There is just a hint of desperation coming from many Obama supporters already this election cycle. There have been stories in more traditional conservative leaning media, but this column from normally reliable progressive Eleanor Clift is one of the most compelling looks into just how demoralized Obama's base is becoming.
If the next five months are anything like the last two, Barack Obama is toast. That’s what many Democrats are saying privately, and it’s not about Wisconsin.
The effort to recall Scott Walker failed, but exit polls show the president holding an edge in the state, which hasn’t voted Republican since 1984.
The same exit polls that showed that the Walker - Barrett race (which Walker won by 6 points) was a dead heat? THOSE flawed exit polls?
It’s the weak job numbers from last week that has Democrats panicking. There’s a sense that the economy has stalled, and that the Obama campaign is stuck in a time warp with a message that assumes steady if slow progress, when the jobs picture may not get better.
“Our real concern is that they’re just sleepwalking,” says a Democratic strategist, who did not want to be quoted by name criticizing the Obama campaign. His fear, echoed by many, is that Obama’s responses to the dire economic conditions fall far short of the bold leadership needed.
The President's comments last Friday (in light of a jobs report that showed that the private sector only created 86,000 jobs in May) that the "private sector is just fine" do certainly bolster that perception.
The latest gimmick rolled out by the White House, a To-Do list aimed at Congress that fits on a Post-it note, is emblematic of what’s missing. “A To-Do list is for little things, like picking up the dry cleaning; you don’t put "schedule your son’s MRI" or “buy a new house” on the list,” says this frustrated Democrat.
When your own team calls it a gimmick, you know you have reached a really low point,
Hand-wringing is a common malady during presidential campaigns, and Obama has a history of hanging back, listening to his own internal clock, and then acting just when others think all is lost. Campaigns have a rhythm, but the worry among Democrats is that the Obama team is so focused on disparaging Mitt Romney that they haven’t laid out in a clear and compelling way what Obama would do in a second term. “If all Romney has to say is, 'I’ll do better,’ Obama will lose,” says Sam Popkin, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and author of The Candidate: What it Takes to Win—and Hold—the White House.
And given the (so far) the nimble reactions of the Romney Rapid Response Team (who wrote the remarks into the former Governors speech in Iowa later Friday morning) and the RNC (who had a web ad up in a matter of hours) it is clear that the Romney campaign is (so far) ready to do battle.
People still quote the phrase from the Clinton ’92 war room, “It's the economy, stupid.” (And the Reagan corollary "Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago? ed) Another phrase written on the blackboard by then-strategist James Carville is equally relevant today, “Change vs. more of the same.”
“The man who campaigned in ’08 on hope and change is now, whether he likes it or not, more of the same—and he has to make more of the same look better,” says Popkin. The American Jobs Act that Obama introduced earlier this year is languishing in Congress with no apparent hope of passage. “He has never said what his next three steps are. People have to have confidence he has a plan, and he hasn’t told us.”
In a fast-moving race, an incumbent’s presidential campaign is the battleship, resistant to change, and slow-moving. A successful challenger is a speedboat, nimble and opportunistic. A strategist with ties to the White House says the Obama team is “very wary of making promises he can’t keep like they did the last time.” If Obama wins a second term, there’s a strong likelihood of another unbelievably dysfunctional Congress, and he’ll have to fight rear-guard actions on health care.
Still, Democrats say he should just articulate his vision. Leadership isn’t only about what you accomplish, but how much people understand what you’re trying to get done. “Think back to 1936 and FDR,” says Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution. “The fact they had thwarted him at every turn didn’t matter because people understood where he was coming from.”
Geoff Garin, a pollster with the pro-Obama PAC Priorities USA, acknowledges the problem. “People feel dealt out of the process. His unique talent as a politician is to deal people in—he needs to have an economic message that makes people feel he can make a difference,” Garin says. The message is More To Come—Don’t Panic Yet, it’s only June.
Which is something that President Obama simply has not been able to do. Oh sure - he can speak in platitudes better than anyone, but platitudes do not constitute a vision or a plan to make the vision reality. That is where President Obama is losing the race, and he does not have a lot of time to change course.
Maybe they’re retooling the ship in Chicago and Obama will tailor his message to changed circumstances. Saying he has the right policies and needs more time worked when the economy was generating more jobs. Complacency is the enemy, not Romney.
This campaign is going to be fast paced and nasty. We all know that Team Obama can throw a punch. We are starting to now see that unlike John McCain, Mitt Romney can and will hit back. President Obama is not used to that and that is one reason why the campaign appears to be spinning it's wheels. And THAT is what has the President's supporters, like Ms. Clift, panicked the most...the seeming complacency of Team Obama. Their messiah has feet of clay and they are just now realizing it.