Commentary Magazine


Topic: David Axelrod

Axelrod, Having Helped Ruin America, Now Wants to Do the Same to the UK

Reuters reports that Britain’s Labour Party has hired David Axelrod, President Obama’s key political strategist, to help with its campaign for the 2015 election.

Mr. Axelrod told the Guardian that he made the decision “because I have had some long conversations with Ed Miliband [the Labour Party leader] over the course of the past year and it was less about politics, and more about this issue of how in the 21st century you create healthy economies in which opportunity is broadly available, and people can stay ahead of the cost of living.”

“In his work for President Obama, David helped shape a campaign that reflected his vision, focused on building an economy that works for all hardworking people and not just a privileged few,” Miliband said. “He will be a huge asset to our campaign.”

Perhaps. But it’s worth pointing out that income inequality in America has gotten worse, not better, during the Obama years; that the president Axelrod helped elect has a miserable record at creating a healthy economy in which opportunity is broadly available and that works for all hardworking people; and that the 2012 Obama campaign was almost bereft of any vision.

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Reuters reports that Britain’s Labour Party has hired David Axelrod, President Obama’s key political strategist, to help with its campaign for the 2015 election.

Mr. Axelrod told the Guardian that he made the decision “because I have had some long conversations with Ed Miliband [the Labour Party leader] over the course of the past year and it was less about politics, and more about this issue of how in the 21st century you create healthy economies in which opportunity is broadly available, and people can stay ahead of the cost of living.”

“In his work for President Obama, David helped shape a campaign that reflected his vision, focused on building an economy that works for all hardworking people and not just a privileged few,” Miliband said. “He will be a huge asset to our campaign.”

Perhaps. But it’s worth pointing out that income inequality in America has gotten worse, not better, during the Obama years; that the president Axelrod helped elect has a miserable record at creating a healthy economy in which opportunity is broadly available and that works for all hardworking people; and that the 2012 Obama campaign was almost bereft of any vision.

That doesn’t mean Axelrod is ineffective. Mr. Obama, for example, ran one way in 2008, as the avatar of hope and change, and he won; and quite a different way in 2012, using tactics that were ruthless and dishonest, and he won. The Obama campaigns (unlike the Obama administration) were well-run, modern, and highly competent. So yes, Axelrod knows how to win elections. What he and his former boss, the president, don’t know diddly-squat about is governing effectively. But that doesn’t seem to matter.

Helping to ruin one country apparently wasn’t enough; David Axelrod now wants to do his part to ruin another. At least he’ll be well paid for it. 

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IRS Officials Talk of D.C. Micromanagement

Among the lousiest attempted explanations for the IRS’s organized political targeting of conservatives is that it wasn’t really organized, political, or targeted. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod repeated this yesterday on Meet the Press. It could not have been politically orchestrated, Axelrod argued, because it was a stupid thing to do. Behold, the unalloyed wisdom of Axelrod in his own words:

If there was somebody political involved in this, it never would have happened because it was the stupidest thing you could imagine. I don’t think that it was necessary and I don’t think it was smart.

If this sounds awfully familiar, it should. Three weeks earlier, Mickey Kaus took a walk down memory lane to point out the IRS scandals during the Clinton administration, during which Clinton’s critics coincidentally found themselves all getting audited by the IRS. Kaus noted Clinton press man Mike McCurry’s response when asked about the Clinton White House’s involvement: “We may do some dumb things from time to time but we are not certifiably insane.”

Of course, one key difference between McCurry then and Axelrod now is that McCurry was working for the White House when he offered the sneering spin. Axelrod merrily offered it on his own volition, so completely has he internalized the Obama propaganda he has spent years spreading across America. In any case, the “how stupid do you think we are” defense can and should be ignored in favor of the facts of the case–which continue to stack up against the proclaimed wisdom of the Obama administration. (Axelrod also pushed the conclusively debunked notion of overworked bureaucrats responding to a flood of nonprofit applications.)

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Among the lousiest attempted explanations for the IRS’s organized political targeting of conservatives is that it wasn’t really organized, political, or targeted. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod repeated this yesterday on Meet the Press. It could not have been politically orchestrated, Axelrod argued, because it was a stupid thing to do. Behold, the unalloyed wisdom of Axelrod in his own words:

If there was somebody political involved in this, it never would have happened because it was the stupidest thing you could imagine. I don’t think that it was necessary and I don’t think it was smart.

If this sounds awfully familiar, it should. Three weeks earlier, Mickey Kaus took a walk down memory lane to point out the IRS scandals during the Clinton administration, during which Clinton’s critics coincidentally found themselves all getting audited by the IRS. Kaus noted Clinton press man Mike McCurry’s response when asked about the Clinton White House’s involvement: “We may do some dumb things from time to time but we are not certifiably insane.”

Of course, one key difference between McCurry then and Axelrod now is that McCurry was working for the White House when he offered the sneering spin. Axelrod merrily offered it on his own volition, so completely has he internalized the Obama propaganda he has spent years spreading across America. In any case, the “how stupid do you think we are” defense can and should be ignored in favor of the facts of the case–which continue to stack up against the proclaimed wisdom of the Obama administration. (Axelrod also pushed the conclusively debunked notion of overworked bureaucrats responding to a flood of nonprofit applications.)

The latest hit to the White House’s credibility on this was House Oversight chair Darrell Issa’s appearance on CNN yesterday, in which he discussed some of the investigation’s latest findings. Issa’s committee has been interviewing IRS employees in the Cincinnati office initially blamed by Democrats for the targeting of conservatives. There were a couple rogue agents who acted on their own, we were told by Obama’s defenders. Issa has released transcripts of some of the interviews with those staffers, and quite a different picture emerges.

Here is one part of the interviews released by Issa’s office:

Q: So what do you think about this, that allegation has been made, I think as you have seen in lots of press reports, that there were two rogue agents in Cincinnati that are sort of responsible for all of the issues that we have been talking about today.  What do you think about those allegations?
[…]
A:  It’s impossible.  As an agent we are controlled by many, many people.  We have to submit many, many reports.  So the chance of two agents being rogue and doing things like that could never happen.
 
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Q: And you’ve heard, I’m sure, news reports about individuals here in Washington saying this is a problem that was originated in and contained in the Cincinnati office, and that it was the Cincinnati office that was at fault.  What is your reaction to those types of stories?
[…]
A: Well, it’s hard to answer the question because in my mind I still hear people saying we were low‑level employees, so we were lower than dirt, according to people in D.C.  So, take it for what it is.  They were basically throwing us underneath the bus.
 
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Q: So is it your perspective that ultimately the responsible parties for the decisions that were reported by the IG are not in the Cincinnati office?
A: I don’t know how to answer that question.  I mean, from an agent standpoint, we didn’t do anything wrong.  We followed directions based on other people telling us what to do.
Q: And you ultimately followed directions from Washington; is that correct?
A: If direction had come down from Washington, yes.
Q: But with respect to the particular scrutiny that was given to Tea Party applications, those directions emanated from Washington; is that right?
A: I believe so.

He also quotes a “more senior” official at the IRS office complaining about “micromanagement” from Washington, specifically on the issue of targeting conservative groups. Now, common sense always told us that the “rogue official” excuse was silly, as was the idea that this campaign was motivated by laziness and not partisanship.

But the lower-level bureaucrats who were pressured by higher-ups to act unethically and then thrown under the bus are understandably perturbed by the rank cynicism and dishonesty of the government they work for. And it’s insulting to the intelligence of Americans to have David Axelrod tell them they shouldn’t believe what has been quite obvious to them all along. They might turn Axelrod’s objection back on him: how stupid does he think they are?

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Team Obama’s Damascus Road Experiences

We’re seeing some remarkable conversions occur before our very eyes. Take David Axelrod, who was President Obama’s top political adviser in the White House.

