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Morning Jay: The Obama Campaign: From the 'Macarena' to 'Give 'em Hell!'

6:00 AM, Apr 20, 2011 • By JAY COST
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(2) Run the Truman 1948 playbook. Harry Truman is today remembered as a straight shooter who told it like it was. That's true in many respects, but he was also one of the most partisan presidents in the postwar era, and his 1948 campaign was one of the most demagogic. Check out, for instance, Truman’s 1948 nomination acceptance address. The reason Truman ran that campaign was because he was pinched from multiple sides – from the left and the right in his own party, from the Republicans, and from the economy, which ground to a virtual halt by election day. In response, Truman ran hard against the Republicans, arguing that they were set to destroy the New Deal. Expect Obama to run a similar 'Give ‘em hell!' strategy, making particular use of Paul Ryan’s budget to demagogue the Republican position. There’s really no reason to pick somebody like Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the DNC, other than to drive home the 'GOP wants to murder granny' argument.

So, here's the billion dollar question: will this two-pronged strategy work? Frankly, I'm skeptical. I think the bandwagon endeavor is going to fizzle -- at least in terms of moving public opinion. As for the demagogic plan, he is going to need a lot of help from the Republican nominee to recast his opposition as extreme. Truman got that kind of assistance from Thomas Dewey, who pulled his punches in 1948, allowing Truman to set the terms of the public conversation in the final weeks. It's unlikely that the Republican nominee will be so passive, and since he/she likely won't be from Congress, it will be hard to tie him/her to the House (as Clinton tied Dole to Gingrich in 1996). 

More broadly, I think the 'are you better off?' question is an undeniable one in reelection cycles. No amount of "strategery" from the Plouffe/Axelrod brain trust, no number of "leg tingling" speeches from the president, and certainly not one billion dollars worth of campaign advertisements can change that. For Obama to win, voters must feel that, if things are not actually better by election day, they soon will be. That's really all there is to it.

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