Jonathan Chait reads Jay Cost. Cost has half a good column about Barack Obama's reelection campaign; the first half of the column is all about how electioneering and a sophisticated campaign apparatus won't really make much difference for Obama. That's true! But then Cost basically goes off the deep end, comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter at the time of the malaise speech and concluding that Obama will need substantial improvement in one of four areas (the economy, perceptions of ACA, the deficit, and general pessimism) in order to have a chance next year.
Jonathan Chait correctly notes that for a president who is in terrible shape, Obama is oddly enough crushing all of the GOP candidates in head-to-head trial runs. Of course, it is true that most of the Republican candidates might be underperforming in those trials because they're not yet very well known. Indeed, the best way to know whether Obama is in terrible trouble right now is to turn to a perfectly available measure: his approval rating. As of yesterday, Obama was at 47% per Gallup, a tick or so higher according to Pollster's average. That's not a number that predicts a landslide reelection -- but it's also not one that indicates deep trouble. It's nothing like where Jimmy Carter was in July 1979, when he delivered the "malaise" speech -- Carter had fallen below 30% in June 1979, and stayed there fall into the fall.
As far as Cost's big four points against Obama...first of all, it's really only three; he includes a general pessimistic mood, but that's surely just a reflection of the economy, not a separate factor on its own. What else? Health care is unlikely to be a significant problem for the president. Pollster's current average shows ACA remains unpopular, but at 38% support/48% oppose it doesn't appear that it's a major reelection concern -- single issues are rarely all that important anyway, and without a strong majority opposing ACA I'd guess that it will mainly be used to (further) fire up Republicans who were going to vote against Obama anyway. As far as the deficit, I just don't believe anyone cares about it; for those who do mention the deficit in polling, which isn't all that many, I've always believed that it's just a proxy for general economic concern.
That brings us back to the first, and very legitimate, point: the economy. Given the approval polling, I'd recast Cost's argument to say that Obama is currently on shaky ground: if the economy gets worse he'll be in deep trouble, while if it improves even marginally he's probably headed for a fairly easy reelection. If it chugs along where it is now -- technically in recovery, but a historically weak recovery -- then the fundamentals are going to forecast a close election. Which, oddly enough, undermines the first part of his column, because it's in close races that electioneering skill and the "blue smoke and mirrors" Cost talks about actually can make some difference.