Karl Rove and some nervous Democrats have the same question: Is this the Obama campaign? At times it seems as if the real team, slick and pitch perfect, is taking the spring off, letting interns run the place.

Rove observes: “In 2008, Team Obama ran a first-rate campaign. They made relatively few unforced errors and capitalized on openings. Things look very different this time. The re-election effort is off-key and off-balance, making the president’s strategic weaknesses more apparent. His record is uninspiring. He has no explanation for his first term and no rationale for a second. Mr. Obama may have difficulty leading and governing but has been considered an effective campaigner. Events in May are starting to call that into question.”

Not even the Obama fundraising machine is dominating. Mitt Romney’s campaign raised $40.1 million in April, 95 percent of it in small donations. The incumbent president, who once upon a time was thought to be able to raise a billion, took in only slightly more in April, $43.6 million, a drop from the month before. The Obama team vaguely blames the influence of super PACs, but that doesn’t explain why the Obama campaign and its PAC aren’t lapping Romney’s fundraising effort.

There are a few possible explanations for the weak start. Certainly, running as the incumbent isn’t the same electrifying experience as running as the first African American nominee on a “hope and change” platform. But the difficulties stem from a central dilemma for Obama. In short, he isn’t running on his record, and he’s not spelling out what he’d do any differently in a second term. In fact, he’s insisting any change would be “risky.” That leaves a downer, sometimes incoherent message.

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but when the Huffington Post is ragging on the Obama campaign, you know he’s in trouble. Actually, Jon Ward is a top-notch reporter who hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid. His analysis of the recent press conference call is spot-on:

President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, continuing its attempts to paint Mitt Romney as a ruthless corporate raider, went so far Wednesday as to suggest that if he were president, the Republican would not care whether more Americans had jobs. . . .

Romney and Obama have a difference of opinion about how to create more jobs, not whether or not there should be more jobs. The Obama campaign’s strategy this week has been to portray Romney as heartless, highlighting a handful of deals from his career at his old firm, Bain Capital, in which companies were overloaded with debt and Bain executives got big payouts while employees at the companies lost their jobs.

But even if Romney were heartless, political self-interest would force him to care about jobs, because it is one of the basic markers by which voters judge a president.

He added that Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, “did not respond to an e-mail asking why Romney, if he were president, would not want unemployment to go down, if for no other reason than out of self-interest.” That, no doubt, is because her argument is, as my kids would say, lame.

The liberal echo chamber only makes Obama staffers’ less attuned to their own poor performance. If the other side is just “lying” or the press is “distorting” everything they do, then the problem must not be their own doing or their candidate. But, of course, what they consider to be “true” is no more than spin (e.g. even though Romney’s tax plan is revenue neutral and he sets out substantial cuts in entitlement and discretionary spending, they insist his plan would worsen the deficit).

If the liberal punditocracy really wanted to help its candidate, it would follow the conservative punditocracy’s lead. On the right, conservative voices steadily pushed Romney for more specificity, a pro-growth tax message and less biography in favor of more policy and uplifting rhetoric. Lo and behold, Romney essentially is doing all of that and is a hugely improved candidate.

The media-Obama co-dependency has long been a problem for both, damaging media credibility and insulating the president and his campaign from reality. It is never so apparent as when Obama is faltering, the left punditocracy is whistling past the graveyard.