For years Axelrod, along with Anita Dunn and others, led a Nixonian campaign to discredit and delegitimize Fox News. Yet now Axelrod is angst-ridden and aggrieved at the Justice Department’s surveillance of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he finds all of this “disturbing.”

“I do think there are real issues regarding the relationship with the media on this leak matter,” according to Axelrod. “The notion of naming a journalist as a co-conspirator for receiving information is something that I find very disturbing.”

Mr. Axelrod’s professed solidarity with Fox News is touching. But a few of us thought the effort back in 2009 to target Fox was disturbing, too – and we went on to predict that it would lead to something that looks very much like what has occurred: the abuse of government power to intimidate people Team Obama viewed as a threat.

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We’re seeing some remarkable conversions occur before our very eyes. Take David Axelrod, who was President Obama’s top political adviser in the White House.

For years Axelrod, along with Anita Dunn and others, led a Nixonian campaign to discredit and delegitimize Fox News. Yet now Axelrod is angst-ridden and aggrieved at the Justice Department’s surveillance of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he finds all of this “disturbing.”

“I do think there are real issues regarding the relationship with the media on this leak matter,” according to Axelrod. “The notion of naming a journalist as a co-conspirator for receiving information is something that I find very disturbing.”

Mr. Axelrod’s professed solidarity with Fox News is touching. But a few of us thought the effort back in 2009 to target Fox was disturbing, too – and we went on to predict that it would lead to something that looks very much like what has occurred: the abuse of government power to intimidate people Team Obama viewed as a threat.

Speaking of the scales falling from their eyes, we’re now asked to believe that Attorney General Eric Holder, is “beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse” for his role in authorizing a search warrant that named James Rosen as an “aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in a crime. A very well developed sense of right and wrong, combined with the fear that he might have committed perjury in his Congressional testimony, will do that to a fellow.

We’re seeing a variation of this with the IRS scandal. The president and Democrats are falling all over themselves condemning the abuse of power by the IRS. But what they conveniently forget is their role in creating a climate that allowed the abuse to flourish. After all, when the DNC runs ads accusing pro-Republican groups of “stealing our democracy,” when the president of the United States suggests they are breaking the law, and when senior Democratic Senators write letters (see here) to the IRS requesting that it survey major nonprofits involved in political campaign activity for their possible “violation of tax laws,” what you are bound to get is what we now have.

The president and his top aides gave clear guidance as to which properties needed to be targeted and provided the accelerants to get a fire burning. And now they profess being shocked that arson was going on.

How stupid do they think we are?

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David Axelrod, Limited Government Conservative?

David Axelrod was once Barack Obama’s closest chief political adviser. He now comments for MSNBC, where he trotted out the latest defense of President Obama, who is being buffeted by three unfolding scandals: misleading the public in the aftermath of the lethal assault on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, the seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters, and the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS.

On the latter, the Axelrod defense goes like this: “There’s so much underneath you that you can’t know because the government is so vast.”

Now isn’t that convenient.

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David Axelrod was once Barack Obama’s closest chief political adviser. He now comments for MSNBC, where he trotted out the latest defense of President Obama, who is being buffeted by three unfolding scandals: misleading the public in the aftermath of the lethal assault on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, the seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters, and the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS.

On the latter, the Axelrod defense goes like this: “There’s so much underneath you that you can’t know because the government is so vast.”

Now isn’t that convenient.

Mr. Axelrod has suddenly discovered the problems associated with a federal government that is so vast that the president cannot possibility be held accountable for what goes wrong underneath him. Barack Obama is president of the United States; he simply shouldn’t be held accountable by the misdeeds of the government of the United States. Funny, I don’t recall Mr. Axelrod making this same argument during the Bush years.

In any event, one of the political effects of these scandals is that Republicans, who until now have been sullen in the aftermath of the 2012 election, will be re-energized. I say that because these scandals go some distance toward confirming some of their worst suspicions about the president and the threat posed by the Nanny State.

To put it another way: If Republicans were animated by the policy overreach of Obama/Big Government in 2010, in the form of the stimulus package and the Affordable Care Act, they may well be energized by the abuse of power by Obama/Big Government in 2014.

Now the 2014 elections are still a long way off, and the full ramifications of these scandals are impossible to know at this stage. But one thing that is being vindicated is the concern conservatives have about the vast size, scope and reach of the federal government. Even David Axelrod is now acknowledging it.

Can a subscription to COMMENTARY be far behind?

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Axelrod’s Disciples

Humorlessness and self-seriousness can be a difficult combination of traits for a national politician to overcome. But Barack Obama managed to do so in part because when he stayed on script he was eloquent and measured. Those who work for him, however, seem to possess all of his thin-skinned defensiveness with none of the charm.

So it was no surprise that eventually those employees would become ex-employees and saturate the Twittersphere with what Dylan Byers today calls “their frat-house banter” of social media aggression. Byers writes that the angry, score-settling aides shine a light on the mindset of those still toiling away in the West Wing:

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Humorlessness and self-seriousness can be a difficult combination of traits for a national politician to overcome. But Barack Obama managed to do so in part because when he stayed on script he was eloquent and measured. Those who work for him, however, seem to possess all of his thin-skinned defensiveness with none of the charm.

So it was no surprise that eventually those employees would become ex-employees and saturate the Twittersphere with what Dylan Byers today calls “their frat-house banter” of social media aggression. Byers writes that the angry, score-settling aides shine a light on the mindset of those still toiling away in the West Wing:

“Twitter offers a window into the internal frustrations of an administration and the arguments people make on the inside. So it’s not surprising that people coming out of this White House are skeptical of Washington, Congress and the media,” Lovett, a former White House speechwriter, told POLITICO. “If there was Twitter when John Adams was president, ex-John Adams staffers would probably have let loose on Thomas Jefferson.”

But of course, there wasn’t Twitter when John Adams was president, nor was Twitter an influential medium during the tenure of President George W. Bush. President Obama’s aides are the first to leave a White House in the age of social media. Where former administration staffers took their newfound freedom to cable news or the pages of an inside-the-White-House tell-all, Obama staffers are voicing their grievances — and building their post-White House brands — through social media.

It’s interesting that Lovett admits that the media would be a natural target. The political press, after all, consider themselves a kind of informational Secret Service for this president. But I suppose if most of the coverage you get is positive, that one Woodward op-ed and the occasional Washington Post editorial that goes the other way stand out that much more. Obama is also famously obsessed with his own press clips.

Social media is relatively young and a minefield, and you tend to want to have a bit of compassion for the occasional slip-up. But much of this group’s activity is by design, not mistake. And it predates their free agency. As I wrote back in January of 2012, even the New York Times was put-off by David Axelrod’s Twitter obsession with his counterparts on the Romney campaign. The attention was unrequited, so Axelrod beefed up his taunting until the Times had to step in. “Mr. Axelrod clearly does a lot of personal thinking about Mr. Romney,” the Times wrote, highlighting several examples of when Axelrod surely should have known better than to be on his phone taunting Republicans. Sample tweet: “At Bulls game with my daughter, Lauren, thinking about how turnovers late in game can kill you. Must be thinking same over at Romney HQ!”

It’s doubtful they were thinking the same thing over at Romney headquarters, and it’s doubly doubtful they were thinking at all about Axelrod while with their children at a basketball game. But silly season gets its name for a reason. There were also times Axelrod drifted into offensive waters, for example sending anti-Mormon tweets while working for a campaign that branded Romney in its ads “not one of us.”

