Paul Krugman, economist and Op-ed columnist of New York Times wrote in his article under the title, “G.O.P. Candidates and Obama’s failure to fail" - August 10.

The shared premise of everyone on the Republican side is that the Obama years have been a time of policy disaster on every front. Yet the candidates on that stage had almost nothing to say about any of the supposed disaster areas. And there was a good reason they seemed so tongue-tied: Out there in the real world, none of the disasters their party predicted have actually come to pass. President Obama just keeps failing to fail. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/10/opinion/paul-krugman-gop-candidates-and-obamas-failure-to-fail.

What does “fail (failure) to fail” mean? Does it mean President Obama keeps failing as it has been predicted, or it should have been?

Is “fail to fail” a popular turn of phrase?

What’s wrong with simply saying “President Obama just keeps failing (to deliver his promises)”?

  • 1
    Fail to meet expectations. Fail to launch. Fail to succeed. Similarly, "fail to fail" implies that failure is expected. It's perhaps rumsfeldian, a la "known unknowns."
    – stevesliva
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 6:21
  • 2
    It means simply that the Republicans keep expecting Obama and his policies to fail, but this failure never happens.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 12:43

2 Answers 2


The context here is political and (especially) economic theories that (according to Paul Krugman) many conservative politicians and economists subscribe to and that yield scientific (or quasi-scientific) predictions about what will ensue if certain economic policies are pursued under certain conditions. According to Krugman, anti-Keynesian economists (and their political supporters) warned of failure on various fronts as a logical outcome of the policies that President Obama announced and pursued from the early stages of his presidency.

Because a patina of scientificness is associated with economists' predictions (some economists express their theories as immutable laws, back their theories up with data-heavy explanations, and often use complicated algorithms to model real-world outcomes), it's embarrassing for the promoter of a particular economic model when the outcomes it predicts don't materialize.

Krugman asserts that various conservative economists have long predicted that a number of Obama's policies would fail miserably; under the circumstances, it would clearly be a problem for those theories if, in the real world, the criticized policies "failed to fail."


"failed to fail" means he (President Obama) did not fail as they predicted/hoped. They predicted that major disaster would happen because of his policies and actions so his "failure to fail" is actually the same as saying "succeeding". It is not common.

  • 1
    Or if not succeeding, at least having a neutral effect. Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 6:48
  • Would appreciate some documentation of any indicator that hasn't gotten better during Mr. Obama's presidency. Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 7:52

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