The media and Republicans have built up the Obama campaign to be a behemoth, ready to stomp through the election terrain devouring everything in its path. That assessment may be badly out of date.
In 2008 Obama beat a hapless Hillary Clinton campaign after she ran as a status quo candidate in a “change” election. He then stood by as the economy crumbled and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ran an inept and frenetic race. But now that the political environment is not neatly arranged for him, does Obama’s campaign measure up?
On the financial side Democrats insisted Obama would raise a billion dollars. It hasn’t come close, although his gay-marriage evolution may break free some more cash from wealthy gay donors. Money is, we have argued, a function of enthusiasm. Right now Obama doesn’t have nearly as much as he had hoped.
But the overestimation of the Obama campaign’s prowess is most acute when it comes to its message and its attack apparatus.
Its message, candidly, is “whatever the market will bear.” There is no coherent theme, at least not one that fits the times and is well-designed to capture centrist voters. “Defend Obamacare”? Er, no. “Let Julia keep her free stuff!” Nope. (The liberal punditocracy is still busy ignoring the “Life of Julia” — compelling evidence that it bombed.) “T ax the rich guys!” Unsatisfying.
So every day is a new gimmick. Newsweek is still hot off the presses, and Obama is off on something new (attacking Bain). When he shows up for the powder-puff of all appearances, on “The View,” he wasn’t able to give a very compelling explanation for what his gay-marriage unveiling meant:
While the administration has already stopped defending legal challenges to the [Defense of Marriage Act], which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, the president said the rest is up to Capitol Hill.
“Congress is clearly on notice that I think it’s a bad idea,” the president said in an interview on ABC’s “The View.”
The full interview airs on “The View” Tuesday on ABC at 11 a.m.
“This is going to be a big contrast in the campaign, because you’ve got Governor Romney saying we should actually have a constitutional amendment installing the notion that you can’t have same-sex marriages,” Obama said.
When asked by ABC’s Barbara Walters if he would fight federal laws that limit the rights of gay and lesbian couples, the president said, “We don’t think the Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional.”
“This is something that historically had been determined at the state level and part of my believing ultimately that civil unions weren’t sufficient, and I’ve been a longtime supporter of civil unions for same-sex couples, was partly because of the issue of Social Security benefits and other laws,” the president said.
So his big contrast is that he’s for federalism on gay marriage? Moreover, his position is not part of a general theme that makes sense to average voters. He has merely strung together a number of discordant attacks, gimmicks and one-liners.
And when we move down from the strategic level to the day-to-day tactics, the Obama team is no more impressive. For its Bain offensive, it rolled out a weak attack. The company in question laid off workers post-Romney. The U.S. steel industry was already dying so Romney, at worst, gave workers there a few more years. And then Romney has his own, better steel company story. All this happened on a day when Obama was fundraising from his own private-equity firm donors. Then to top it off, a Bain exec from the period in question is an Obama bundler.
No wonder the Romney team was crowing a bit over the day’s news. Late Monday afternoon the Romney campaign sent out a press release (“The Big Bain Backfire”) with a compendium of coverage ranging from skeptical (of Obama’s gambit) to downright snide. The administration managed to tied itself up in knots, as CBS News reported:
President Obama has had a somewhat rocky relationship with Wall Street over the course of his first term, and his re-election campaign opened a new line of attack against Mitt Romney today for his work as a corporate titan at a private equity firm. His campaign, however, has emphatically emphasized that it’s attacking Romney’s career specifically and his economic values — not the private equity industry overall.
“No one is challenging Romney’s right to run his business as he saw fit, and no one is questioning the private equity industry as a whole. That’s not what this is about,” Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for Obama for America, told reporters Monday. “This is about whether the lessons and values Romney drew from his time as a buyout specialist — what those values are, what they tell us about what type of President Mitt Romney would be, and whether the voters want that in the Oval Office.”
In other words, we don’t mind capitalism so long as it doesn’t make an appearance in the White House?
This smacks of cockiness that comes from regarding one’s opponent with contempt. Plainly, the Romney team was prepared; the Obama team was caught flat-footed.
The adage that a campaign reflects the personality of the candidate has a lot of truth to it. If Obama’s campaign is arrogant, lacking substance and mean-spirited, we know why.