Axelrod led by example and set a certain tone for the entire Obama campaign apparatus. Thus when the younger staffers who followed Axelrod into Twitter battle left the White House, they went looking for a fight anywhere they could get it, as they tell Byers:

“For the first couple weeks there was a feeling of being unleashed,” Favreau told POLITICO. “Tommy and I were at an airport waiting for a flight, and we were both in a Twitter fight with someone. After about an hour, we looked up from ours phones and said, ‘We have to stop.’”

Fights and potshots take up a fair amount of former staffers’ time on Twitter, and though the group has shared targets — Republican intransigence, the media’s obsession with minutiae, conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin — each individual has his favorite areas of combat.

It’s not just opinion writers or reporters; current White House advisor Dan Pfeiffer used his interview with Politico today to complain about the online news aggregator Drudge: “It hurts what we’re trying to do,” Pfeiffer said–which is: control the news cycle.

And that really gets to what is driving the relentless combat. When the Obama campaign put out ads accusing Romney of giving people cancer or of not being “one of us” or of wanting to kill Big Bird, there were two main concerns: first, whether someone else on the campaign was prepared to grab the wheel and steer it out of the gutter (there wasn’t), and second, that the Obama campaign might win the election and believe that their strategy was vindicated. Clearly, both concerns were right on the mark.

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Axelrod: GOP Has Some Soul-Searching to Do

Well, now we know where all those “Republicans are losing the demographics” stories are originating. Here’s David Axelrod speaking on a conference call with the press (via Playbook): 

“I think the Republican Party has some soul searching to do after this election, and all you have to do is look at the nature of our coalition, and the President got 56 percent of the vote among voters who describe themselves as moderates, and they were the largest segment of the electorate. The President got 70 percent of the vote among Latinos. He got 55 percent of the vote among women. And that reflects both his record and also the approach of the Republican Party, which has been to paint itself way out of the mainstream. …

“If I were one of those billionaires who were funding Crossroads and those other organizations, I’d be wanting to talk to someone and asking where my refund [is], because they didn’t get much for their money. … [I]n the final week, over $100 million was spent against us in these battleground states. How much influence did that actually have? … [T]he heartening news is that you can’t buy the White House. … I would think that there’ll be reluctance in the future when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door because of what happened on Tuesday.”

Right, Mitt Romney, the moderate Massachusetts governor who instituted the state-level model for Obamacare and almost lost the nomination because he was seen as too liberal has “painted the GOP out of the mainstream.” Just like the pro-amnesty John McCain was accused of “marginalizing” the GOP into the regional white southern party in 2008.

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Well, now we know where all those “Republicans are losing the demographics” stories are originating. Here’s David Axelrod speaking on a conference call with the press (via Playbook): 

“I think the Republican Party has some soul searching to do after this election, and all you have to do is look at the nature of our coalition, and the President got 56 percent of the vote among voters who describe themselves as moderates, and they were the largest segment of the electorate. The President got 70 percent of the vote among Latinos. He got 55 percent of the vote among women. And that reflects both his record and also the approach of the Republican Party, which has been to paint itself way out of the mainstream. …

“If I were one of those billionaires who were funding Crossroads and those other organizations, I’d be wanting to talk to someone and asking where my refund [is], because they didn’t get much for their money. … [I]n the final week, over $100 million was spent against us in these battleground states. How much influence did that actually have? … [T]he heartening news is that you can’t buy the White House. … I would think that there’ll be reluctance in the future when Mr. Rove and others come knocking on the door because of what happened on Tuesday.”

Right, Mitt Romney, the moderate Massachusetts governor who instituted the state-level model for Obamacare and almost lost the nomination because he was seen as too liberal has “painted the GOP out of the mainstream.” Just like the pro-amnesty John McCain was accused of “marginalizing” the GOP into the regional white southern party in 2008.

There is no crisis for the Republican Party, at least not the type Axelrod talks about. Most of the swing states have Republican governors: Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania. The coalition Axelrod boasts about was cobbled together through a mix of mudslinging, fearmongering, cynical election-year handouts, and a powerful get-out-the-vote operation that dragged every last Democrat to the polls. Other than the last part, that’s nothing to be proud of.

Charles Krauthammer pushed back on the demographic doomsayer nonsense this morning:

Ignore the trimmers. There’s no need for radical change. The other party thinks it owns the demographic future — counter that in one stroke by fixing the Latino problem. Do not, however, abandon the party’s philosophical anchor. In a world where European social democracy is imploding before our eyes, the party of smaller, more modernized government owns the ideological future. …

The answer to Romney’s failure is not retreat, not aping the Democrats’ patchwork pandering. It is to make the case for restrained, rationalized and reformed government in stark contradistinction to Obama’s increasingly unsustainable big-spending, big-government paternalism.

Republicans: No whimpering. No whining. No reinvention when none is needed. Do conservatism but do it better. There’s a whole generation of leaders ready to do just that.

Krauthammer calls Romney a transitional figure, which is a great point. The party that was left rudderless after John McCain’s defeat in 2008 has come to embrace an optimistic and reformist vision for conservatism. The younger bench of Republicans who embody that vision will be ready to run in 2016. Romney, as a technocratic political moderate, was not the right spokesperson for such an ideological message. But by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney ensured that Ryan’s brand of reform conservatism would be the party’s future. What is the Democratic Party’s message, other than Barack Obama?

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Axelrod Won’t Discuss Obama’s Briefings After Benghazi

In an interview with Chris Wallace yesterday, David Axelrod dodged some pointed questions about President Obama’s intelligence briefings after the Benghazi attack:

 

Here’s a partial transcript, via Powerline:

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In an interview with Chris Wallace yesterday, David Axelrod dodged some pointed questions about President Obama’s intelligence briefings after the Benghazi attack:

 

Here’s a partial transcript, via Powerline:

Q. How soon after the attack did the President meet with the National Security Council, with people from state, with people from the…, the Director of National Intelligence, with all of the various people to try to sort out what happened in Benghazi?

A. Look. We are sorting out what happened there. Understand that the President the day after the attack called it an act of terror and charged everyone with responsibility for getting to the bottom of what happened.

Q. Yes, the president made a statement and then he went to a fundraiser in Nevada. Question: Before he went to the fundraiser in Nevada, did he meet with his National Security Council to try to sort out the shifting stories. Because State says they never said it was a spontaneous demonstration; Intel, you are quite right, did. Did he meet with the National Security Council before he went campaigning in Nevada?

A. Chris, I assure you that the president was in contact with all those who had information and responsibility in the national security chain about this incident.

Intelligence did say, in unclassified CIA talking points to Congress, that the Benghazi attack was a spontaneous reaction to the Cairo protests over the anti-Islam video. The problem is, that narrative was contradicted by the initial intelligence report, according to Reuters’s Mark Hosenball:

The stream of intelligence flowing into Washington within hours of the Benghazi attacks contained data from communications intercepts and U.S. informants, which were then fashioned into polished initial assessments for policymakers. …

The report did not allege the attacks were a reaction to the anti-Muslim film, but acknowledged it was possible that the attackers sought to use an outbreak of violence in Cairo over the film, which insulted the Prophet Mohammad, as a pretext for attacks. …

Yet on September 15, administration officials, relying upon what they said was other information from intelligence agencies, circulated to members of Congress a set of talking points prepared by the CIA that purported to summarize what U.S. intelligence knew.

The talking points said: “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi and subsequently its annex.”

There is an important distinction to make between the CIA talking points — the information the administration chose to emphasize — and the actual intelligence, which reportedly included plenty of evidence in the first hours that the attack was carried out by a militant group with al-Qaeda ties. Even if the intelligence was as muddled as the White House claims, why didn’t President Obama stay in Washington to try to get a handle on the situation on September 12, instead of flying off for a fundraiser in Nevada? Axelrod won’t answer the question directly, which tells you this issue is going to be a political problem for them.

