Things are looking up for a change.

Photographer: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Obama's on a Winning Streak

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Never before has a president experienced as severe an election drubbing as Barack Obama did in November and followed it with such a politically triumphant six weeks.

Obama scored his latest coup today by announcing that the U.S. and Cuba would restore full diplomatic relations and exchange prisoners. The right is enraged, but the politics favor the president.

Improving relations with Cuba used to be considered political suicide in Florida, a critical electoral state with a large population of anti-Castro Cuban refugee families. Today, the vast majority of Florida's Cuban Americans were born after the Cuban embargo was imposed in 1963, and the politics have shifted. After years of reliable support for Republicans, exit polls last month indicated that Floridians of Cuban descent narrowly backed Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate for governor, over Republican incumbent Rick Scott, who nevertheless won the contest.

A survey by Florida International University this year showed that an overwhelming majority of young Cuban-Americans favor diplomatic ties with Cuba; a majority, but not a large one, of Cuban-Americans over 65 oppose such a move. 

Florida Republicans, including former Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio -- both potential 2016 presidential candidates -- condemned Obama's action today, but their criticism isn't likely to resonate as it would have a decade or two ago.

Moreover, although Cuba remains a repressive regime, it's hard to paint the Castro government as the U.S.'s foremost enemy when compared to the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.

And the business community, including some Southern agriculture interests, is eager to tap the Cuban market. And don't be surprised if American casino moguls make a pitch to revive the pre-Castro gambling haven in Havana.

This follows a number of other successful political moves by Obama since Nov. 6, including:

-- The executive action that shields as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Republicans are furious, but are deeply divided on a response.

-- Using the lame duck Senate session to win confirmation for a number of judicial nominations and a few controversial executive branch appointments. The president also won passage of a spending measure through next September that is far friendlier to him -- despite some terrible special interest provisions -- than anything he could expect to get from the Republican-controlled Congress next year.

-- Good news on the economic and health care fronts. The economy added 321,000 jobs last month, more than expected, and average hourly wages rose. In the latest enrollment period, 2.5 million Americans signed up for the Affordable Care Act.

There are clouds, too. The Supreme Court could knock down a key provision in the health-care law, there remain challenges to the immigration decision, as well as a few Democratic critics of the new Cuba policy, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez.

The convening of the new Congress in January may mark the beginning of a trying two final years for the Obama presidency. But today the president is riding a lot higher than anyone imagined 41 days ago and Republicans are more on the defensive.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net