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Can’t Sit On A Lead

This cogent analysis essentially boils down to: Barack Obama and his media friends buying into their own inevitability meme. After beating Hillary Clinton in one of the biggest upsets in presidential primary politics and reading his own laudatory press clippings, it was easy for the Obama camp to believe their candidate was unbeatable. But then there was a rocky June/July and the polls slid. What happened?

[I]t could also be that Obama, given his newness to the national scene and the doubts about his preparation and seasoning that his opponents have hammered away at, faces an extra burden when it comes to reassuring his softest supporters. The more real the possibility of an Obama presidency seems, the more these soft supporters will question their own instincts–and the more prone they’ll be prone to reconsider their allegiance when Obama faces the kind of press scrutiny he faced last week.

Put differently, Obama still has not cleared the presidential bar — either on character or as commander-in-chief. In a crucial time, when voters are considering whether the nominee could really be President, he took for granted–foolishly maybe–that he could do or say virtually anything without consequence. But there is only so much the media and public will tolerate. And in a month or so of many errors, gaffes, too much policy shifting, he rattled his supporters, confused the undecideds, and emboldened the opposition.

That, in part, is why ducking the town hall debates may hurt. (Perhaps not as much as an awful performance, which is certainly a legitimate fear.) By not mixing it up and demonstrating his prowess without a teleprompter, he does nothing to calm his supporters and dispel the new media meme which is substantially less friendly than the last one.

The question is: what can Obama do to reverse the storyline? One thing that he likely can’t do is return to the Great Man, zombie chanting phase of January-February. At this point, that’s likely to bring howls of derision. He could get serious on some new policy positions. And his trip abroad may help lift his stature in the eyes of some voters who now can’t quite picture him in the Oval office.

Nothing in politics and certainly nothing in a presidential race is irreversible. So it would be a mistake to think he can’t get his mojo back. But what got him the nomination — running left, hyping young crowds, creating a cult-like movement, and ducking really any hard national security issues — is not likely to get him the White House. We’ll have to see what else he can do and if he can function in pressers, debates and maybe even a town hall setting without a script.



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