President Obama has promised to speak about his thoughts on the debt crisis. It’s not clear, however, why he didn’t do this at the State of the Union or what, if anything, he is going to accomplish. But as a matter of communications strategy, there’s reason to question sending the president out to talk to the country in these circumstances. An adviser of a senior Senate Republican has this take: “They didn’t think this one through. They’re winging it.” He sees a three-pronged dilemma for the president: “His base won’t let him touch Social Security, Medicare was gutted in ObamaCare, and they couldn’t pass a tax hike with a supermajority Democratic Congress.”
A Republican communications guru also takes a dim view of the effort, telling me, “This speech, to me, is incredibly reactionary, as is everything they seem to do at the White House. Paul Ryan made a big splash with his plan, and now the White House is playing catch-up. Notice that the speech is in middle of the day and not at the White House but instead at George Washington University. So, it’s a ‘major-minor’ speech?” The guru sees a White House obsessed with spin: “All the White House believes the president has to do with this speech is reclaim the headlines. So, he just has to sound good. In their mind, he could be reading out of the phone book.”
George W. Bush’s press secretary Dana Perino doesn’t think much of sending the president out either. She says she wouldn’t advise the president to give such a speech, “but, then again, I would not have put forward his budget. I suppose they think they’ve really got the GOP in a corner now.”
But rather it’s Obama who finds himself in a box. He recaptures the center and endorses specific entitlement reforms? He sends his base around the bend. He talks generalities or tax hikes? The independents roll their eyes in disgust. Sometimes if you don’t have anything productive to say it’s best to say nothing at all. But that is not the mindset of the White House, which still is fixated on the notion that Obama can convince the voters of things that simply aren’t so. Have those officials read the polls on ObamaCare lately? And was the 2010 midterms just a fluke in their minds?