Commentary Magazine


Topic: Obama re-election campaign

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 Campaign Strategy Conundrum

In just the latest indication of the direction his campaign will take, President Obama used a fawning interview in Rolling Stone to make it clear that he thinks his re-election will depend on mobilizing his liberal base. Because he must try to find a way to motivate erstwhile supporters who lack the enthusiasm for him that they showed during his 2008 victory, the president is counting on a twin strategy of demonizing Republicans and tilting to the left on domestic issues.

The starkest illustration of this came in his answers to questions about climate change in which he promised to make this article of faith for the left a central issue in the coming campaign. This may play well for the readers of Rolling Stone. But given the growing skepticism among ordinary Americans about the ideological cant on the issue that has spewed forth from the mainstream media and the White House, it may not help Obama with independents and the working class voters he needs as badly in November as the educated elites who bludgeoned him into halting the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. This conflict illustrates the contradiction at the core of the president’s campaign.

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In just the latest indication of the direction his campaign will take, President Obama used a fawning interview in Rolling Stone to make it clear that he thinks his re-election will depend on mobilizing his liberal base. Because he must try to find a way to motivate erstwhile supporters who lack the enthusiasm for him that they showed during his 2008 victory, the president is counting on a twin strategy of demonizing Republicans and tilting to the left on domestic issues.

The starkest illustration of this came in his answers to questions about climate change in which he promised to make this article of faith for the left a central issue in the coming campaign. This may play well for the readers of Rolling Stone. But given the growing skepticism among ordinary Americans about the ideological cant on the issue that has spewed forth from the mainstream media and the White House, it may not help Obama with independents and the working class voters he needs as badly in November as the educated elites who bludgeoned him into halting the building of the Keystone XL pipeline. This conflict illustrates the contradiction at the core of the president’s campaign.

The president’s campaign staff is correct in their estimation that he cannot be re-elected without energizing the liberal base and generating better than average turnout rates among the young voters and minorities who put him in the White House. These voters are understandably disillusioned with a presidency that has had few achievements and disappointed with the fact that Obama kept in place many of the Bush administration security policies. Convincing them that the “hope and change” they expected in the last four years will come to life in the next term is no easy task. Because he cannot run on his record, the president’s only hope of bringing out his supporters is by making the election a referendum on the Republicans, who must be portrayed as ideological extremists while Obama gives indications that although Guantanamo is still operating, he’s still the same liberal they voted for in 2008.

That’s where the climate change issue comes in. By promising to make it a central part of his campaign and saying “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way,” the president is seeking to show his base that he can be trusted — as he proved when he blocked the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — to bow to their ideological prejudices even when doing so may negatively impact the economy and fuel prices.

But doing so places him in jeopardy on the main issue for the rest of the electorate: the economy. At a time of rising gas prices and with even his liberal cheerleaders in the press acknowledging that the recovery the administration touted as being an indication that his policies worked has more or less collapsed, tilting to the left on climate change may alienate more voters than it will secure. President Obama believes he can exploit Mitt Romney’s contradictions on the issue. But deriding his opponent as a member of the Flat Earth Society doesn’t address his main problem: how to explain a stagnant economy that has grown worse on his watch and which most people believe will be damaged further by policies dictated by environmental extremists.

Though he needs to wave the green flag for the left, doing so reminds centrist voters that their jobs and rising fuel prices are being held hostage by a president indebted to the left. Obama may need those liberals to turn out, but the price of securing their renewed enthusiasm could cost him the election.

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