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.