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The Obama Campaign’s Shameless Response to Romney’s Tax Returns

There continues to be a lively debate about whether Mitt Romney’s decision to release decades of information on his tax returns—which definitively proved false Harry Reid’s dishonest accusations from the Senate floor—will be strategically beneficial to the campaign. But it cannot be said that we didn’t know exactly how the Obama campaign would respond. Romney surely must have been aware that the shamelessness of the Obama campaign and its allies would persist—and in fact has reached new lows by attacking Romney for paying more in taxes than he had to.

Earlier in the campaign, the Obama camp taunted Romney with a public letter asking for five years of tax returns and promising they would not ask for more. I wrote at the time:

What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies “outside” the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.

Within 24 hours, the Obama campaign fulfilled what I must admit was among the easiest predictions to make. First, the campaign, according to Politico:

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There continues to be a lively debate about whether Mitt Romney’s decision to release decades of information on his tax returns—which definitively proved false Harry Reid’s dishonest accusations from the Senate floor—will be strategically beneficial to the campaign. But it cannot be said that we didn’t know exactly how the Obama campaign would respond. Romney surely must have been aware that the shamelessness of the Obama campaign and its allies would persist—and in fact has reached new lows by attacking Romney for paying more in taxes than he had to.

Earlier in the campaign, the Obama camp taunted Romney with a public letter asking for five years of tax returns and promising they would not ask for more. I wrote at the time:

What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies “outside” the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.

Within 24 hours, the Obama campaign fulfilled what I must admit was among the easiest predictions to make. First, the campaign, according to Politico:

Why were more than 65% of pages related to overseas investments? Why did he have investments in a Chinese oil company? Why did he have dozens of foreign accounts and million stashed away in tax havens like the Caymans? [Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen] Psaki asked, according to a pool report.

But how do you criticize as secretive or dishonest a man who gave millions to charity and more to the government than he legally had to? Ladies and gentlemen, the majority leader of the United States Senate:

The information released today reveals that Mitt Romney manipulated one of the only two years of tax returns he’s seen fit to show the American people – and then only to ‘conform’ with his public statements. That raises the question: what else in those returns has Romney manipulated?

You almost can’t blame Reid for behaving this way. His fellow Democrats refuse to rein him in, and the media—which would be losing its mind if it were a Republican behaving this way—prefers to ignore it. He’s been given no reason to drop his inappropriate behavior.

This has been the general tone of the weekend. On ABC’s This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked David Axelrod if the Obama campaign would now turn from the tax returns to more serious topics, and Axelrod practically laughed at the question. No, there would be no Obama pivot to the issues.

Ironically, Stephanopoulos introduced a segment later in the show with a clip from the television show “The West Wing” in which the Democratic incumbent president’s staff decides their side is going to “raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy”—though Stephanopoulos said that this must be Romney’s, not Obama’s, strategy going forward. On that, he appears to be correct. If the level of public discourse is going to be raised in this election, it will be on Romney to do so; the Obama campaign has politely—and sometimes not so politely—declined to participate in such a debate.

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David Axelrod Offers Romney VP Advice

Mitt Romney received some advice from an unusual source this afternoon, the National Journal reports:

“If I were picking, I’d pick Pawlenty,” Axelrod told National Journal. “You shouldn’t write that, because everybody will think I’m trying to bait [Romney] into picking Pawlenty.” …

Opposition research, of course, is at the ready for everyone thought to be on Romney’s short list. But the psychological preparations at Obama’s Chicago headquarters seem geared almost entirely toward a Romney-Pawlenty ticket.

“That’s my influence,” Axelrod told NJ. “I’ve been saying Pawlenty for four months. The reasoning, as a strategist, would be: He is acceptable to the right and the evangelicals, but he’s not scary to moderates. He’s good on television. He’s been through this.”  …

Axelrod also seems to have taken stock of Pawlenty’s TV chops and emerged with grudging professional admiration.

“Of all of those you have heard of, he’s got a pretty good TV style,” Axelrod said.  “He’s cool. He’s casual. He can be colloquial. I would be surprised if they didn’t pick him. And I think Romney’s kind of not looking for risk.”

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Mitt Romney received some advice from an unusual source this afternoon, the National Journal reports:

“If I were picking, I’d pick Pawlenty,” Axelrod told National Journal. “You shouldn’t write that, because everybody will think I’m trying to bait [Romney] into picking Pawlenty.” …

Opposition research, of course, is at the ready for everyone thought to be on Romney’s short list. But the psychological preparations at Obama’s Chicago headquarters seem geared almost entirely toward a Romney-Pawlenty ticket.

“That’s my influence,” Axelrod told NJ. “I’ve been saying Pawlenty for four months. The reasoning, as a strategist, would be: He is acceptable to the right and the evangelicals, but he’s not scary to moderates. He’s good on television. He’s been through this.”  …

Axelrod also seems to have taken stock of Pawlenty’s TV chops and emerged with grudging professional admiration.

“Of all of those you have heard of, he’s got a pretty good TV style,” Axelrod said.  “He’s cool. He’s casual. He can be colloquial. I would be surprised if they didn’t pick him. And I think Romney’s kind of not looking for risk.”

I can’t imagine this is some clumsy attempt by Axelrod to sway the VP pick in his favor, as he knows his advice isn’t going to have any influence one way or the other. It seems more like Axelrod is trying to set the messaging tone against Paul Ryan or Rob Portman, on the assumption that Pawlenty is a less likely pick.

If Ryan gets the nod, the initial Democratic talking point will be that Romney capitulated to the extreme right instead of choosing a more moderate, reasonable Republican like Pawlenty (although, if Pawlenty does get chosen, don’t expect Axelrod to call him a moderate ever again). And as Axelrod notes in the article, Rob Portman will get tied to President Bush’s economic policies.

There are others who also seem skeptical that Pawlenty will get the nod. Byron York reported this morning that Pawlenty will make an appearance on the Sunday shows, which seems to suggest he isn’t the choice:

Other VP possibilities, notably Rob Portman and Paul Ryan, turned down invitations to appear on the Sunday shows.

People in the extended Romney circle view the Sunday appearances as a sign that Pawlenty is less likely to be the vice presidential pick. They feel certain that Pawlenty would not appear unless his appearances were cleared by the Romney campaign. And they also believe that Romney does not want his soon-to-be-announced pick all over the airwaves in the run-up to Romney’s big announcement; no reason to risk a possible mistake or put the contender in an awkward situation. Therefore, if Pawlenty is appearing, it suggests he’s not the guy.

That could mean nothing, but it makes sense that the Romney camp wouldn’t want its running mate selection getting grilled on high-pressure talk shows so soon before the announcement.

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The White House Shows Fear About Leaks

Though the press largely dropped the story weeks ago, no controversy has the potential to do as much long-term damage to the Obama presidency as the White House leaks investigation. That’s why Mitt Romney’s ringing denunciation of the administration’s fast and loose approach to classified information in his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday had to scare the administration silly. In response, they not only prompted Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to try to walk back her accusation that the White House was the source of the leaks about cyber warfare, targeted assassinations of terrorists, Iran and other national security topics that Romney cited in his speech. They also sent out campaign honcho David Axelrod to make the rounds of the morning news shows today to reassure the American people that President Obama played no role in the flow of secrets to the front page of the New York Times and other media outlets friendly to the president.

But Axelrod’s assurances ring false. Obama’s problem here is that the White House’s fingerprints were all over these stories. It’s not just that secrets were spilled, but that they were leaked in a manner intended to make the president look like he was actively involved in the details of national security matters. The Times stories in particular — served up as they were to fill the front page of a number of Sunday editions of the paper — were more than background material about the nuts and bolts of how the nation is pursuing terrorists and attempting to stop Iran’s nuclear program but crafted so as to make the president look good. Moreover, they were sourced in such a way as to make it obvious it came from the White House. That is why Romney’s call for a special prosecutor had to make the president and his senior advisers squirm.

