than the odds of me being elected in the first place."
I disagree. When Obama announced his candidacy for president in February 2007, the odds of an obscure former Illinois state senator rising to the presidency within a decade were long. What shortened them was the media's love affair with then-Sen. Obama and McCain's staggering ineptitude.
When considering President Obama's 2012 prospects, remember what he said during the early days of his first term: "If I don't have this done in three years, then there's going to be a one-term proposition."
Assuming the Republicans get their act together, one and done seems the likely outcome of President Obama's re-election effort.
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.