Former Clinton pollster and strategist Doug Schoen — brought in by Clinton to replace Greenberg in a rightward tack after the 1994 midterms — echoed the memo’s conclusions in an email to BuzzFeed.
“They are absolutely correct. [Democrats] must talk about the future. [I] may have a different view of the message than they have, but they couldn’t be more correct. [Democrats] must talk outcomes and benefits to win,” he said.
But pollster Mark Penn, Schoen’s former partner and a member of Clinton’s inner circle in the White House and later a force on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, said Obama needs more than just a new message — but also a new economic plan. . . . [He said] that “most of the messages [in the memo] are too much about raising taxes and raising spending in a public that has changed quite dramatically from 1992.”
Unless and until Obama delineates a clear and new message or pulls away in polling, Democrats will continue to grouse and, more important, keep their distance from the president. There are at least five ways for Democrats to avoid the Obama political death spiral:
1. Go on record with opposition to taxaggedon. Senators in unsafe seats with a strong instinct for survival are already doing just that. The Associated Press reports that Republicans are turning up the heat:
Senate Republicans released a study Tuesday by Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation showing that 53 percent of business earnings reported by individuals is generated by people paying the two highest tax rates, which Obama wants to increase. It also showed just 3.5 percent of individuals reporting business earnings making enough money to be affected by the president’s plans for raising income tax rates on high earners.
Both sides received a May warning from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. It said that if the tax increases and spending cuts occur in January, the economy will shrink at an annual rate of 1.3 percent in the first half of 2013, enough to “probably be judged a recession” before expanding later in the year
Look for more Democrats to position themselves, contrary to the president’s wishes, as favoring action on the fiscal cliff before the election. That makes Obama’s blame-the-Republicans gambit all the more suspect.
2. Stay away from the convention. West Virginia Democrats have already bugged out. Others could benefit from the example. Why should, to pick one red-state incumbent, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) go, too, and what does she gain from being caught up in the swarm of Democratic constituents and their fiery rhetoric?
3. Campaign with Obama as little as possible. In Virginia, for example, Tim Kaine would be wise to find as many “scheduling conflicts” as possible when the president is in the state. The Republican effort to wrap the Obama agenda around Kaine’s neck is well underway. Republican nominee George Allen is calling his opponent’s platform the “Obama/Kaine agenda.” Meanwhile, the American Crossroads super PAC has launched a $1.6 million ad campaign:
It portrays Kaine as having lost touch with the state he once governed and, using fuzzy video of Kaine addressing an unidentified audience, supplies what it wants voters to think is the Democrat’s motivation: “The answer is to serve the president,” Kaine says in the clip.
In his own advertising, Allen is employing video of Kaine calling himself “an unabashed supporter of the president” . . . .
Kaine, 54, the first sitting governor outside Obama’s home state to endorse him in the 2008 campaign, says he doubts that Allen’s attempts to make Kaine’s name synonymous with the president’s will succeed. He points out he disagrees with Obama on some issues, including gay marriage and the administration’s Libyan policy, but he’s also aware that he can’t stray far from the president, even if he wanted.
Democrats will need to avoid getting trapped in no man’s land, unable to break with Obama and unwilling to embrace him.
4. Lower expectations and husband resources. No longer are savvy Democratic analysts banking on winning the House. Perhaps the Senate can be saved. Environmentalists are lukewarm on Obama. (“While greens don’t want to return to the defensive posture they were perpetually in during the Bush administration, they are also left to wonder what they could expect in a second Obama term.”) The AFL-CIO is redeploying resources “away from political candidates smack dab in the middle of election season, the latest sign that the largest federation of unions in the country could be becoming increasingly disillusioned with President Obama.” In other words, it’s every man and constituent group for him and itself.
5. When in doubt, go negative. With a sagging economy, a struggling president and a do-nothing Democratic Senate, that’s about all that is left. Get ready for some of the nastiest House and Senate races in memory.