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Though the press largely dropped the story weeks ago, no controversy has the potential to do as much long-term damage to the Obama presidency as the White House leaks investigation. That’s why Mitt Romney’s ringing denunciation of the administration’s fast and loose approach to classified information in his address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars yesterday had to scare the administration silly. In response, they not only prompted Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to try to walk back her accusation that the White House was the source of the leaks about cyber warfare, targeted assassinations of terrorists, Iran and other national security topics that Romney cited in his speech. They also sent out campaign honcho David Axelrod to make the rounds of the morning news shows today to reassure the American people that President Obama played no role in the flow of secrets to the front page of the New York Times and other media outlets friendly to the president.

But Axelrod’s assurances ring false. Obama’s problem here is that the White House’s fingerprints were all over these stories. It’s not just that secrets were spilled, but that they were leaked in a manner intended to make the president look like he was actively involved in the details of national security matters. The Times stories in particular — served up as they were to fill the front page of a number of Sunday editions of the paper — were more than background material about the nuts and bolts of how the nation is pursuing terrorists and attempting to stop Iran’s nuclear program but crafted so as to make the president look good. Moreover, they were sourced in such a way as to make it obvious it came from the White House. That is why Romney’s call for a special prosecutor had to make the president and his senior advisers squirm.

Feinstein’s backtracking was so unconvincing, especially after her frank admission on Monday that the White House was the obvious culprit. She may regret that her remarks “are being used to impugn President Obama or his commitment to protecting national security secrets,” but that was the obvious implication of the facts as she originally laid them out.

The problem here is not merely a bad news cycle in which Romney got the better of the president. The leaks investigation is the sort of thing that can and will haunt the president and his senior staff long after the election. The current investigations being conducted by two prosecutors appointed by President Obama have the potential to drag a second term — if he is lucky enough to have one — down in scandal. That should make their anxiety about the outcome in November even greater. Should, as Romney rightly suggests, a special prosecutor be appointed, there’s little doubt that some of Obama’s senior staffers are going to spend the next few years defending their reputations in a scandal that will tarnish the president’s historic legacy. Re-electing the president and keeping Attorney General Eric Holder in office so as to keep the Justice Department from pursuing these charges too zealously is their only hope.

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Feinstein: Leaks Came From White House

Anyone with eyes and ears can figure out that some of the recent national security leaks most likely came from the White House, and yesterday Sen. Dianne Feinstein finally acknowledged the obvious:

“I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from its ranks. I don’t know specifically where, but they have to understand that and do something about it…

“To know what the president actually knows about this is difficult, because with respect to intelligence he is in a bubble. He has his [president’s daily brief] early every morning. And so he gets a briefing of intelligence. I don’t believe for a moment he goes out and talks about it. I don’t believe the briefers go out and talk about it. But who knows who else?”

Hmm. Was Feinstein suggesting in the second paragraph that the president might know the source of the leaks? That seems like a serious possibility. If the leaks came from the daily national security briefing as she indicates, clearly there is a finite number of people who could be the culprits. Feinstein rules out the briefers (Director of National Intelligence James Clapper), but suggests it could have been anybody else in the meeting.

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Anyone with eyes and ears can figure out that some of the recent national security leaks most likely came from the White House, and yesterday Sen. Dianne Feinstein finally acknowledged the obvious:

“I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from its ranks. I don’t know specifically where, but they have to understand that and do something about it…

“To know what the president actually knows about this is difficult, because with respect to intelligence he is in a bubble. He has his [president’s daily brief] early every morning. And so he gets a briefing of intelligence. I don’t believe for a moment he goes out and talks about it. I don’t believe the briefers go out and talk about it. But who knows who else?”

Hmm. Was Feinstein suggesting in the second paragraph that the president might know the source of the leaks? That seems like a serious possibility. If the leaks came from the daily national security briefing as she indicates, clearly there is a finite number of people who could be the culprits. Feinstein rules out the briefers (Director of National Intelligence James Clapper), but suggests it could have been anybody else in the meeting.

Remember, David Axelrod vehemently denied that the leaks came from the White House in June:

“In both cases, they quote members of the president’s national security team who were in the room,” [ABC News' George] Stephanopoulos said. “So somebody who was in the room with the president was giving out some of this information or at least discussing classified information.”

“I think the authors of all of this work have said that the White House was not the source of this information,” Axelrod replied. “I can’t say that there weren’t leaks. There were obvious leaks, but they weren’t from the White House.” …

“The last thing that he would countenance or anybody around him would countenance are leaks that would jeopardize the security of Americans on these secret missions, and the success of those missions.”

“So you’re confident this investigation’s not going to show White House involvement?” Stephanopoulos said.

“Yes,” Axelrod said.

Feinstein hasn’t yet called for a special prosecutor, but based on her comments, it seems like that has to be the next move. Does anyone really expect the Department of Justice to fairly investigate a leak within the president’s inner circle? Unless the White House gets serious on this on its own (which would require appointing a special prosecutor anyway), there will have to be outside pressure before it’ll take action.

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McConnell Vows to Defend Citizens United

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.

“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”

The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled that Republicans will fight attacks on Citizens United and other assaults on political expression during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute earlier today.

“Campaign contributions are speech,” said McConnell. “If we lose the right to speak, we’ve lost the battle before it starts.”

The left has decried the Citizens United decision since the beginning, but the recent Wisconsin recall election reenergized efforts to fight it. Despite the fact that Citizens United had little impact on the election spending in Wisconsin, progressives blamed it for their loss and seem determined to make it a top issue in the presidential election.

The latest example is David Axelrod, who promised earlier this week that if Obama wins a second term, he will pursue any option — including a constitutional amendment — to restrict these rights:

“When we win, we will use whatever tools out there, including a constitutional amendment, to turn this back. I understand the free speech argument, but when the Koch brothers can spend $400 million, more than the McCain campaign and the Republican Party spent last time, that’s very concerning.”

At AEI, McConnell blasted Axelrod and the Obama administration for the proposal.

“Amending the First Amendment for the first time in history is an act of radicalism,” said McConnell.

There are other indications that the issue of political money will be back at the top of the news this summer. The Supreme Court reportedly met earlier this week to consider a Montana case that challenges some aspects of the Citizens United decision and a subsequent Appellate Court ruling on unlimited political contributions. The Los Angeles Times reports that the appeal isn’t expected to be denied, and the Supreme Court may either decide to hear the case or write a summary opinion defending the Citizens United ruling.

McConnell said as the election nears, some Republicans may be tempted “to take the issue off the table or make concessions.”

“My advice is to resist the temptation,” he said.

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Obama’s Team of Amateurs

Back in April I wrote, “My sense is that [Mitt Romney will] be a better general election candidate than he was a GOP primary candidate, that a contest against Obama will play to his strengths better than a contest against other Republicans. We’ll find out in due course. But if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.”

As of now, that intuition seems to have been correct. As this New York Times article makes clear, Governor Romney has been on the offensive for most of May. “Mr. Romney is already running the campaign he and top aides say they envisioned more than a year ago,” according to the Times, “forcing Mr. Obama to defend his economic record in a gloomy environment.” The story goes on to report on the strengths of the Romney operation: discipline, efficiency and execution. In addition, according to the most recent CNN-ORC poll, Governor Romney’s favorable ratings have surged, having risen 14 points since February.

If the Romney campaign has shown itself far superior to the John McCain campaign, then the Obama campaign of 2012 has shown itself far inferior to the Obama campaign of 2008.

Right now, it seems to be run by amateurs.

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Back in April I wrote, “My sense is that [Mitt Romney will] be a better general election candidate than he was a GOP primary candidate, that a contest against Obama will play to his strengths better than a contest against other Republicans. We’ll find out in due course. But if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.”

As of now, that intuition seems to have been correct. As this New York Times article makes clear, Governor Romney has been on the offensive for most of May. “Mr. Romney is already running the campaign he and top aides say they envisioned more than a year ago,” according to the Times, “forcing Mr. Obama to defend his economic record in a gloomy environment.” The story goes on to report on the strengths of the Romney operation: discipline, efficiency and execution. In addition, according to the most recent CNN-ORC poll, Governor Romney’s favorable ratings have surged, having risen 14 points since February.

If the Romney campaign has shown itself far superior to the John McCain campaign, then the Obama campaign of 2012 has shown itself far inferior to the Obama campaign of 2008.

Right now, it seems to be run by amateurs.

The Bain attacks against Romney – which we were told would be the poison-tipped arrow in the Obama quiver – have been strikingly ineffective. So has the effort to portray the GOP as engaged in a “war on women.” Even their effort to make Seamus the Dog an issue in this campaign hasn’t worked. Some of Obama’s leading surrogates – including Mayor Cory Booker, Governor Deval Patrick, and former President Bill Clinton – are saying things that are helping, not hurting, Romney, to the point that they’re making cameo appearances in Romney ads.

The Obama administration is embroiled in a nasty and politically counterproductive fight with Catholic institutions. Obama’s campaign succeeded in bollixing up the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by releasing a tendentious video that made the president, and not the Navy SEALS who actually carried out the operation, to be the hero. Obama’s solicitor general, Donald Verrilli Jr., was widely panned even by liberals for his inept defense of the Affordable Care Act. (The Supreme Court will rule on its constitutionality later this month.) Nor will the president meet his initial goal of raising $1 billion for his campaign. In fact, he might (a) raise less than he did in 2008 ($750 million) and (b) end up being outspent by his opponent this time around.

In addition, the president’s formal kick off of his re-election campaign, held at Ohio State University, was met with a lot of empty seats. Vice President Joe Biden, in prematurely endorsing same-sex marriage, awkwardly forced the president to do the same thing three days later. The president’s ads have been almost uniformly unimpressive. Last Friday, when May’s weak jobs report was announced, the Obama campaign released an ad featuring Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour imploring viewers to join Wintour, Sarah Jessica Parker, Michelle Obama and the president at a fundraiser in New York City later his month. “Sarah Jessica and I both have our own reasons for supporting President Obama, and we want to hear yours,” the British-born Wintour, who reportedly makes $2 million a year, says. “So please join us, but just don’t be late.” It was widely lampooned.

The Obama campaign, then – at least for now — is unfocused and ragged around the edges. David Axelrod, David Plouffe, and Jay Carney often seem unable to respond in a coherent fashion to the most predictable questions. Listening to them is sometimes cringe-inducing. Even Maureen Dowd of the New York Times has turned on Obama. “The president who started off with such dazzle now seems incapable of stimulating either the economy or the voters,” Dowd wrote on Sunday.

It’s a fair judgment, I think, to say that ineptness has characterized much of Obama’s presidency. It appears as if that quality has spilled over into his campaign. That may change between now and November 6. But for now, Democrats are experiencing a fearful symmetry of sorts.

Like I said, if I were David Axelrod, I’d be concerned.

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Republicans Aren’t Rolling Over

Obama chief strategist David Axelrod shouldn’t have been surprised to see that a lot of Republicans turned up at the kickoff at the Statehouse in Boston for his campaign event tearing down Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. Though the event was supposedly a secret, it reportedly was leaked on Twitter, and a GOP response team was quick to react. Romney supporters chanting “Solyndra” — a reference to the failed energy company that was the recipient of so much Obama administration largesse, heckled Axelrod, turning the gathering into a bipartisan shouting match rather than an Obama show. The same day, Romney staged an event at the Fremont, California headquarters of Solyndra in a carefully planned attempt to upstage the Democrat’s efforts to seize control of the news cycle.

While all of this can and should just be put down to the usual give and take of a hotly contested presidential campaign, it does show that a lot has changed since the last time Axelrod was running a national campaign. Whereas in 2008, the campaign of John McCain was clearly outmatched in terms of technology and smarts by the “hope and change” juggernaut that put Barack Obama in the White House, in 2012 the GOP is determined not to roll over for the Democrats. If today is any indication of how things will go the next five months, Axelrod is in for a long, hard slog against an opponent capable of nimbly returning serve and scoring points even on days that the Chicago campaign guru thought would belong to him.

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Obama chief strategist David Axelrod shouldn’t have been surprised to see that a lot of Republicans turned up at the kickoff at the Statehouse in Boston for his campaign event tearing down Mitt Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts. Though the event was supposedly a secret, it reportedly was leaked on Twitter, and a GOP response team was quick to react. Romney supporters chanting “Solyndra” — a reference to the failed energy company that was the recipient of so much Obama administration largesse, heckled Axelrod, turning the gathering into a bipartisan shouting match rather than an Obama show. The same day, Romney staged an event at the Fremont, California headquarters of Solyndra in a carefully planned attempt to upstage the Democrat’s efforts to seize control of the news cycle.

While all of this can and should just be put down to the usual give and take of a hotly contested presidential campaign, it does show that a lot has changed since the last time Axelrod was running a national campaign. Whereas in 2008, the campaign of John McCain was clearly outmatched in terms of technology and smarts by the “hope and change” juggernaut that put Barack Obama in the White House, in 2012 the GOP is determined not to roll over for the Democrats. If today is any indication of how things will go the next five months, Axelrod is in for a long, hard slog against an opponent capable of nimbly returning serve and scoring points even on days that the Chicago campaign guru thought would belong to him.

As for the civility of the GOP tactics, any Democratic complaints about the heckling in Boston today would be hypocritical. Pro-Obama hecklers have dogged Romney since the beginning of the campaign. As Byron York notes in the Washington Examiner, Romney was practically shouted down by Democrat kibitzers in New Hampshire and earlier this year in Detroit. Last week, the president’s campaign even organized a high-ranking delegation of hecklers to try to derail a Romney event at a West Philadelphia charter school by dragooning Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter as well as District Attorney Seth Williams to show up and speak against the Republican candidate.

While Axelrod can expect things to go more smoothly on other days, the success of Romney’s staff in turning the tables on the Democrats proves they are capable of playing in the big leagues of national politics. That’s something McCain’s staff showed time and again in 2008 that they were not always capable of doing. The GOP effort will also not be handicapped by the enormous financial disadvantage that they labored under four years ago when the Obama campaign amassed a war chest that dwarfed McCain’s resources.

The Democrats still have the advantage of incumbency, a presidential candidate who is still a historic figure who appeals to the imagination of the public and the home cooking that the liberal press always gives the Democrats in general and Obama in particular. But the Boston and Solyndra events should impress upon Axelrod and his minions that they are in for the fight of their lives this year against opponents who are determined to beat him at his own games.

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Another Obama Surrogate Flop

Today’s theme for the Obama campaign was to focus on Mitt Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts. The plan, outlined in a memo by campaign senior strategist David Axelrod and leaked to the New York Times, was to label the GOP nominee as someone who promised to bring jobs to the Bay State and failed. Unfortunately, the main witness for the prosecution in this indictment, Romney’s successor, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, didn’t stick to the script.

Appearing this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Patrick committed the cardinal sin of defending Bain Capital, the private firm Romney managed and the object of a scathing campaign of distortion by the Obama camp. Just as bad was the fact that he praised Romney as a person and admitted that unemployment was low when he left office, thus undermining Axelrod’s main theme of the day. This prompted Republicans to begin tweeting about a possible “hostage video” alert along the lines of Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker’s disastrous backtracking from similarly fair-minded comments about Romney and Bain.

