The Blog

Barack Tikhonov Obama?

11:00 AM, Jun 11, 2012 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

A friend who's a canny political veteran writes:

Thoughts:

Obama has a broken machine inadequate for the race he is in. Wisconsin behavior and aftermath indicative. Reminds me of scene in movie Miracle where the Russian hockey coach Tikhonov—so used to winning—doesn't realize he should pull his goalie in the final minutes to gain a one man advantage on offense. U.S. assistant coach says to Herb Brooks, "Why doesn't he pull his goalie?," and Brooks studies the guy and says, "He doesn't know what to do!" Same for Team Obama. Never behind, never on defense, never had trouble getting media to carry their talking points. Now it's different and they don't know what to do. 

Huge peril ahead: No big money advantage as in 2008; no press corps willing to scold GOP for attacking him; little recent experience in debates/pressers so prone to missteps as seen this week. 

Biggest problems: Best strategy for winning remains completely inconsistent with his campaign's approach and his administration's policies:

1.  Needs stronger economy, but continues to ensnarl industries (energy, banking, health) with uncertainty regarding policy, rules etc.

2.  Undermining economy with position on Bush tax rates, but has made running against the top one percent his theme.

3.  Turned his most leftwing backers into heroin addicts in terms of the demands they are making on him. He hasn't let them down on anything really (gay marriage, health care, redistribution, Keystone etc.) yet they remain lukewarm. Meanwhile this has alienated the voters he needs to win. Put himself in deep trouble in N.C., Fla., Ohio etc. and in tougher races in Michigan etc.  without firming up the swing vote. Yet, these coalition groups want more. "He didn't come to Wisconsin"; "He waited too long on Marriage"; and so on. They have him threatened and he responds with capitulation which is read as weakness.

4.  Biggest problem: His economic rhetoric and actions are increasingly seen as inimical to the interests of the voter group that he must have to win: suburban moderates. These voters are being hurt in their asset portfolios and home values. They may be more on Obama's side on social issues but they aren't rabid advocates—merely more tolerant than they perceive Republicans to be.  But his policies have hurt them in the pocketbook and his message suggests that they are part of the greedy one percent.  Meanwhile, his enthusiastic embrace of Hollywood, same sex marriage, government health care goes well beyond where they are on these matters.  This may give him a big win in Dane County but nothing in the Milwaukee suburbs.  Same in other swing states.

5.  I do not think he can win by doubling down on these issues. Nor is he helping himself much by so personally leading the attack on GOP/Romney this early. This undercuts his image as atypical politician and good guy. Only diehards think he is a victim with a right to engage in this type of personal counter-assault. For the rest he appears to have chosen old politics over new.

Options: To win he either needs a lot of breaks on the economy or to shake things up. Since robust economic news is very unlikely (and with eurozone problems the potential for the opposite is greater), he needs to shake things up NOW. Some things he could/should do:

1.  Replace Biden: Not one vote at risk and putting Hillary here brings him some points. Might shut up Bill as well.

2.  Play president until speech at Dem convention. 

3. Give mea culpa speech in which you acknowledge the pain of suburbanites whose votes you need and you intention to focus on their problems (high taxes, debt, market jitters etc.)  Run this theme for next 60 days. 

Other more risky but perhaps worthwhile moves:
1.  Go to Europe this week and try to shore up support for eurozone. Make sure Fed is on board and helping.

2.  Pick a fight with a key Dem constituency and stand up to them: Sister Souljah moment. Perhaps Keystone.

3.  Fire senior campaign person (Axelrod or Messina). Bring in a new face. Indicate change from personal attack mode to 2008 approach.

4. Replace Tim G. with business leader as treasury secretary. Go to the Hill and don't leave until you have a budget compromise that probably includes some tax cut extension.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 15 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers