Is “Even Jimmy Carter” Even a Good Insult?

Apropos of Romney’s “even Jimmy Carter” remark, from a January 2011 CNN poll:

From what you have heard, read or  remember about some of our past presidents, please tell me if you  approve or disapprove of the way each of the following handled their  job as president: Jimmy Carter?”

Carter’s approval rating wasn’t all that low: 53% of respondents approved, 39% disapproved, and 7% didn’t know.

Here is the breakdown by party: Dems – 74%, independents – 56% (vs. 35% disapprove), and Republicans – 28%.

This doesn’t strike me, on its face, as evidence that Carter is some powerfully resonant negative symbol.  He’s viewed favorably even by the majority of independents.  If this “message”—I use quotes because Romney’s remark sounded off-the-cuff and not like some pre-planned talking point—is going to resonate with anyone, it will mostly be Republicans, 90% of whom already plan to vote for Romney anyway.

12 Responses to Is “Even Jimmy Carter” Even a Good Insult?

  1. Frank in midtown May 1, 2012 at 9:34 pm #

    They “know” that Reagan engaged in backdoor dealings with the Iranians, so to deal with the cognative dissonance they decry Carter as the worst President that could ever be (blame the victim.)

  2. RobC May 1, 2012 at 10:00 pm #

    It’s interesting that approval of Carter’s performance as president has dropped from 64% at the dawn of the Obama Administration to 53% now. Does anyone have any good hypotheses as to why?

    • John Sides May 1, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

      That’s a good question, RobC. Maybe Carter’s fate was a bit linked to Obama’s simply by the fact that they are both Democrats? So, as the shine comes off Obama’s halo, Carter suffers too — albeit for no logical reason. This is pure speculation on my part.

  3. Stephen Baird May 2, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    I believe the crux of Romney’s statement was not premised on former President Carter’s overall popularity. Romney was responding to President Obama’s campaign ad which not so subtly implied that he wouldn’t have had the fortitude to order the strike on bin Laden. Romney’s point was that even President Carter, who is viewed by some as being highly dovish on issues of foreign affairs, would have ordered the strike on bin Laden’s compound. Therefore, the effectiveness of Romney’s remark is not directly connected to the level of Carter’s popularity. A more germane poll would ask respondents whether they viewed President Carter as a foreign policy hawk, moderate, or dove. Furthermore, if independents placed Carter to the left of Romney on a scale ranging from dove to hawk, then Romney’s point may be fairly persuasive.

    • Simon May 2, 2012 at 7:14 am #

      I agree with Stephen. I’ve only read the comments rather than hearing them so I don’t know the tone of voice that Romney was using, but I imagine that what he was trying to communicate was, “of course I’d have killed Bin Laden. Even the most pacifist President imaginable would have killed him” rather than, “Yeah, Obama killed Bin Laden, but even a really incompetent President like that berk Carter could have done that.”

      I may be giving Romney a little too much credit, though…

    • Ben Donahower May 2, 2012 at 7:41 am #


      Indulging myself in an overall comment about Carter’s presidency is that I think his stock will rise as time passes. He was spot on with alternative energy and a number of other issues.

  4. Joe Bruns May 2, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    Actually Carter’s attempt to rescue the Embassy hostages with Desert One was a very gutsy call. It failed in the staging phase because of an insufficient commitment of military resources to the task, something that the military may be more to blame for than Carter. It certainly was a gutsier call than, say, invading Granada.

    • anonymous coward May 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

      Taking Granada was probably pretty gutsy of Ferdinand and Isabella given the overall power of the caliphate in 1491.

  5. Eric McGhee May 2, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    Is it possible this is exactly the sort of thing Obama’s team hoped to accomplish? That is, they might want and expect their bin Laden ads to force Romney to shore up his base right at the time when he should be “shaking the etch-a-sketch.”

  6. GeraldY May 2, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    I would think that the attack would mean nothing to people under the age of 45 (13 years-old and under in 1980). In fact, in terms of politically meaningful memories, I would think that the cut-off age would be closer to 50.

    The Republican’s political metaphors in general are getting to be a little long in the tooth. During the primary, Newt Gingrich, I believe, made a reference to McGovern. I casually surveyed about 100 college students. Not one had any idea who George McGovern was.

    • RobC May 2, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      Not one college student in almost a hundred knew who George McGovern was? We’re doomed. Memo to candidates: in the future, refer only to the Kardashians and Justin Bieber, and slow-jam your campaign speeches.

    • Chad May 9, 2012 at 11:01 am #

      I would probably argue that “Jimmy Carter” has potentially transcended meaningful memories and has become synonymous with being a failed president My undergraduates “know” that he was a failed president even though they were born over a decade after he left office.

      On the other hand, I used to show a media documentary about Ronald Reagan that was shot on somewhat grainy film and my students could not have related to it less if I would have showed a video about Chester Arthur.