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Today’s theme for the Obama campaign was to focus on Mitt Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts. The plan, outlined in a memo by campaign senior strategist David Axelrod and leaked to the New York Times, was to label the GOP nominee as someone who promised to bring jobs to the Bay State and failed. Unfortunately, the main witness for the prosecution in this indictment, Romney’s successor, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, didn’t stick to the script.

Appearing this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Patrick committed the cardinal sin of defending Bain Capital, the private firm Romney managed and the object of a scathing campaign of distortion by the Obama camp. Just as bad was the fact that he praised Romney as a person and admitted that unemployment was low when he left office, thus undermining Axelrod’s main theme of the day. This prompted Republicans to begin tweeting about a possible “hostage video” alert along the lines of Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker’s disastrous backtracking from similarly fair-minded comments about Romney and Bain.

Patrick is close to both President Obama and Axelrod, so left-wing conspiracy theorists who termed Booker’s outbreak of honesty on “Meet the Press” last week a plot to advance the Newark mayor’s career aren’t going to be able to play the same game with the Massachusetts governor. And it’s not as if Patrick didn’t try to make a distinction between his criticisms of Romney and defense of Bain. But the failure of this latest Obama surrogate to substantiate the case against Romney indicates not so much unrest among Democrats but the weak nature of this line of attack.

It may also be true that Patrick’s statements on the Bain issue may not be another case of heresy as far as his party is concerned but a realization that the Democratic talking point about Romney exemplifying the evils of private capital isn’t working. As Politico reports:

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday, Patrick called Bain “a perfectly fine company.”

“They have a role in the private economy, and I’ve got a lot of friends there,” Patrick added. “I think the Bain strategy has been distorted in some of the public discussions.”

“I think the issue isn’t about Bain. I think it’s about whether he’s accomplished in either his public or private life the kinds of things he wants to accomplish for the United States,” the Massachusetts governor said.

“It’s never been about Bain,” Patrick emphasized during another Thursday appearance, on CNN’s “Starting Point.”

Unfortunately for Obama and the Democrats, they have done everything possible in recent months to make it about Bain. Thus, Patrick’s statement is going to be interpreted as yet another instance of dissension on what has been a central theme in the president’s re-election campaign.

Patrick was on similarly shaky ground while following Axelrod’s playbook about jobs in Massachusetts:

But the Massachusetts-based assault on Obama’s rival started with a whimper not a bang when Patrick lavished praise on Romney during “Morning Joe.”

Patrick, who followed Romney as governor in 2007, called the GOP presidential nominee a “gentleman” and said, “He’s always been a gentleman to me, and the people who know him well and personally speak very warmly of him. I haven’t had a lot of interaction with him, but the transition [to Patrick’s governorship] was smooth.”

The governor also was asked by an MSNBC panelist about the unemployment rate in Massachusetts when Romney left office – and the answer left “Morning Joe” panelists musing about how low it was.

“I think when he left office, it was in the fours. I want to say 4.3 percent, about what the national average was,” Patrick said.

“That’s pretty good,” responded host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman.

“Yeah, not bad,” said Barnicle, a [liberal] former Boston Globe journalist, and frequent “Morning Joe” contributor. …

With host Soledad O’Brien on CNN, Patrick was more consistently on the attack, but was forced to defend his line of criticism.

O’Brien challenged Patrick with the fact that Romney added 31,000 jobs to the Massachusetts economy.

“I didn’t say he didn’t add any jobs,” Patrick explained. “I said, that in a good economy, we were growing third from the bottom compared to other states around the country.”

It all added up to a lousy day for another Obama surrogate as well as the Democratic campaign. Rather than undermining Romney’s claim to be the man with the sort of economic expertise that can help the nation’s fiscal woes, the attack wound up doing just the opposite. Though Axelrod has a reputation as a brilliant strategist, it looks like his 2008 magic is gone. He may hope the cumulative effect of the various Democratic lines of attack (the phony “war on women,” Bain Capital, and now Massachusetts) will chip away at Romney’s strength, but right now all they appear to be doing is to show the Obama campaign is floundering while searching for a strategy that can replace the “hope and change” mantra that worked so well four years ago.

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Obama’s Inept Aides

Via Mediate, Bret Baier of Fox News, in the most professional way possible, destroys White House press secretary Jay Carney in an interview. Baier did the same thing to President Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod (see here). Chris Wallace tied top White House aide David Plouffe into knots in a recent interview. And Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was, by all accounts, wiped out during the Supreme Court’s oral arguments over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

I realize that we’re supposed to be enormously impressed with the intelligence and skill of this generation’s version of the Best and Brightest. But here’s the thing: these fellows are just not that good. Like the man they work for, they often come across as arrogant and inept, prickly and unable to directly answer questions. It’s a bad combination — and for top Obama aides, apparently, a widespread one.

 

Via Mediate, Bret Baier of Fox News, in the most professional way possible, destroys White House press secretary Jay Carney in an interview. Baier did the same thing to President Obama’s chief political strategist, David Axelrod (see here). Chris Wallace tied top White House aide David Plouffe into knots in a recent interview. And Solicitor General Donald Verrilli was, by all accounts, wiped out during the Supreme Court’s oral arguments over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

I realize that we’re supposed to be enormously impressed with the intelligence and skill of this generation’s version of the Best and Brightest. But here’s the thing: these fellows are just not that good. Like the man they work for, they often come across as arrogant and inept, prickly and unable to directly answer questions. It’s a bad combination — and for top Obama aides, apparently, a widespread one.

 

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Can’t Explain Team Obama’s Positions? Neither Can Axelrod.

Yesterday Bret Baier of Fox News did an interview with President Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod. I thought it was a devastating one for Mr. Axelrod.

Now Axelrod may well be a bright fellow for all I know. But he comes across as rather dull and insipid in this exchange. If that judgment seems overly harsh, see for yourself what Axelrod says on the Keystone Pipeline (he blames Republicans for “rushing the decisions”), the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the last three years (he blamed it on something called the “theater of politics”), and on not returning the $1 million donation by Bill Maher despite his vicious assault on conservative women (he doesn’t really offer an explanation).

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Yesterday Bret Baier of Fox News did an interview with President Obama’s senior advisor, David Axelrod. I thought it was a devastating one for Mr. Axelrod.

Now Axelrod may well be a bright fellow for all I know. But he comes across as rather dull and insipid in this exchange. If that judgment seems overly harsh, see for yourself what Axelrod says on the Keystone Pipeline (he blames Republicans for “rushing the decisions”), the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget for the last three years (he blamed it on something called the “theater of politics”), and on not returning the $1 million donation by Bill Maher despite his vicious assault on conservative women (he doesn’t really offer an explanation).

I understand that some decisions are impossible to defend. But one might expect the top political aide for the president to at least offer some serious counterarguments and a plausible defense of his administration’s policies. But we saw none of that. What was on display was a third-rate political hack trying to bluff his way through an interview. It bordered on being embarrassing.

I should add that one cans see how wholly unprepared Mr. Axelrod is for an interview that actually asks of him tough questions. He’s clearly used to being pampered by people like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, and it shows.

If this interview reflects the precision and professionalism of Team Obama, then this election might be easer for the GOP to win than I had imagined.

It’s clear to me that when it comes to substance and governing knowledge and ability, the president isn’t the only one in over his head; so is his senior political adviser.

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Weak Obama May Back Off Church Attack

President Obama may have gotten more than he bargained for last week when he issued his edict that would force Catholic religious institutions to purchase contraception insurance for their employees in spite of the fact that the church is opposed on principle to their use. The issue has become a rallying cry for Catholics of all political affiliations as they have denounced Obama’s effort to abridge their religious freedom. It has also given the Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare new impetus, as the regulations are a function of the national health plan imposed by the president.

