Even some Republicans say that Mr. Obama’s competence is not this election’s defining issue, or much of an issue at all except among conservatives who have never liked him….Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, said that making competence a campaign centerpiece was “the fool’s gold of politics” — rarely successful.
“Do Republicans really want to make the argument that if only President Obama were a better manager, Obamacare would have been great for the country?” he said. “That our outdated and bureaucratic V.A. system would have run like a clock? Do we really want to make the argument that our sclerotic, paralyzed, overburdened government just needs one guy to manage it better?”
Another Republican strategist, who asked not to be identified criticizing party colleagues, said that raising the question of governing competence could be double-edged for Republicans. Indeed, many Democrats are reminding voters that the Republicans who run the House shut down the government last fall at a cost of $24 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and have repeatedly been divided and dysfunctional, most recently in struggling to pass a bill to address the border crisis.
I don’t know how widespread this second-guessing is among Republicans — it probably isn’t widespread at all — but it bears watching. The counter-argument to the “competence” strategy seems to be that it cuts against any suggestions that Big Gummint is inherently a bad thing — its failings are not merely a function of poor management — and that it could give Dems an opening to turn the focus back on House GOP recklessness, dysfunction and all around craziness.
While Obama will obviously represent something of a drag on Dem candidates, a poll this week showed that only Tea Party Republicans say he is a major factor in their vote, a preoccpuation not shared by the mainstream. And while it seems inarguable that Obama has taken a big hit on the competence front — as polls have showed — it seems likely that this argument is mostly directed at the GOP base.
Which brings us to the new Fox News poll. It finds Obama’s numbers in the toilet on multiple issues, but it also finds:
Do you think President Obama is fully engaged in his job and on top of things, or is he disengaged and already checked out from his job?
Fully engaged in his job and on top of things: 52
Disengaged and already checked out from his job: 44
While independents only tilt marginally against Obama on this question, an overwhelming 73 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Tea Partyers say he’s disengaged and checked out. So the “incompetence” argument may once again show how committed Republicans are — perhaps rightly — to the belief that the key to winning big this fall is to keep the Obama-obsessed base as worked up as possible.
* SIEGE IN IRAQ IS BROKEN: The Pentagon has announced that U.S. airstrikes appear to have broken militants’ siege of the mountain in Iraq, allowing for the escape of thousands of Yazidis and meaning a complex rescue operation may no longer be necessary. Obama had committed to a limited involvement, but a rescue might have resulted in casualties. The speed with which the broken siege was announced underscores how relieved the administration appears to be about no longer having to risk this course.
* PUBLIC APPROVES OF AIRSTRIKES, DISAPPROVES OF OBAMA: The new Fox News poll mentioned above also finds that 65 percent of Americans approve of the decision to launch airstrikes in Iraq. Yet it also finds that only 37 percent approve of Obama’s handling of Iraq in general, versus 52 percent who disapprove. And his numbers on foreign policy are even worse, at 35-63. In pure political terms you can see why the administration desperately wants to avoid protracted engagement.
* ARE DEMS WORRIED ABOUT OBAMA ACTION ON DEPORTATIONS? Politico tries to get Senate Democrats to say whether they want Obama to postpone acting to ease deportations until after the election, and they won’t say. Though a few Dems have criticized the move, if they are worried about the politics of this in any significant way, they aren’t saying so publicly.
Naturally, Republicans and some commentators will be searching high and low for signs of Senate Democrats running for their lives from the eventual decision. The truth is the politics of this are unclear — the move will probably infuriate the GOP base but it could also energize Dems — largely because we’re in uncharted territory.
* DEMS UPBEAT ABOUT HOLDING THE SENATE: Senate Dem leader Dick Durbin’s take:
“Right now we have 55 seats. We lose six and we lose the majority,” Durbin said. “There are two or three that are tough, tough states, but the rest of them we feel pretty good about.”
“I don’t see this Republican wave they’re talking about,” he continued. “To be honest, the public is not very enamored with either political party at this point. I went through the races yesterday with Harry Reid — the Senate races — and we feel good.”
The implication seems to be that aside from three states — West Virginia, South Dakota, and Montana — Dems have a chance of holding on in the other four red states, and in Iowa and Colorado. I suppose that’s possible, but I’m skeptical. Republicans could very well win anywhere from four to eight seats.
* LEFT PRESSURES ELIZABETH WARREN TO CAMPAIGN MORE: This is an interesting dynamic: Progressives are pressing Elizabeth Warren to campaign for Senate Dem candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire, but she has no plans to do that, perhaps because appearances in important presidential primary states would stoke speculation about her national ambitious.
Warren has already campaigned in Georgia and Kentucky, but lefties argue she’d be a big asset in those particular states, and Iowa in particular is crucial. It’s hard to imagine that this is really holding Warren back from campaigning to help Dems hold the Senate — and yet her spokesperson declined to comment.
* HEADLINE OF THE DAY: Reporters Wesley Lowery of the Washington post and Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post were reportedly arrested in Ferguson yesterday. Max Fisher sums it up:
Washington Post reporters have been arrested in two cities this year: Ferguson and Tehran
Lowery’s account of his arrest is here.
* AND WILL CHICKENS DECIDE IOWA SENATE RACE? Chris Moody has a deep dive into the story that could supposedly decide control of the Senate: Bruce Braley’s dispute with a neighbor over chickens. This is the key bit:
Word of the spat soon landed on the desk of a former journalist named Jeff Patch, a political activist who now works for the Iowa Republican Party. It was Patch who first drove out to Holiday Lake, discussed the issue with residents, attended a board meeting, dug up the emails and meeting minutes and posted the riveting-yet-one-sided tale of the great Chicken War at Holiday Lake at IowaRepublican.com, a conservative website. Under the headline “Braley threatened litigation over chickens at Holiday Lake vacation home,” Patch portrayed Braley as an out-of-touch trial lawyer eager to sue a female therapist. The story fit neatly with the narrative that Braley’s Republican Senate opponent was building against him.
So this whole thing is entirely manufactured by Republican operatives; indeed, as the story details, the “threat of litigation” may not have even happened. Once again, GOP operatives prove how good they are at getting folks to play Follow the Shiny Bouncy Ball.