Last month, for this story in the dead-tree edition, I asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell if defeating President Obama is still his No. 1 priority. “Yeah, sure. I think every Republican in the country would like to elect a Republican president,” McConnell told me. “But that’s next year. The question this year is: what are we going to do for the country?”
At a breakfast this morning sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, McConnell spent the better part of an hour talking about what Republicans are going to do for the country this year–in particular, the party’s efforts to pass a deficit-reduction package. He didn’t make much news. McConnell has been saying the “package needs to be impressive” for months, and while he refused to rule out included measures to raise revenues, he insisted he would not allow any kind of tax increases as part of the deal.
But at the very end of the session, he did give an interesting run-down of the state of the GOP primary field and Obama’s 2012 chances:
Let me say this about [being] satisfied with the field. I am reminded about what the Carter White House thought in ‘79 and ‘80, ‘If they just nominate Reagan. He’s too old. He’s too extreme. We’ll be just fine.’ And the common view at that point was that it was a pretty bad field. I think one of these candidates is going to get on a roll. They’re going to start winning and they’re going to look a lot better then than they look today. Secondly, I think the President is in tough shape… the President is in a very weak position politically today. We don’t know what it’ll look like in the fall of 2012 but today the President’s in a very weak position. And [former Massachusetts Governor Mitt] Romney, just by announcing and getting a wave of press, moved either even or ahead of the President. So I think the President can be defeated. If conditions of Nov. 2012 are anything like they are today, I think he’s got a really tough race on his hands. I’m confident that we’re going to nominate someone who’s going to be a credible, believable alternative. And I think our primaries are – I can’t think of a time when they haven’t nominated somebody who people didn’t feel could handle the job. As long as we do that, and I’m confident we will, then it’ll be a referendum on the President and his performance and if the presidential election were today I think our theme would be: he made it worse.
Of course, McConnell and Obama still have work to do this year. It’ll be interesting to see if Republicans will be able to make this argument if Obama gets through a grand bargain on deficit reduction.