Glenn Thrush’s piece on President Obama’s reelection strategy shift is full of campaign pollsters and consultants expressing their exasperation that the president waited until this point to release a second-term agenda. But it’s easy to see how these same strategists may have led the president astray throughout this election season.
The Obama campaign’s decision to rely almost completely on the politics of personal destruction, and attack Mitt Romney viciously and unrelentingly throughout the summer, didn’t end up sealing Obama’s reelection. That’s not a surprise, since the public is understandably put off by a president running as if he’s the challenger who hasn’t been in charge of the economy for four years. But even those who tell the president to adjust his strategy largely miss the point. Here’s a good example, from Thrush’s story:
“The Obama organization did the single best job of destroying a candidate I have ever seen in my career, from May to September,” said pollster Peter Brown, who conducts the Quinnipiac University poll of battleground states.
“But that all went out the window when Romney showed people that the caricature of him as a clown was false. … Now he’s got to make the case for himself. If he was ahead now, my guess is he wouldn’t have taken the chance of putting all of this out now.”
“Destroying” Romney? I do not think it means what they think it means. If Romney could dispel all the personal caricatures contained in the Obama ad blitz by simply showing up, he wasn’t “destroyed.” And that’s because Romney is so obviously not who Obama said he was. The Obama campaign’s attacks were so inaccurate that Romney’s performance in the first debate probably also drained Obama of some of the credibility he previously had with the electorate. And that has left its mark on the campaign, whether Obama pivots or not.
Later on in the article, we get more indication of where Obama’s been getting his terrible advice:
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the president’s standard whistle-stop speech contained more detail than Romney’s written proposals. “Every voter has in hand what the president’s outlined on the stump throughout the campaign,” LaBolt said.
That may be true, but Democrats, led by Carville and his friend, the pollster Stan Greenberg, have been churning out polling data for weeks showing that Obama was in danger of making the same mistake Romney did — allowing the opposition to define him as a candidate.
How, exactly, do you define a sitting president just finishing up a full term before he defines himself? The problem for Obama is that he’s been running as if Romney is the incumbent, but Romney isn’t returning the favor. Romney isn’t trying to portray Obama as the challenger without a record—just the opposite. Romney has been telling anyone who will listen all about Obama’s first term.
It just so happens that the state of the economy Obama has been presiding over isn’t favorable to the president. Romney isn’t “defining” Obama by pointing out steady 8-percent unemployment. And Obama’s first-term accomplishments aren’t very popular. Obamacare has polled badly from the beginning; the auto bailout was broadly unpopular and only began returning better poll numbers in the Rust Belt; and the stimulus was an ineffectual liberal wish list that failed on the president’s own terms.
Romney isn’t seeking to define the president at all. He’s just trying to help the president take credit for the last four years.