Morning Jay: Obama's Troubled Reelection Strategy
6:00 AM, Apr 13, 2012 • By JAY COST
Karl Rove had a spot-on column in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. He wrote, in part:
Exactly. If I had to offer a brief summary of Obama’s campaign strategy this year, it would be this:
Clearly, this is not an ideal strategy, for any candidate. Typically, successful reelection campaigns – e.g. 1936, 1956, 1972, 1984, and 1996 – have been based on narratives about how the country has turned a corner, thanks to the incumbent’s greatness. Think “Nixon’s The One!” “It’s Morning In America” or “Bridge To The 21st Century.” None of that applies to President Obama, who instead looks to tar Mitt Romney as the evil stepchild of J.P. Morgan and Barry Goldwater.
The obvious question is: why is he doing this? The answer is simple, and suggests Obama’s lead in the head-to-head polls is quite tenuous. Recall Ronald Reagan’s closing statement in the October 1980 debate:
This, put simply, is Barack Obama’s problem. If the 2012 election is framed on “are you better off than you were four years ago?,” then he is going to lose. His record on the economy, the deficit, energy policy, and health care are all very unpopular.
So, Obama’s objective is to get the country to think about other things. In particular, he has of late employed a series of gimmicks to induce the country to conceive of Mitt Romney in the above terms. The whole “war on women” is exactly along those lines, as is the Buffett Rule. Both speak to the core strategy – Romney is a conservative radical and tool of big business who wants to deprive women of birth control and help only the rich get richer.
In pulling this off, Obama has two very substantial problems.
First, Mitt Romney will have an opportunity to define himself for the electorate, funded by hundreds of millions of dollars worth of television ads. And he has a compelling story to tell: family man and father of five, started his own company that invested in a lot of visible businesses, saved the Salt Lake City Olympics, and worked with Democrats in Massachusetts of all places. It is going to be easier said than done to stick either the Barry Goldwater or the J.P. Morgan label on him.
Second, and more importantly, this is not what swing voters want to talk about. Think of the campaign in terms of consumer economics: Customers want Walmart and Target to stock their shelves with certain items at certain prices, and the purchasing power of their dollars forces the two firms to comply. Well, our parties are like Walmart and Target, the voters are their customers, and the campaigns are like the marketplace. In the competition for votes, the two parties invariably end up talking about what the country, and in particular the swing vote, wants to talk about.
I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that the average swing voter does not want to talk about the “war on women,” the Buffett rule, or whatever else Team Obama is going to throw out there in the weeks and months to come. That voter wants to talk about jobs, the economy, the deficit, gas prices, the health care bill--in other words, all the issues where the president is vulnerable. And the competition of the campaign means that swing voter will get what he wants – Team Romney is more than happy to discuss all those issues, and so Obama will have no choice but to respond.
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