So it was probably only to be expected that Obama’s chief campaign adviser David Axelrod signaled this morning in an interview that Democrats are trying to find a way to come back in off the ledge onto which the president has crawled with this ill-advised ruling. Axelrod went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today and said the White House is attempting to find a compromise that would walk back the attack on the church while still enforcing a right to contraception coverage. Given the way the issue had become a major talking point for Republican presidential candidates, especially for a strong social conservative like the surging Rick Santorum, Obama would do well to dispense with the attempt at compromise and simply retract the regulation before it does him any more harm.

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President Obama may have gotten more than he bargained for last week when he issued his edict that would force Catholic religious institutions to purchase contraception insurance for their employees in spite of the fact that the church is opposed on principle to their use. The issue has become a rallying cry for Catholics of all political affiliations as they have denounced Obama’s effort to abridge their religious freedom. It has also given the Republican campaign to repeal Obamacare new impetus, as the regulations are a function of the national health plan imposed by the president.

So it was probably only to be expected that Obama’s chief campaign adviser David Axelrod signaled this morning in an interview that Democrats are trying to find a way to come back in off the ledge onto which the president has crawled with this ill-advised ruling. Axelrod went on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program today and said the White House is attempting to find a compromise that would walk back the attack on the church while still enforcing a right to contraception coverage. Given the way the issue had become a major talking point for Republican presidential candidates, especially for a strong social conservative like the surging Rick Santorum, Obama would do well to dispense with the attempt at compromise and simply retract the regulation before it does him any more harm.

Given how strongly Obama’s base feels about the issue, that won’t be easy. One of the prime motivations for liberal support for the contraception mandate is that it enables the government to put the Catholic Church in its place. Making the church bend to the will of its secular critics is part of the attraction of the issue for liberals. A presidential retreat on the point is inevitalbe, now that Obama realizes there will be a heavy political cost to be paid. The White House may also realize the longer this issue stays on the front-burner the more it will endanger the president’s signature health care legislation from which it emanates. Whatever his instincts about the issue, the president simply hasn’t the stomach for a knock-down, drag-out battle to diminish religious freedom.

This episode is the Obama administration in capsule form. The problem arose from a knee-jerk ideological mandate that was imposed regardless of principle or the political cost. But once the president was called to account, his instinct was to back down. This pattern has been repeated many times in the last few years and has served to infuriate conservatives and disillusion liberals. While an administration walk back of this blunder is to be encouraged, Obama’s lack of leadership and weakness must be recognized for what it is: a formula for a one-term presidency.

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NYT: “Axelrod Clearly Does a Lot of Personal Thinking About Mr. Romney”

The New York Times has an entertaining post about David Axelrod’s bizarre fixation with tweeting the Romney campaign an incessant amount just to let them know he’s always thinking of the former Massachusetts governor. It’s one indication that the Obama administration and their allies see Romney as their most formidable general-election opponent. But it’s also a sign that even the Times thinks Axelrod may need to find a way to distract himself from this particularly off-putting obsession:

Mr. Axelrod has only posted on Twitter 248 times. But a great number of them have been about Mr. Romney. And many have been just as snarky….

Mr. Axelrod clearly does a lot of personal thinking about Mr. Romney.

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The New York Times has an entertaining post about David Axelrod’s bizarre fixation with tweeting the Romney campaign an incessant amount just to let them know he’s always thinking of the former Massachusetts governor. It’s one indication that the Obama administration and their allies see Romney as their most formidable general-election opponent. But it’s also a sign that even the Times thinks Axelrod may need to find a way to distract himself from this particularly off-putting obsession:

Mr. Axelrod has only posted on Twitter 248 times. But a great number of them have been about Mr. Romney. And many have been just as snarky….

Mr. Axelrod clearly does a lot of personal thinking about Mr. Romney.

The Times reposts a few of the tweets, noting that not even hanging out with his kids can divert Axelrod from his need to taunt Romney. Axelrod once tweeted: “At Bulls game with my daughter, Lauren, thinking about how turnovers late in game can kill you. Must be thinking same over at Romney HQ!”

The Times also recounts one incident in which Axelrod goaded Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom into a Twitter conversation and then chided Fehrnstrom for wasting his time talking to him when he ostensibly should have been prepping Romney for an upcoming debate. Fehrnstrom replied that, essentially, he had the good fortune to work for a candidate who actually understood the economy and didn’t need it explained to him over and over.

The popularity of social media has clearly left its mark on recent events, from the Arab Spring to the current presidential election. But Twitter rewards and encourages snark, and as such presents a certain amount of risk, especially to someone like Axelrod who is known to the political world because of his association with Barack Obama. The Times story was basically the paper’s way of putting an arm around Axelrod, thanking him for all the good work he’s done, and suggesting that perhaps he should take up golf or spend some more time with family and friends, away from the Internet for a while.

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Politico Swallows New White House Spin on Israel

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result. Read More

It’s a new year and a somewhat new crew running things at the White House, what with Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod gone, so it’s to be expected that we’re now getting a new spin about the Middle East from their successors. That’s the only way to interpret Ben Smith’s somewhat puzzling article in Politico today.

In the wake of the collapse of the administration’s last incompetent effort to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, there’s little question about the piece’s conclusion that the peace process is dead in the water. No one should be surprised that the president’s spin masters are attempting to absolve the president and his foreign-policy team of all blame for the Middle East failures that have marked their two years in office. But it is astonishing that Smith, who has been covering them during this period, has swallowed whole their absurd rewriting of the history of this period.

The main point of the piece seems to be that the White House is fed up with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Smith, after two years of trying to “give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt as a prospective peace partner,” they’ve had it with him. Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Smith writes, is chiefly responsible for the collapse of American diplomacy, though he — and his highly placed sources — concedes that the feckless Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is no better. The conclusion is that Obama is giving up on the whole thing, since the chances “of a personal alliance growing between the Israeli leader and President Barack Obama to be just about zero.”

This makes for a neat narrative designed to make Obama look good, but only rings true if you haven’t been paying the slightest attention to U.S.-Israel relations since January 2009.

Contrary to Smith, if there has been one consistent point about the administration’s attitude toward Israel during this period, it has been its hostility to Netanyahu. From the start, Obama, who prior to his election claimed to be all right with Israel but not with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, showed his dissatisfaction with the outcome of the Israeli vote in February 2009. Rather than seek a common strategy to revive a peace process that had crashed in 2008, when Abbas refused Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert’s offer of a Palestinian state, Obama was determined to create some distance between the United States and Israel. Though the Palestinians had already conceded that most Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem would stay under Israeli control even as they rejected Israel’s offer of peace, Obama drew a new line in the sand. The president demanded that Israel freeze all building, even in areas — like Jerusalem — where everyone knew that Israel would not retreat even in the event of peace. Finding themselves outflanked, the Palestinians had to similarly dig in their heels, and the last two years of failed attempts to get them back to the negotiating table were the inevitable result.

Obama’s first attempts to outmaneuver Netanyahu seemed to be based on a foolish hope that the prime minister would be forced into a coalition with the American favorite Tzipi Livni or out of office altogether. Rather than being weakened by this, Netanyahu gained strength. In the spring of 2010, Obama tried again when he deliberately picked a fight with Israel over the construction of new homes in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The White House and the State Department subjected Netanyahu to an unprecedented campaign of abuse, but the result was no different than their previous efforts. Soon Obama was forced to back down and resort to a charm offensive aimed at damping down criticism from American Jews.

Rather than take responsibility for their own mistakes and the president’s relentless hostility to Netanyahu — whose grip on his parliamentary majority is stronger than ever — all we’re getting from the White House is more negative spin about Israel. But in order to believe a word of it, you’ve got to be afflicted with the sort of short-term memory loss that is the premise of Ben Smith’s article.

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