And David Plouffe, the president’s unflappable chief strategist, seemed swept up in the moment.
As the president’s speech went on, Jarrett’s attention drifted to her BlackBerry and Carney rested against the wall. But Plouffe stepped closer to the stage. He folded his arms, pursed his lips and stroked his chin, observing Obama like a gymnastics coach monitoring the recalibrated routine of his star performer.
Often considered a cold, calm cyborgian number-cruncher who reflects his cold, calm cyborgian boss, Plouffe, 44, is in fact deeply passionate man, enamored with the success of the 2008 campaign that cast Obama as a transformational candidate who would change Washington from above. It was an insurgent strategy that bested Hillary Clinton, but it has failed Obama as an incumbent. While Plouffe appears to be pushing Obama toward a more partisan approach, doubts linger over whether he has sufficiently gotten over the last election to win the next one.
“Everybody wants to repeat what’s been most successful for them,” said Mark Penn, who, as Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist in 2008, was criticized for trying to repeat his successful strategy for Bill Clinton in 1996. “But I do think there is a fundamental difference between a Democratic primary race and a reelection for president, because getting reelected is fundamentally about the reality of the situation and his performance in the job.”
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Since joining the White House in January, Plouffe has acted as the chief choreographer of the president's performance — advocating a strategy that struck Obama’s Democratic base as either the most protracted rope-a-dope routine in political history or a monumental exhibition of masochism.
“Whoever is advising him to do these things should be fired tomorrow,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont.
“At times,” said moderate Democrat Mark R. Warner (Va.), “you’ve got to put a marker down.”
The outsider strategy that drew strength from enemy attacks in 2008 and that attracted protection from outraged liberals has made the nation’s leader look powerless. His former defenders and donors have taken to bemoaning an anemic president who whined about Washington instead of running it, who capitulated to Republicans instead of crushing them, who sacrificed his party to protect his own above-politics brand.
Plouffe will not discuss his decision making. After a long-pursued request for an interview and conversations with White House officials about the prospect of talking with him, the strategist declined to comment for this article.