Donald Trump is the un-Obama. A lot of Americans see President Obama as weak and ineffectual. They see Trump as just the opposite. The extreme opposite -- not just self-assured, but cocky.
Trump told his campaign rally in Alabama last week, "The reason I have this really incredible enthusiasm... is because I know what I'm doing. You people are looking for somebody who knows what he's doing.''
A Trump supporter in New Hampshire put it this way: "I want people who are negotiating with him to believe my President when he says he's going to do something. I want to negotiate from a position of strength, not weakness.''
Gallup reported a few months ago that "Obama's image as a strong and decisive leader has declined the most since his early days in office,'' from 73 percent in 2009 to 46 percent in April. Most Americans continue to believe Obama is honest and trustworthy and "understands the problems Americans face in their daily lives.'' He just can't deliver.
President Obama is cerebral and deliberative. Not bold and reckless like George W. Bush. That's why Obama got elected in the first place. Voters wanted something totally different from Bush. And they got it.
I call it the law of the missing imperative: The party out of office has to find out what voters want that they are not getting from the incumbent.
In 1960, after eight years of Eisenhower, Americans wanted youth, dynamism and vigor. That was John F. Kennedy.
In 1968, after the turmoil of the 1960s, we wanted an experienced insider who could restore order: Richard Nixon.
In 1976, after Watergate, we wanted morality in government: Jimmy Carter.
In 1980, after four years of Carter, we wanted leadership with conviction: Ronald Reagan.
In 1992, when the first President Bush seemed out of touch with the pain ordinary Americans were feeling, we wanted empathy: Bill Clinton.
In 2000, most voters were happy with the economic boom. But after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, enough voters in the right places wanted a leader of good character to make George W. Bush President.
In 2008, after eight years of Bush, people wanted a leader who was thoughtful and cautious: Barack Obama.
The law of the missing imperative doesn't work, however, if the voters aren't actually missing what the opposition party is offering.
In 1984, Walter Mondale ran on fairness. That was a tough sell when it was "Morning in America.''
In 1988, Michael Dukakis offered competence. But voters had no reason then to doubt Vice President Bush's competence.
In 1996, Bob Dole ran on character ("A better man, for a better America''). But the Lewinsky scandal had not yet happened.
In 2004, after 9/11, John Kerry offered strength. But the U.S. already had a strong President.
In 2012, Mitt Romney tried to sell smaller government. His pitch flopped when Romney threatened the safety net.
President Obama's former defense secretary Leon Panetta wrote in his memoirs that Obama "too often relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader.'' So here's Donald Trump, who is anything but a professor. Trump is all passion and certainty and not much judgment.
Trump is likely to have a tough time getting the Republican nomination. Back in 2000, John McCain had exactly the right message after Bill Clinton: straight talk. But conservatives didn't trust McCain. McCain had challenged conservatives' ascendancy over the Republican Party, so conservatives rallied behind George W. Bush. And ran a vicious campaign in the South Carolina primary to stop McCain.
Now another Bush is trying to stop the frontrunner by attacking his conservative credentials. "Mr. Trump doesn't have a proven conservative record,'' Jeb Bush charged last week. "People will vote for a proven conservative leader.'' Bush is going to have to get a lot tougher than that. The Bush family proved in 1988 and 2000 that they can get pretty nasty.
Trump offers decisiveness, which is something a lot of voters are missing in President Obama. That's why Trump has acquired a following. But brashness and boorishness come with the package, and that will make it tough for Trump to expand his following. Most voters find those qualities repugnant. And unpresidential. Too much unlike Obama.