Why has the Obama team been publicly wailing about losing out to Mitt Romney in the money race? Why would the president accuse his opponent of not merely being wrong or unqualified but criminal? After all, the polls are tied, so why so much worry in Obamaland?
Like a mystery novel, the answer is in front of our noses: The candidates are still tied in the polls. Let’s go step by step with the most logical explanation of the Obama campaign’s conduct.
The Obama team knew months ago that the economy would not sufficiently improve before Election Day to justify his reelection. Its polling showed simply blaming President George W. Bush wouldn’t be sufficient. The president and his political hacks concluded that it was too late and too risky to adopt a whole new second-term agenda. (It would risk offending either the base or centrists and reveal his first-term agenda to have been entirely inadequate.) So what to do?
Extend the Republican primary by running ads hitting Romney and encouraging Democrats to vote against Romney in Michigan and elsewhere. Then, before Romney could fully get his bearings, unload a barrage of negative attacks, scare mongering and thinly disguised oppo attacks through the mainstream media, taking advantage of many political reporters’ relative ignorance about the private equity field and their inclination to accept whole-hog President Obama’s version of “facts.”
The extent of that effort is only now becoming clear. The Associated Press reports: “President Barack Obama’s campaign has spent nearly $100 million on television commercials in selected battleground states so far, unleashing a sustained early barrage designed to create lasting, negative impressions of Republican Mitt Romney before he and his allies ramp up for the fall.” Think of it like the Confederacy’s artillery barrage on the third day of Gettysburg before Pickett’s charge — you have to in essence disable the other side before the charge begins or its curtains.
Virtually all of the ads were viciously negative, and judging from the number of Pinocchios they’ve racked up, continually and materially false.
But it didn’t work. Romney and Obama are still deadlocked. (The AP quoted Republican operative Carl Forti: “I don’t think . . . [Obama’s] got a choice. He has to try to change the dynamic now, but the polling indicates it’s not working. He doesn’t appear to be making any headway in the polls.”)
Few Democratic pundits are as sharp or as honest as William Galston, who concedes:
On the one hand, the last round of Bain attacks has clearly rattled the Romney campaign, and a smattering of survey evidence suggests that the sustained ad campaign in swing states has scored some points. On the other hand, the Pew survey found no shift since May in swing-state voter preference.
But it’s not too early to say that Obama’s vital signs look dicey. Over the past 33 months, his job approval has been lower than George W. Bush’s at a comparable time in his presidency for all but one week. Bush averaged above 50 percent in the quarter before his successful reelection campaign, while Obama has been stuck in the 46-48 percent range for months. And the famous “wrong track” measure now stands at 63 percent, versus 55 percent in the days preceding the vote in 2004. If these two numbers don’t improve for Obama, his presidency will be in jeopardy. And they probably won’t — unless the economy perks up noticeably.
So the Obama team has shot its wad. Its opponent has more ammo and more money now. Romney hasn’t been mortally wounded. And there isn’t money from Obama to keep up the 4-to-1 spending barrage. In fact without it, Obama might well have fallen behind in the race. So the Obama team pleads for money and turns up the volume of the attacks. (After calling Romney a criminal in July, what’s left for September and October?)
Obama is now committed to a strategy that isn’t working. He’s left to unleash his attack dogs and to pray for a miracle. Maybe the economy will rebound. Perhaps Romney will implode or pick a Sarah-Palin-type for vice president.
The reason, you see, that Obama’s camp has become so frantic in July is that its ineffectiveness in the summer subjects its side to grave risks. Having to defend his record, rely on his debate prowess and be evaluated on the economy over the last three years is as risky as, well, as sending thousands across a vast, empty field as enemy fire rains down upon them.