President Obama likely can’t do anything about the economy at this late date, but he can control his own campaign. And that raises a critical question: Why hasn’t he fired David Axelrod?
A longtime Republican operative described Axelrod’s performance as akin to the performance of “Baghdad Bob” in the Iraq war. Seriously, he insists on putting himself front and center, rather than deferring to more endearing and skilled operatives. He winds up bolstering Mitt Romney’s message, getting shouted down or pummeled on TV.
Axelrod seems clueless about how to run anything but a “change” election, which is problematic, if not disastrous, for an incumbent president. The brass-knuckles campaign he has devised has made Romney a more effective and attractive candidate, while turning the president into an angry and petty figure. Not since Mark Penn helped drive Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign into the ground has a famed campaign guru stumbled this badly.
A campaign shake-up at this stage would accomplish several things. First, it would allow Obama to step away from the negativity and attempt to recapture a higher, more presidential tone. Second, if coupled with a bipartisan effort to keep us from sagging into a double-dip recession (for example, by passing an extension of the George W. Bush tax cuts or approving the XL pipeline), dumping Axelrod would help change the image of a hyper-partisan president uninterested in governance. And finally, dumping Axelrod would be a sign, for a president seemingly buffeted by external events, that Obama can grasp the reins of leadership.
As things stand, Obama’s campaign has become one big ad for Romney. In its excessive negativity, anti-capitalist rhetoric and scattershot approach (gay marriage one day, the “war on women” the next) he is showing himself to be precisely the economically clueless character Romney has painted him to be.
Axelrod is expert at disguising liberals as moderates and convincing already committed liberals that the opposition is evil incarnate. But neither of those talents is much help to Obama now. In fact, the entire strategic vision of the campaign — things are improving, Romney is a right-wing kook — isn’t convincing anybody beyond the 45-48 percent of the vote-Democratic-no-matter-what portion of the electorate. And even Axelrod will admit Obama can’t win the race with that level of support.